National Conference delegate Mr Atedo Peterside is the founder and chairman of Stanbic IBTC Bank and chairman of the Federal Government’s technical committee on privatisation.

In this interview, Peterside says royalties must be paid directly to the communities oil is extracted from and not just the states, among other issues.

What do you want to see at the end of this conference?
I want to see ideas that will move the country forward. I want to see a consensus on ideas that would move Nigeria forward.  I say that because there is no use having wonderful ideas but there is no consensus. I want us to organize ourselves and behave in a way a bunch of experienced, well-meaning people can get together and come up with ideas.

I believe we all know Nigeria’s problems, you probably do as well, but we must come up with ideas that will work, ideas that will help us to transform Nigeria, ideas that will solve the problems of the man on the street; that will give our children hope. To me, this conference is all about that.

Before you started committee work, at the plenary, you were passionate about indigenous, the place of children that are products of inter-ethnic marriages most times from across different states.

Yes let me explain; it is not because I am narrowing myself to that. As a matter of fact at the committee placement stage I asked to be put in the committee on devolution and one or two other committees but they put me in this committee on citizenship and immigration.

People forget one thing about many countries around the world that you look at and you call them a nation and you say they are one people. They became one people because at some point some leaders made some rules and everybody bought into those rules. One of those rules was that as soon as you are a citizen of that country and you have their passport in your hands, you can live anywhere in that country, you can choose wherever you want to reside, when you get there and you meet your obligations, you have the full rights like anybody else to practice your trade, to run for elections, whatever you want to do which means you encourage mobility.

I can leave Lagos and go to Sokoto and I should be welcomed when I get there, likewise somebody should be able to leave Sokoto and move to Calabar. The country belongs to all Nigerians and we should be able to choose where we want to stay, where we want to work. And wherever you stay and meet your obligations, reside there for a number of years, pay your taxes, you should be able to take part in elections, claim all the privileges that come with being a resident who have met all his obligations including paying taxes to the state government where you reside.

I also wish that we should stop asking people in forms they fill for anything what their state of origin is. We should be asking them what their place of residence is so that if I am in Sokoto I will say Sokoto State is my place of residence.

A lot of Nigerians believe there is division between the northern and southern delegates here; some people are calling for more resources…
(Cuts in…) All these north versus south…you don’t believe all of them. When people run out of ideas they begin to cling to old cleavages about north versus south. There is nothing north or south about half the issues we are discussing.

In any case as you know, there are states all the way from the coast to the extreme north and like most things in life depending on the issues that you are discussing, the circumstances change and the circumstances can change not necessarily based on south or north.

Let me give you one example; if you are a state that is heavily mobilized for agriculture, quite frankly it doesn’t make a difference whether you are Cross River or whether you are Benue. In fact there is only a boundary between both of you growing similar crops. The north of Cross River and the south of Benue State may have more in common, may have common interests, issues and concerns on a particular thing you are discussing more than with somebody from Bayelsa who is of a different terrain.

What do you think of the place of the local government?
Since you insist on making me do the work of somebody else, the one thing I will tell you is that it sounds to me as a great distortion for you to organize yourselves as a nation such that some people benefit more by having many more local governments. It is like if you are lucky enough to divide yourselves into 100 pieces, then you claim more revenue. It shouldn’t be that simple!

It should be such that whether you create multiple local governments or not, you have claim to specific resources. Now, if you want, you can divide yourself into 200 local governments in your area, good luck to you but you cannot get more money from the rest of the federation just because you are trying to divide yourself up into multiple local governments.

My own general bias is that creation of local governments and things like that should be done at a regional level or at the state level.

People are saying oil has made everybody so lazy; every state has one or three minerals which can be tapped.
The only statement I will make is the one I already made. People shout of fiscal federalism, true federalism, they call all manners of things but at the end of the day, you are talking about oil. I will talk about minerals because oil is just one more mineral. I would say that for me, I am talking about a principle that should apply to all minerals; it doesn’t matter whether it is gemstones in Zamfara, limestone in Kogi or oil in Bayelsa. The fundamental principles which I believe in are the same that are upheld in the US, in the UK and almost everywhere in the world. Royalty is a right to extract minerals from a place, that’s why people pay royalties. Minerals you are extracting are from somebody’s land or somebody’s immediate community so, why should you be extracting a mineral from a particular area and not given them a share of royalties?

As of today, Nigeria does not give a share of royalty to any community on oil. They carry all to the central purse to share. I think that principle is wrong; even in the US when they are exploring shale gas, oil, for the land owner, you begin by giving him something for the activities you are carrying out on his land.

In the UK that are exploiting for shale gas, they give a percentage. Don’t get me wrong, I did not say it is a huge percentage, and that percentage they give is not to a state government, it is to the immediate community and it is to residents, I emphasis, to the residents who are the people being inconvenienced. So, what they are saying is that I cannot come to your neighbourhood or where you live in Abuja, disrupt the place, increase pollution and put fumes in your face without giving all of you there something.

Now, that has nothing to do with taking the money and give to a state governor. They are two different things. I am saying that a slice of the royalties should go to the residents whether you are indigene or non-indigene. If you are a resident, you should get a slice of that. That is the principle I am talking about and that has to do with natural justice. The people being inconvenienced by your activities must get a slice of it. That is why you will now cooperate in that community with those who are exploiting the minerals.

You are a business leader in Nigeria, how will this conference come up with ideas that encourage private sector participation in nation building?  
Whether we like it or not the private sector is the engine of growth in most economies. Even in China that originally was communist, these days, the private sector is getting bigger and bigger. It is private sector that creates jobs; it is not the government. How many jobs can the Federal Government create? Or even the state government; how many? It is the private sector that is the engine of growth where people make investments, expand their businesses, they employ people. That is the direction. Whether we like it or not, the bulk of Nigerians work in the private sector. That is where the jobs are today?

Source: Daily Trust