LEADERS and stakeholders of the South-South region have berated lawmakers from the region, both Senate and House of Representatives, for allegedly failing the people in the recently passed Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, accusing them of displaying nonchalant attitude to an important legislation.
There have been outrage in the Niger Delta since the House of Representatives and Senate, which failed to applicably define host communities, recently, voted 3 per cent and five per cent respectively as host communities’ stake in the PIB, which is currently undergoing harmonization by the National Assembly.
Some stakeholders, however, spared the lawmakers, saying they were outnumbered by the majority northern colleagues, who did better homework.
Most of the lawmakers approached by Saturday Vanguard declined comments. Deputy President of Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, who shepherded the South-South lobby group could not be reached for comments. Repeated calls to the member representing Orhionmwon Federal Constituency, a major oil producing area in Edo state in the House of Representatives, , Hon Patrick Aisoweren, were not picked.
But, the Senator representing Ikot Ekpene senatorial district, Akwa Ibom state, Senator Christopher Ekpeyong, who opened up, blamed Governors and Ministers of the region for abandoning the lawmakers at the crucial time of lobbying other sections of the country. Another policymaker, Senator Matthew Urhoghide, representing Edo South senatorial district, said those criticizing the lawmakers and PIB were doing so out of lack of knowledge or malice.
Were our lawmakers slumbering? Ekpoudom, ex-DIG queries
Former Deputy Inspector General of Police, DIG, Udom Ekpoudom, accused the lawmakers of negligence of duty, saying they did not ensure a better package for host communities.
‘’If you are from the area affected, you cannot be happy. If you go to a place like Rivers state you cannot wash your clothes and leave them to dry outside because within one hour it becomes charcoal and they went and approved only three per cent to host communities.
‘’I do not know if our lawmakers were sleeping. We should be mindful of those we send to the state and National Assembly. We should not send people who are going to look for money only and come back. We should send people who love their areas and this country,’’ the retired police officer added
Total disappointment – Wills, Ijaw Professionals
Human rights crusader and President, Ijaw Professionals Association, Mr. Iniuro Wills, fumed: ”History will remember this cohort of Niger Delta representatives at the National Assembly as the bunch who let down their region so woefully by letting off the worst version of the PIB so lightly and carelessly.”
“They have a slim chance at redemption by hearing the voice of their people in the vehement public rejection of the bill, caucusing quickly amongst themselves and with various think-tanks of their constituencies, and collectively denouncing this toxic PIB in the lawfully strongest and most dramatic way possible,” he stated.
‘Bunch of failures’ – Zik Gbemre- NDPC
National Coordinator, Niger Delta Peace Coalition, NDPC, Zik Gbemre, described the lawmakers as “a bunch of shameless failures induced by greed”, adding: “There is nothing satisfactory about their efforts. There is no defense or justification they want to advance for failing to lobby enough.”
”Even if they had lobbied and fronted the demands of their constituents through the long debate and delay on the bill, did they assert themselves and shout about it. If they meant well, the people of the region would have heard or read about South -South lawmakers calling for a fight, insisting of constituents demand or staging walkouts at the time.
”We never heard of that. They were never honestly in touch with their people. Otherwise the people would have risen in protest against the NASS. If the bill were about their welfare or personal pockets, the South- South lawmakers would have fought, thrown chairs,” he said.
Distressing show – Ante, Oron leader
National President, Oron National Forum, ONAF, Comrade Ita Ante, said: “The performance is disheartening. I had expected at least five per cent by the Senate. There are things you have to do so that your constituents will know you are serious. Our representatives should have put heads together with their constituents, their governors.”
“I believe the Northerners must have been preparing for it, but our people took things for granted. National issues like this, you don’t take other regions for granted,” he said.
On what they should do with the Conference Harmonization Committee of both chambers, he said: “Our federal legislators should try and lobby for at least a minimum of five percent. As far as I am concerned they should not agree on anything less than five percent.”
Not their fault – Ikponmwen, elder statesman
Elder statesman and former Provost Marshal, Nigerian Army, Brigadier-General Idada Ikponmwen (retd) said: “Look at the structure of Nigeria now, if you look at the number of local government areas from the north, the number of states from the north, the number of legislators from the north, you will agree with me that it was an impossible task. Look at the number of legislators from the north, the nearest one to reality is the senate where every state is represented by three, it is not so for legislators in the National Assembly.”
