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Nigeria Supreme Court to resume oil resource case

Granting states control over the oil and mineral resources in their territorities...

Granting states control over the oil and mineral resources in their territorities is the only way to wean Nigeria's economy off its dependency on oil, the governor of the oil-rich Delta state said yesterday.

Governor James Ibori made the comments at a briefing for newspaper editors on the eve of the resumption of the Supreme Court case between the central and regional governments over who controls Nigeria's oil resources.

Today the court will rule on arguments that it does not have the jurisdiction to hear the case. "The nation's sole dependence on oil is a shortcoming, which can be rectified only when every state begins to explore whatever natural resources lie within its domain," Ibori told the assembled editors.

"When resource control becomes the rule, states which have been complacent would begin to make more efforts to develop their own resources in order to contribute to national development and growth of our economy," Ibori said.

Ibori, who initiated the campaign by the oil-producing states to control the oil in their territories, said people in the oil-producing states live in crushing poverty despite the fact their states contribute 90 percent of the central government's budget resources. "Those of us who live in the oil-bearing communities have for years suffered great deprivation and dehumanisation of our environment and people," he said.

Ibori said his government would like to develop its natural gas resources - most of which is burned off as waste by oil companies - but cannot because it does not have the jurisdiction. The court battle centres on control of the lifeblood petroleum revenues that have oiled the levers of power for successive military regimes in Africa's most populous nation.

The end of 15 years of military rule in 1999 freed oil-producing states to challenge the way revenues from over two million barrels per day of oil are shared out among the country's 36 states.

President Olusegun Obansanjo's government, which wants to maintain central control over oil revenues, went to the Supreme Court to seek backing. All of the 36 states have been joined in the suit in an obvious bid to prevent non-oil producers from claiming their right over other resources.

While Obasanjo has accepted the principle of giving some oil-producing states a larger share of national revenues than others, he has angered oil producers by excluding oil produced offshore from such a pay-out.

Some political leaders in the Niger Delta and other oil-producing states have vowed to go to war rather than accept the offshore-onshore dichotomy. Their militant supporters have used the two previous supreme court hearings to stage protests outside the court.