Nigeria oil: Between ownership and trusteeship – Part 2


Olukayode Ajulo

In the consideration of our geo-political aspect including the security consideration, it is patent that by the circumstance of composition of Nigerian Federal Government, the oil and gas resources are held in trust by the Federal Government on behalf of the citizens of Nigeria for the overall benefit and development of the nation.

Quite frankly, our extant laws also give credence to the real owners of these natural resources, hence the provision for derivative funds for host communities, particularly, the Niger Delta. In that payment of derivative funds is an implicit recognition of the primary ownership of the people of the land in which the oil resource resides which position is further and more explicitly buttressed ex cathedral by the Apex Court of the land to the effect that a state shall be entitled to natural resources emanating from within its boundaries so as to qualify for the allocation of funds from the Federation Accounts. See the cases of A G Federation v. A G Abia State & 35 Ors (2002) 6 NWLR (Pt.763) Pg.542; AG Rivers State v. AG Akwa Ibom & Ors (2011) LPELR-633(SC).

Doctrine of Public Trust of Natural Resources and equitable distribution of same

In order to bring the present discourse into specific perspective and for the enlightenment of those who might have been swayed by the perspicacious lustre of charm which serenaded President Olusegun Obasanjo’s reply that natural resources are owned by the Federal Government, it is crucial to state that rather than being the owner of natural resources, the Federal Government is a trustee of these natural resources for the benefit of the citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Hence the government is a steward/custodian of these natural resources to be harnessed and distributed as best as possible to serve the common good. The beneficiaries of a trust are the true owners of the same even if by the very nature of trusts, another may manage and oversee it on their behalf.

In other words, the Federal Government is holding the natural resources in trust for public use including the communities where such natural resources are found. A careful perusal of Section 17(2)(d) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) clearly dictates that “in furtherance of the social order, exploitation of…natural resources in any form whatsoever for reasons, other than the good of the community shall be prevented.”

Hence Federal Government’s trusteeship of these natural resources should not under any guise be equated to outright ownership of the natural resources by the Federal Government. This critical relationship between ownership and trusteeship of natural resources is a vital point in the Nigerian polity and socio-economic development of the nation.


From whatever angle this issue is being considered, worthy of note is that there are certain, almost predictable similarities and convergence between the positions of these two prominent elder statesmen which is the ardour and candour, their impatience with Nigeria’s millennial lassitude, their strident clarion call against marginalisation and mis-governance.

Without much ado, it is my humble admonition that a nation is held together not just by the aggregate of its human and natural resources, but by a qualitative and progressive harnessing of those resources for the betterment of both the regions where these resources are found and the nation at large.



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