By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, S/South and George Onah
At a Stakeholdersâ€™ Forum, July 20, organized by the Delta State Government in Asaba to sensitize the people on the National Gas Master Plan, the participants and representatives of host communities were agitated by the issue of ownership and what the host communities and indigenes stand to gain by allowing the Federal Government and multinational companies to exploit gas in the state.
They complained indignantly about oil: What the Federal Government did and is still doing with it after it was found at Oloibiri in Bayelsa State, and vowed that they would not allow gas exploration in their areas if the issue of ownership, local content and privileges of the host communities were not satisfactorily resolved.
Delta State governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan pointed out without waiting for the people to carry placards first that the state government had already insisted on 10 per cent ownership, five per cent for it and the other five per cent for the host communities through a special purpose vehicle.
It was obvious from his explanation that the South-South governors understand the pains of their people and the complicated adversity is not unheard of to the oil companies, which erected separate living structures for their workers in some creek communities with water and electric facilities that the villagers are deprived of.
To manage the flaring tempers against the Federal Government over the matter, he directed that those who have questions and comments should write them down on papers, which were photocopied and handed over to the technical adviser to the group managing director of the Nigeria Petroleum Corporation and general manager (upstream), Dr. David Ige, who represented his boss, Mr. Mohammed Barkindo for onward delivery to President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua.
The governor said the state had learnt its lessons with the manner oil companies came to the region to explore oil without negotiation with the people, saying the state government would guard against that in future.
It was three days after the forum that the South-South governors met in Asaba over the proposed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), reversal of the upgrade of the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI), Effurun, near Warri and other issues, and resolved at the end of the meeting to pull out of the amnesty programme for militants by the Federal Government except the fears of the people were addressed.
There are many versions of the Petroleum Bill, which, coupled with the bigheaded statement of the Minister of Petroleum, Dr. Rilwanu Lukman triggered off the present angst the governors.. Apparently, the copy they relied upon stripped the oil communities of the privileges associated with host communities and because they wear the shoe and know where it pinches, they had to sound an alarm for the people in Abuja to know that it was the rebuff of host communities on such rights in the past and other deprivations that led to the confrontation that has snowballed into militancy in the Niger-Delta today. Those who attended a recent stakeholdersâ€™ forum by Dr Lukman said the bill presented was strikingly different from the version in public sphere.
Call for Lukmanâ€™s head
Delta State Elders, Leaders and Stakeholders Forum led by the former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark called for the removal of the Dr. Lukman, who they accused of being the mastermind of the draconian oil bill, as well as repudiation of the anti – South-South components of the bill.
Some retired military officers in the forum were so incensed by the recent policies of the Yarâ€™Adua government as it affects the South-South that they threatened to join the militants in the creeks to prosecute the Niger-Delta struggle if some people would just wake up from their bed and begin to say anything they like against a section of the country, as Lukman did recently.
Members of the South-South caucus of the House of Representatives also want Dr Lukman sacked. One of its leaders, Hon. Halims Agoda said, â€œIn order not to allow Alhaji Rilwanu Lukman to inflict further dangerous and grievous harm on the immediate and long-term interest of the country, we demand that he should resignâ€.
â€œIf he fails to do so, Mr. President should save Nigeria of many more problems by removing him forthwith as Petroleum Ministerâ€, he added.
The Izon-Ebe Oil Producing Communities Forum (IOPCF), headed by Chief Favour Izoukumor frowned at the PIB, saying it was anti-Niger-Delta and the Federal Government should review it to reflect the interest of the host communities for the purpose of fairness and equity.
Chairman of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) in Delta State, Barrister Oghenejabor Ikimi in his personal capacity stated, â€œI salute the capacity of the six South-South governors, who after a meeting in Asaba resolved to pull out of the amnesty deal should the federal government fail to reverse the provocative petroleum industry bill, the movement of the university of petroleum, Effurun to Kaduna and the anti-South-South posture of the petroleum ministerâ€.
â€œI make bold to say that the above action by the courageous governors are no doubt a reflection of the anger and bitterness presently pervading the entire Niger-Delta region whose God-given resources are being appropriated and squandered by the powers that be. Once again, I call on President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua to immediately retrace his administrationâ€™s aforementioned provocative policies in the interest of peace and tranquility in the region, as no weapon, warship, machine guns or AK 47 fashioned against the people would prosperâ€, he said.
