By Emma Amaize, Emmanuel Aziken, Luka Binniyat & Inalegwu Shaibu
ABUJA â€” The announcement of the reversal of the upgrade of the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI), Effurun, Delta State, to a University of Petroleum Technology has come under attack by members of the House of Representatives from the South-South zone, calling for the sack of the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Alhaji Rilwanu Lukman.
The Members in a press conference yesterday insisted that the Minister must be relived of his post for â€œspitingâ€ the people of the Niger Delta by the decision.
Speaking at the National Assembly on behalf of the South-South caucus of the House of Representatives, Halims Agoda (PDP/Delta) said his position and that of members from the South-South remains the same.
â€œIt would appear that the decision of the Federal GovernmentÂ to relocate the University of Petroleum Technology, Effurun, which has been in progress and has received allocation in this yearâ€™s budget, is intended as a political missile to spite the Niger Deltaâ€, he 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€, he said.
â€œIf he fails to do so, Mr. President should save Nigeria of many more problems by removing forthwith Alhaji Lukman as Petroleum Ministerâ€, he said.
According to the Chairman, House Committee on Air Force, the PTI, Effurun has since been given some space to expand as a University and that its students have been admitted with lecturers initially drawn from the University of Benin.
â€œThe Delta state government has already allocated a very big portion of land for the permanent site of the Universityâ€, he added,
â€œThere was no time that it was mentioned that the University was there on temporary basisâ€, he said.
â€œNo sooner was the institute upgraded than a flurry of subtle manoeuvres was let loose on the new school. From the recruitment of top officials of the University without due consideration for the sensibilities of local host communities, to the abrupt disengagements of University of Benin which initially provided the foundation ground works for the new University, it was obvious at the time to the Niger Delta that the last may not have been heard about the travails of the universityâ€ he said.
Meanwhile, the Senate public hearing on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) commenced in Abuja yesterday with a disagreement among the promoters with a coalition of Inter-Government Agencies faulting the billâ€™s provisions as weak on community development and fiscal measures.
President of the Senate, Chief David Mark, flagging off the well-attended hearing affirmed that the situation in the Niger Delta will not affect progress on the bill even as Senator Lee Maeba, Chairman of the tripartite-committee dismissed a version of the bill circulated by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) as not being the one before the Senate.
Proponents of the bill yesterday were the Ministers of Petroleum, Dr. Rilwanu Lukman and Information, Prof. Dora Akunyili and the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mohammed Barkindo.
Flagging off the public hearing yesterday, Senator Mark who was accompanied by the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu said that he had not seen a bill draw such attention in his ten years in the National Assembly.
Affirming that the current situation in the Niger Delta would not affect the outcome of the bill, he said: â€œMay I say, with all due respect, that the situation in the Niger Delta is a very temporary one. It is not a permanent issue, so it cannot be the major factor that will affect the out come of the Bill. That must be regarded as something that is very temporary being addressed by the Federal Government of Nigeria and I believe that by the time we are able to pass this Bill, that situation would have become history.â€™â€™
Earlier, while welcoming dignitaries to the hearing, Senator Lee Maeba, chairman of the joint hearing involving the Senate committees on Gas and Downstream Petroleum had cautioned against the circulation of what he described as a different PIB bill by the NNPC.
He said: â€œBefore I continue, I just want to clear an issue, members of the public, stakeholders and several representatives from organised private oil companies operating in Nigeria, indigenous companies have approached me and questioned which version of the bill we are treating.
â€œWe are aware of a document like this, and I believe that if the president in his wisdom that sent the bill to the Senate has any reason to make further amendment, by convention, it has been done severally in the past, the president will officially write the senate withdrawing the first bill that was sent and in its place he will send back another bill incorporating those amendments but this has not been done.
â€œThe President in his wisdom has not withdrawn the bill sent to us and we have only one copy of the bill that was sent us by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria so anybody who will publish any new version of the bill is doing so at his own risk,â€™â€™ Senator Maeba said as he affirmed that the Senate would not project any bill that will not project the interests of Nigerians in the industry.
The Minister of Petroleum, Dr. Lukman who has been repeatedly flayed for his alleged stance against the oil producing Niger Delta region of the country was absent at the hearing and his address was presented by the Minister of State (Petroleum), Mr. Odein Ajumogobia (SAN).
MEND adopts â€œwait and seeâ€ attitude
Militant group, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND) has however adopted a wait and see attitude to the reversal of the upgrade of the PTI by the Federal Government and the proposed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which are among the reasons that the South-South governors recently issued a threat to pull out of the amnesty package for militants.
Spokesman of the militant group, Jomo Gbomo, in an electronic mail response to an inquiry by Vanguard said, â€œAs for the PTI and Petroleum Bill, we are adopting a wait and see attitude and expect other groups to speak out against this insult. We know what to do at the right timeâ€.