African Leaders Tasked On Natural Resources

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The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on Thursday in Abuja called on heads of government in Africa to use the continent’s natural resources for the benefit of the people.

The call was made at an advocacy meeting of the Gulf of Guinea Citizens Network.

The Chairperson of the commission, Mrs Dupe Atoki stated that the time has come for African leaders to turn resource curse into resource blessings and noted that despite availability of abundant resources, citizens of countries in the Gulf of Guinea remained poor.

The Gulf of Guinea encompasses eight countries from West, Central and Southern Africa, namely: Nigeria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Sao Tome and Principe.

In 2001, the government of these eight countries from West and Central Africa organised themselves into the Gulf of Guinea Commission for the purpose of achieving greater cooperation in natural resources exploitation, defence and security issues in the region.

The countries are located on the Gulf of Guinea and are dependent on earnings from non-renewable natural resources with which they are abundantly endowed.

The Chairperson blamed the inability of Nigeria and other countries to lift their people out poverty on, weak institutions and governance, inconsistent fiscal policies, insufficient security and stability at national and regional levels.

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“It is unacceptable for citizens of rich countries like Nigeria to continue to live under a dollar a day. Nigeria, sub-Saharan Africa’s largest oil producer, is a classic illustration of the curse of natural resources and the paradox of plenty. The country is rich in proven resources (approximately 30 billion barrels of oil) and having earned an estimated $340 billion over the past 40 years, Nigeria’s oil exports rank only behind Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iran and United Arab Emirates, yet, oil wealth has done little to change the situation of the poor. More than 70 per cent of Nigerians live on less than one dollar per day, 43 per cent lack sanitation and clean water, and infant mortality is among the highest in the world.”

She argued that the situation in Nigeria was no better than other countries in the Gulf of Guinea. In her view, all the governments are highly dependent on natural resources for income, poverty, environmental degradation, lack of infrastructure and fundamental poor governance, deficient budgetary transparency fuelled by corruption among others.

Speaking at the meeting, Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Dr Chidi Odinkalu said that the eight countries in the Gulf of Guinea have not been carrying along the citizens of these countries in their activities.

Odinkalu, who is also the Africa Programme Director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, the sponsors of the meeting, said that the meeting in Abuja was aimed at developing a framework for citizens of these countries to participate in the activities in the Gulf of Guinea.

“Civil Society in the Gulf of Guinea countries has remained largely un-involved in the policy and institutional developments affecting the region and its governance, despite the fact that the region has become over the same period an area of great strategic and geopolitical significance,” he posited.

—Nnamdi Felix / Abuja