Pioneer Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon Emmanuel Okoro asserted, â€œThe action of the South-South governors is commendable, the agenda of some political oligarchies and elites of the Northern region is inimical to the growth and development of the Niger-Delta if not the country, and particularly oppressive to the Niger Delta region. Their action is now exposed through the recent anti-Niger-Delta policies of the federal governmentâ€.
â€œThe petroleum minister has exhausted his intellectual usefulness in the past and now has nothing except archaic and retrogressive ideas against the goose that produces the golden egg. He should, therefore, be relieved of that position for a young and vibrant person of progressive ideas, no matter how lovely the petroleum industry bill is, it cannot satisfy the yearnings of the people except the oil-producing region are carried along.
â€œThe only solution to address the socio-economic and political logjam in the country is the operation of fiscal federalism or resource control, no more, no lessâ€, Okoro added.
Indication that Dr. Lukman would find it hard to drive the PIB without challenge from the people came early in the day when the only Niger-Delta member of the Oil and Gas Implementation Committee (OGIC), led by him, Donu Kogbara resigned from the committee over what she called professional, personal and social reasons that border on lack of protection of the interests of Niger Deltans.
Kogbara, who spoke from London , during the week, regretted that her views were not respected the way she took the professional views of other members of the committee.
She added that most of the backlash that were currently in the front burners in the Niger Delta today would have been addressed without problems.
According to Kogbara, â€œI can confirm to you that I have left. I have resigned but my resignation has not been accepted. I just felt that I was not being respected enough, especially on my opinions and belief in the Niger Delta issues. I would have been happier if they had more Niger Delta people on the committee.â€
She said she was appointed into the committee by former minister of FCT, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, who felt she was needed in the committee for the purpose of interfacing with the public on goings on in the committee. Asked whether there was adequate representation of the Niger Delta on the committee, she replied, â€œHow can one person who is not well versed in engineering and petroleum matters represent the interest of the entire region?â€
Recounting the things she told the committee to do before she got angry and left, Kogbara said: â€œâ€˜I demanded that they should organize road shows in Rivers and Cross River States to sensitize the people on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) as well as have their input.â€
She also said she felt that issues of poverty and infrastructural development ought to have been better handled by people in power and implemented alongside amnesty and across the country so that the peace and security would be generally addressed not only in the Niger Delta but nationwide.
On the position of the governors from the region to opt out of the amnesty extended to Niger Delta militants by the Federal Government, she said she was not well informed about the issue, but added that their canvassing for the best for the region was good if they had woken up from their slumber.
Host communities not consulted
It was gathered that the Federal Government constituted the Petroleum Sector Reforms Committee without any deliberate attempt at involving the states and communities where petroleum is produced.
â€œThe situationâ€, a top government official from Rivers State said, â€œ once more reminds us of the recommendations of the Willinkâ€™s Commission of 1958, which provided that people who are no Niger Delta inhabitants could not effectively legislate for the people that inhabit the difficult terrain of the Niger Deltaâ€.
â€œIn so doing, the PIB has woefully failed to (a) address or redress the issues that have given birth to the current challenges in the Niger Delta and (b) guarantee the uninterrupted flow of the Nigerian oil and gas with a view to restoring and recapturing investor-confidence.
â€œIn this wise, we suggest that whatever may be the budget of these establishments, since they are national institutions, they ought to come under the purview of the National Assembly as has been the case so farâ€, he said.
MEND adopts wait and see attitude
However, the chief militant group in the region, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger_Delta (MEND) in an electronic mail response to an inquiry by Vanguard said the pull-out threat of the governors over the oil bill and other issues would quicken the emancipation of the region, but, according to its spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, the group would want to adopt a â€œwait and see attitudeâ€ because politicians were not ones to be trusted.
Nevertheless, at the Senate public hearing of the controversial PIB on Monday, major oil producers warned that their plans to invest $95 billion in the sector over the next five years could be derailed by the provisions of the proposed law.
Aside the major producers who spoke on the bill on Monday, the Rivers State Government and the Indigenous Oil Producers criticized some major thrusts of the bill.
Managing Director of Shell Nigeria, Mr. Mutiu Sumonu, in another presentation, said the provisions of PIB would make gas exploration in the country uneconomic.
â€œThe existing fiscal legislation recognizes the fundamental difference between oil and gas, but the proposed PIB treats oil and gas fiscals equally, making all gas projects uneconomic.â€
In its submission, the Rivers State Government flayed the concept of the bill which it claimed was done without consultation with major stakeholders from the oil-producing regions of the country.
â€œRivers State requests that the right of individuals and institutions of state to own shares in the Nigeria National Petroleum Company should be enshrined in the law on the basis of equity participation using possessor rights of the land dwellers/host communities of the petroleum producing region.