“They (lawmakers from South-South) are voices in the wilderness, no matter how they tried, majority will seal their voices. I sympathize with them. Although I know that there are some of them that seems to be following anything that is bread and butter but how much can they do?” He added.
Liability shouldn’t go to lawmakers alone – Amadhe, Isoko leader
Front-line leader of Isoko ethnic nationality in Delta state, Chief Iduh Amadhe, however, asserted: ”They have at least tried by ensuring that the bill is passed. However, they can still lobby for increase because it will help promote peace in the country. We cannot totally heap the blame on them, they have tried. They are in the minority too. Anything that has to do with legislation that will divide the house, they will be in minority and if they put it to vote, there is no way we can win.
“But they can still lobby so that Mr. President and the leadership of the National Assembly to put heads together to see how they can take it up, particularly when there is a loophole of three and five percent. They can capitalize on that to do some lobbying before President Buhari signs the bill into law,” he said.
Mudiaga-Odje alleges demographic terrorism
Prominent human rights activists and a constitutional lawyer, Dr Akpor Mudiaga-Odje, was angry that the majority tribes of Nigeria have undercut Niger Delta again, pointing out: ”As a person from the deprived and raped Niger Delta, I feel highly shortchanged again by the majority tribes of the Nigerian state.”
“Here we are still receiving an infinitesimal 13 per cent derivation excluding returns from our very rich offshore resources and huge excess crude revenues from oil and gas, yet we are again callously granted a meagre five per cent for our equity stake in the criminal exploitation of our resources.
“The performance of our South- South lawmakers was commendable to some extent considering their serious numerical disadvantage in the House of Representatives. The entire South- South has only 55 members from the 360, whereas Kano state alone has 24 members.
“This is an act of serious population and demographic terrorism to say the least. The anachronistic census and results relied upon for this severe anomaly were based on selfish and vainglorious desires of the majority tribes and their crude manipulation of the process to perpetuate their perpetual political power over every important issue in the National Assembly nay Nigeria.
“This pre-arranged political incapacity foisted on the ethnic nationalities of the Niger Delta has unwillingly suppressed the clairvoyance and voices we require this moment from our lawmakers. I think our lawmakers need to urgently unite from this few 55 members or risk further depletion,” he asserted.
Truth, nothing but the truth – Senator Ekpeyong
However, Senator Ekpeyong explained to Saturday Vanguard: “The truth is that we in the South -South, and Southern Nigeria in general must learn to be united when it comes to issues of national interest, irrespective of party affiliation, tongue or tribe.”
“Talking about the PIB recently passed, our state governors and ministers never called to sit down together and discuss on the issue. Rather we (legislators) lobbied alone. I can assure you we lobbied very well, we met with our northern colleagues to pressure for a good percentage but it was like a lone voice.
“Unlike in the North, our governors and ministers and traditional leaders did not work with us, we fought, pushed, strategized alone. Let me tell you, the PIB was passed last week Thursday (penultimate Thursday). But before then, northern governors and foremost traditional rulers were meeting with their legislators to take a stand on the issue.
“And did our governors, traditional leaders ever called us to say come and interact, and strategize on how to overcome and we refused? Look at the Minister of State for Petroleum, from Bayelsa, Timipreye Sylva, is he not from South- South? Could he not have also put in pressure to jack up the percentage during the drafting of the bill? So we, the legislators, did our best”.
10% impractical at the moment – Senator Urhoghide
Senator Matthew Urhoghide, representing Edo South senatorial district in the Senate, told one of our reporters: “The PIB does not entertain equity shareholding for the host communities. Rather it has provisions for percentage of the annual operational cost of the oil companies to which the Senate passed three per cent and the House of Representatives passed five per cent.”
“At the conference, which will harmonize this, we hope five per cent will be approved in the harmonized version.
”Also, the host communities are entitled to all the amount realized as penalty for gas flaring because these communities bear the brunt of such activity and so the money will be used for their well-being.
“Now coming back to the issue of the 3 per cent or 5 per cent, this has to do with the consideration given to the investors in this industry. As it is today, many investors are not interested in investing in Nigeria because of high operational cost.
“A profound argument has been put forth to substantiate this. It is because of this that we have not had new investments in upstream activities in the last five or more years. The case of Venezuela is a good example.
”Another point of correction is that frontier basins exist all over the country presently, not only in the North of Nigeria. Today we have frontier basin in the South- East, we have frontier basin in the South West and could still be found in the South- South where crude oil will be explored or prospected.
