By Dapo Akinrefon
THE proposed Oil Bill presently before the National Assembly has continued to generate harsh reactions especially from stakeholders from the Niger Delta. In this interview with Saturday Vanguard, Constitutional lawyer, Professor Itse Sagay frowns at the bill. He argues that the oil bill is anti- South-South adding that it will further lead to under-development in the region. He bares his mind on other sundry issues. Excerpts:
Reactions have continued to trail the controversial Oil Bill and in fact, South-South governors have threatened to pull out of the proposed amnesty for militants. Is there any legal basis to oppose the bill?
Itâ€™s not a legal basis, itâ€™s political basis. The opposition from the Niger Delta is that the Oil Bill, has nothing positive for the Niger Delta. All it does, is to stream line the 16 existing petroleum producing areas into one, to make it more efficient and to make it more financially productive for the Federal government.
There is no package at all for the Niger Delta in it, so, really, itâ€™s a slap in the face. Itâ€™s as if those who actually produce the oil are irrelevant and that it is to be produced exclusively for the benefit of the Federal government and those who control it.
Now that the South/South governors have threatened to pull out from the amnesty proposed by the Federal government for the militants, donâ€™t you think such steps may threaten the Federal governmentâ€™s efforts as regards amnesty that would eventually solve the crisis in the region?
Of course amnestyÂ will not work because there is no positive provision for the Niger Delta in the Petroleum Industry Bill.
There is nothing about royalty for the people of the Niger Delta. There is nothing about the cleaning up of the environment which is more damaging to the communities. There is nothing about any condition ofÂ how Niger Delta states and communities can have a stake in the industry, for example, a provision that will allow them preference to some oil blocs which they can exploitÂ so that they can have significant practice in the industry.
There is no provision for increasing derivation from the present 13 percent to 25 per cent, when we know that the original derivation per cent was 60 per cent.
There is no provision to address the issue of offshore derivation, which, according to the independence and republican constitution, was applicable throughout the continental shelf . In other words, it is just a bill to ensure that the Federal government collects more money from the oil companies without taking care of anything of interest to the people who own the oil.
Having said that, what signal is this development sending to the region?
What it shows is that the Federal government has total contempt for the people of the Niger Delta. And that contemptÂ even confirmed the insolent attempt to downgrade the Petroleum Institute from a University status to a training institution for low and middle level workers and transfer the university, which award degrees to Kaduna Institute; in an area which has never produced a drop of oil in its history.
In other words, all the money from the Niger Delta, will now form the downgrading of its own institute and the upgrading of Kaduna, which does not produce oil. Itâ€™s ultimate insult.
But there are two versions of the bills presently before the National Assembly, donâ€™t you see some form of hank-panky in the whole process?
I am yet to see the two bills. What I know about this bill is what I have read from what has been made available. In fact, I understand there are three versions of the bill, depending on who is trying to promote something. It only shows you that we are in a state of utter chaos.
Is there is anything in Dr Rilwan Lukmanâ€™s antecedents to show that he is anti- South/South?
It is obvious. All these are happening within the short period he has been in power.
He may not be doing it consciously. He might be doing it because he has a state of mind that the people of the Niger Delta are irrelevant and heâ€™s only thinking of the power of the Federal government and that they (FG) can do whatever they like.
I think he has an imperial mind-set which has no consideration or sensitivity for those who are producing the wealth of this country.
If you are in a position to make suggestions to the Federal government on how to develop the Niger Delta, what would you be telling them?
To start, I will want the bill to be amended to include all the provisions I have stated . For example, there should be ten per cent of at least all proceeds of gross products of petroleum to the local communities.
There should also be a clear statement from the Federal government that the Petroleum University in Effurun is going to go on as established by the Obasanjo government. And the Federal government, without wasting much time, should begin to implement the Mitee-led technical committee recommendations, that is major developmental infra structuralÂ interventions, building roads, bridges, electricity, developmental issues massively to show good faith. So that people of the Niger Delta will once again begin to trust the Federal government.
Do you think the South/South governors can sustain this campaign considering the fact that they are all in the same party?
It does not matter. They are still in the same party but they were not elected as governors by their party, they were elected by the people they represent.
And that is why they know that the people they represent have been humiliated and neglected; and that their own survival as governors, will depend on resisting this humiliation and oppression and rescuing the rights of the Niger Delta for them to have a share in their God given resources. The Niger Delta is the most wretched oil producing area in the whole world and that just has to stop. They use our money to build paradise in Abuja and in other parts of the country , leaving the Niger Delta in a state of wretchedness and filth. Thatâ€™s not acceptable.
If the governors have to survive, they really have to take up the struggle to ensure that this sort of oppression is abruptly ended.
Just recently, militants stormed Lagos to attack the Atlas Cove Jetty and have threatened to carry out more attacks on oil installations around the country.
What I will like to say about it is that what they (militants) did in Lagos is an indication that they have the capacity to strike beyond the Niger Delta. I think that should register in the minds of everybody and therefore, it should be an incentive to try and arrive at a peaceful resolution of this matter as soon as possible.
Their grievances should be met, we should go beyond amnesty and go to the major and substantive issue that is causing this problem and resolve them. It means the Federal government has to move fast because those people have the capacity to go beyond the Niger Delta. For me, that is the message that they are sending, we must resolve this matter.
Already, they have declared a 60 day cease fire and suspension of activities. Those 60 days must be used productively particularly by the Federal government.
Some people have expressed fear that the Federal government may not be sincere in its plan to grant amnesty to the militants What do you make of this?
Well, honestly, I donâ€™t know the mind of the Federal government. Given the things that have happened recently, this Petroleum Industry Bill and the transfer of the Petroleum Institute from Warri to Kaduna, there is definitely an indication, and one is inclined to believe, that there is a lack of sincerity.
But if that is the case, that lack of sincerity has to change. You can see the unity of the people of the Niger Delta, everybody is united, the governors are with us, the militants and the whole people of the Niger Delta are united in resisting continued oppression from Nigeria.
What the Federal government should do is to embark on massive infra structural intervention apart from the fact of restoring the real status of the Petroleum Institute unequivocally.
They should now massively intervene by providing infrastructure to the people of the Niger Delta, they should build a modern city like Abuja in the Niger Delta and also, the provision of the Petroleum Industry should be amended to include all the grievances which the Niger Delta governors have listed. All that should be done immediately.