â€œIn summary, we propose that the Bill be withdrawn and completely redrafted to ensure respect for the component parts of the Federation, fair play and equity.
In its own submission the Indigenous and Marginal Field Operators in their submission, articulated by Mr. Austin Avuru demanded for an industry law that:
*Recognizes the peculiarly un-prospective leases often available to Indigenous Operators, being the ones relinquished by IOCs due to their low productivity ranking or small size of the discoveries. The new Law should therefore create a fiscal regime that moderates the effects of these geological realities.
*Deliberately encourages growth of individual companies up to a threshold up to 50,000bopd. It is only in this situation can the nation aspire to achieve even 20% indigenous production by 2020.
*Grants Nigerian companies, on an open and competitive basis under clearly defined criteria preferential access to onshore and shelf acreagesâ€.
Element of doubt
However, the coordinator or the Niger-Delta Professionals for Development, Mr. Joel Bisina and the governorship candidate of the Peoples Redemption Party in the 2001 governorship elections in Delta State, Engineer Emmanuel Igbine towed a different stand from the majority.
According to Bisina, â€œHow are we sure this is not another political jamboree as was the case when same South_ South governors hijacked the resource control struggle through the Benin declaration from the youths of the Niger-Delta only to jettison it for mere political alignment and patronageâ€.
â€œI want you to know that you (governors) killed the struggle and left our youths at the crossroad. Now, you threaten to pullout of the amnesty arrangement; did you even consult with the people you claim to represent before you signed on? The youths of the region have seen this long time ago and have concluded that the present political configuration of Nigeria is heavily skewed against the region and therefore have continued to demand for true federalism , which for you, is too intellectual, highly academic and the road to its achievement too time consuming. You ignored the wishes of the people for mere political gainsâ€, he said.
On his part, Engr. Igbini said contrary to what the governors want the people to believe,
â€The Bill aims to expose the decades long of crude oil stealing, fraud, environmental destruction and exploitation by the multinational oil companies, as the Bill insists on publishing what is earned and produced in the oil industry to be easily accessed by our people in line with international extractive industry transparent initiativeâ€.
â€It also seeks to open a new window of opportunity which takes into account, the need for our people to be major stakeholders in the management and control of our God given oil and gas resources. It is therefore not surprising that the multinational oil companies have continued to frustrate and strongly object to the passage of the Bill while supporting many existing obnoxious Nigerian Petroleum that protects and encourages their atrocities. They have also allegedly been sponsoring some groups to condemn this Billâ€, he asserted.
An obnoxious and unfortunate bill – Tonye Princewill
Stakeholders in the Niger Delta have asked the National Assembly to throw out the Petroleum Bill â€œas it seeks to further deprive the region and its people of the proceeds from their natural resourcesâ€.
The Action Congress Party in the state through its spokesman, Chief Eze Chukwuemeka Eze said the â€œbill should not see the light of day and we urge the National Assembly to throw out the Petroleum Industry Bill whenever it is presented before it, as it is not only anti-community but also a slap on the face of the oil producing states and truth be known, the bill has nothing good to offer the country but would spell doom for the landâ€.
On his part, factional President of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, Mr. Goodluck Diigbo said the â€œbill would generate crisis and create unnecessary militancy, even as the government is trying to erase militancyâ€
Further to this he said â€œit should be thrown out and community participation of oil producing areas in the region be encouraged and a trust fund from oil derivation be set up for all and for generations yet unbornâ€.
Also, Prince Tonye Princewill AC gubernatorial candidate in Rivers State in 2007 said the bill is â€œa calculated ploy to dehumanize the Niger Delta region.
He pointed out its failure to address community involvement in industry and governments intention to reduce the amount of derivation revenues accruing to oil producing communities and states.
This is because in what is submitted to the National Assembly nothing goes to either the community or states where this mineral is produced.
â€œTo me, this bill is obnoxious and unfortunateâ€. He decried the proposed restructuring of the upstream sector that would ultimately have Private owned multinationals in JV agreements with the NNPC face the risk of becoming like moribund public enterprises
â€œThis is an act that can singularly pose high environmental risks when inexperienced managers drive a complex industry.
Merit will be thrown overboard and quota will be used in staffing and promotions, which he fears may not benefit the Niger Delta indigenes.
â€œFiscal and funding terms are likely to become more onerous, making industry unattractive to large commercial international players. In short I urge all Nigerians no matter the section to rise up and support the defeat of this bill aimed at the disintegration of Nigeriaâ€.