Economy

Oil: It’s for us all

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I am a proud son of the Western Region. But news that chiefs from the region, including my own Nana Kobina Nketiah of Essikado, packed themselves into vans and came to Accra with a petition, demanding 10% of revenue from the oil wealth filled me with deep shame and regret.

I don’t know what exactly came over the chiefs to make them travel from far off places like Sefwi Bekwai on a mission that they should have known would bring them nothing but national opprobrium.

Their demand for 10 percent of the oil revenue is borne out of frustration and desperation but it should be rejected outright. The oil is not for the Western Region alone. It’s for Ghana and government should not allow itself to be pushed into doing the unthinkable. The money from petroleum should be used to develop the entire country and the Western Region shouldn’t get any major special concessions like the chiefs are demanding, simply on the basis of the fact that it is the region where the oil is being explored.

Apparently, it was vice President John Mahama who gave the chiefs the idea that a special chunk of the oil wealth would be set aside for their region. He made a promise in the run-up to the elections in 2008 that a government of the NDC would make it a policy to set aside 10 percent of the oil wealth for the Western Region. It was a grave mistake. It is a promise whose fulfillment would not be in the interest of the nation. It would help the vice president and the NDC a great deal if they found a clever way to tell the Western Regional chiefs that making that promise doesn’t look as clever now as it did then because the vice president was merely speaking junk words on a political platform to win votes.

The fact is that government cannot decide to allot a specified portion of revenue from any natural resource to the particular part of the country from where it is extracted. Otherwise, the people of the Brong Ahafo Region would tell us to give them 10 percent of whatever we get from their forests; the people of the Volta Region will want 15 percent of the earnings from Keta School boys; the Upper East Region will want 20 percent from the sorghum and millet revenue. They also give us Guinea fowls, right?

And with these demands, the Western Region would even come back to demand more from the revenue from gold, bauxite, timber and cocoa. And then the Ashanti Region would also rise and demand 30 percent or more from their gold, cocoa and timber. The Eastern Region would also want some for their cocoa, timber and gold. And what about the Central Region? How about giving them 10 percent of the revenue from fish?

As for the Greater Accra Region, they may want all their lands back, demand that we pay more in property rates and they might insist that we never name any national monument after anyone they don’t recognize as “pure” Ga.

All these demands will throw the country into dire confusion. I am sure that is not what Nana Nketia and Awulae Atibrukusu desire. I understand their frustrations because it doesn’t make sense to me that, for example, roads to some of the major cocoa-growing areas in the Western Region are in such bad shape that even elephants are reluctant to travel on them. The chiefs fear that if they do not engage in some sort of ‘self-help’, they will see the oil being extracted but it would bring very little development to their region. That’s understandable. But the sort of ‘self-help’ mechanism the chiefs have adopted would only throw our nation into confusion and lead us to ruin because it could spark unjustifiable demands from the other regions.

This country belongs to us all. Whatever blessing (or curse) any resource brings should be shared among all the regions. Communities as far off from the oil fields like Nakpanduri and Bawku should benefit as much from the oil as those close to oilfields. It is not for the chiefs to decide, much less demand, how the oil wealth should be apportioned. If they want ten percent for the Western Region, would they agree that the nine other regions also get 10 percent each? That won’t work and that’s why the demands of the Western chiefs should be trashed with no apologies.

The only good side to the petition is that the chief have made their voices heard and they should not be ignored completely. What the chiefs did was borne out of frustration and desperation. I share in both and believe that the time has come not just the Western Region, but the entire country, to benefit from the resources nature has endowed us with.

A country with gold, timber, bauxite, cocoa, manganese, a fertile land and a hardworking people has no excuse to be poor. The oil should give us an opportunity to rethink how we have managed and used our resources, correct the wrongs of the past and use our resources to better our lot – not to fight over those resources.

That request from the Western chiefs, if it is ever granted, will lead us to sectarian doom. I am happy the parliamentary select committee that was tasked to look at it has recommended that it should be rejected. Parliament, as a whole, should do the same. But in doing that, our MPs should, for once, put their thinking caps on and enact legislation to promote the equitable and judicious use of all our natural resources – not just oil!

 

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