“It amounts to lack of information, knowledge or sheer mischief to bandy wrong information in the public space when the actual facts and provisions in the Bill are different.
“10 per cent was suggested for host communities when the Bill was considered during the administration of President Umaru Yar’Adua. The realities then are certainly different from what is obtainable today.
We did our best– Senator Bassey
Chairman, Cross River Caucus in the National Assembly, Senator Gershom Bassey, representing Cross River South Senatorial District in the Senate, stated: “The PIB is a document, while I give kudos to the National Assembly for achieving a PIB, after 15-20 years of trial, the bill is not perfect, but as we go along, it will be fine-tuned so I give kudos to the country, the Senate, House of Representatives and the National Assembly for passing a PIB , which will ensure investments in Nigeria. This bill will continue to be perfected as it is used.”
“On the pipeline issue, one of the key elements in looking at the bill was the issue of security of pipelines and pipeline vandalization. The thinking was that if host communities and places where pipelines pass through have an interest in the security of that pipeline, then they will ensure that those pipelines are secured and of course, the security of pipelines go to the revenues that come into our country, so that was the reason why the host communities were defined the way they were defined.
“So, I think it makes a bit of sense because it is important that pipelines are preserved and not vandalized. It is possible to have better ways of protecting the pipelines and that is why I say it is a living document. New ideas may come in future,” he added
On the meagre three per sent by the Senate, Bassey said: “For me, I think five percent is what we all requested. You heard the Deputy Senate President on the floor, in fact, he said five percent and a little bit more. So we hope that when they go to conference that we will go with the House of Representatives recommendation of five percent.”
We lack numeral to sustain 10% – Hon Luke
Member representing Etinan/Nsit Ibom/Nsit Ubium federal constituency, Akwa Ibom state, Hon Onofiok Luke, who sounded unhappy over the development attributed their failure to secure 10 percent demanded by the South –South to a matter of numbers.
“It is just a matter of numbers and the entrenched division we have witnessed in our body polity generally”, Luke simply responded.
Also speaking, Senator Bassey Albert Akpan, representing Akwa Ibom North East, declared: ‘I am confident, the bill will strengthen accountability and transparency of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited as a full-fledged CAMA company under statutory /regulatory oversight with better returns to its stakeholders-the Nigerian people.
‘The various obsolete laws currently in operation in the country will be updated and consolidated to meet the global competitiveness and best practices.
‘It will ensure a peaceful operating environment with a positive impact on the cost of gas production, which has been the bane of the Nigerian oil and gas industry.
“Recommended provisions in the Petroleum Industry Fiscal Framework, will attract, and unlock the long-awaited capital investment inflows to the country’s oil and gas industry because it contains enhanced incentives in the land, swamp, shallow, and deep waters trains
“Overall, this bill will enhance the growth of the oil and gas industry; modernize the fiscal systems; enhance global competitiveness; promotes a peaceful and harmonious operating environment, and maximum returns on investment,” he opined.
Majority had their way – Hon Agbedi
Member representing Sagbama/Ekeremor Federal Constituency in Bayelsa state, Hon Fred Agbedi, exonerated lawmakers from the region, saying it was a matter of majority interest against minority at the National Assembly.
His words: “It was a matter of majority interest against minority. The majority would have their way while the minority had their say. We will continue to express our opposition to it.”
It’s wrong to say we failed – Hon Dekor
House of Representatives Committee Chairman on Host Communities, representing Khana/Gokana Constituency, Rivers state, Hon Dumnamene Dekor, said he does not see the contentious outcome of the passed PIB as a matter of failure of South- South lawmakers to lobby for the minimum 10 per cent equity holding demanded by host communities and governors of the region.
He maintained: “There must be a harmonization, both chambers must have to come together to harmonies the key issues. That, for sure, is something that must be done, because lawmakers know that the people back home, the oil communities would not be happy to see that the NASS did not listen to them. So there must be harmonization.”
Dekor, a couple of days before passage of the PIB had raised hope of a satisfactory outcome for host communities when he said, “For me, as chairman of this committee, I must make it clear that I am Ogoni man from Rivers State and I am sure you are aware the Ogonis have been raped severally.
The Ogonis are, in fact, we are a symbol of neglect, a symbol of whatever you want to talk about in the industry and so I do not think we would want that to happen to any other part of the country. You are aware of the frontier issues,” the Bayelsa lawmaker said.