By Okey Ndiribe, Samuel Oyadongha, Ehis Osajie and Dapo Akinrefon
What is your view on the controversial Petroleum Industry Bill ( PIB) presently before the National Assembly?
I think the bill is a little bit insensitive to the yearnings of the people of the Niger Delta and the oil producing communities. One important instance of this is that all over the world, royalty is an amount paid to the owners of the land.
I believe that we are going to achieve the expected peace in the region, if we should work out an arrangement such that the royalty is structured in a way that the actual owners of where the oil comes from get a bit of that royalty. I believe because of what we recommended in the report of the Technical Committee on Niger Delta ( TCND).
We had suggested that a minimum of two dollars per barrel of crude oil should be paid to the community that owns the land. I believe that if you do not link the communities which own the land from which oil is being drilled to have a stake in that oil, then they have no reason to protect the oil drilling installations. We made recommendations to make sure that the area which falls within 10 kilometres radius of any flow st
ation should receive their supply of electricity and water from that flow station.
We believe this would make the communities to have a stake in the continued operation of the flow station. I donâ€™t know whatever arrangement that has to be made to achieve this. But such structures are important. I think that an opportunity for reform of the petroleum law should have captured all these legitimate aspirations of the people of the region.
As far as the bill does not reflect all these aspirations, I think it is provocative. I think that the appropriate thing to do is to make sure that the bill in its current form should not be passed into law by the National Assembly unless it responds to the quest for justice from the people of the region where the oil comes from.
Do you think that the reaction of governors of the region is appropriate especially considering the fact they are now tying passage of the bill to the amnesty programme which is being implemented by the Federal Government?
Absolutely. In fact, we hail their action. We think that it is quite refreshing to find that for once the governors of the region have taken a common stand that is reflective of the actual yearnings of the people of the region.
I think that the message the Federal Government should hear is that irrespective of anything , there is an overwhelming sentiment here that was reflected in the statement by the governors. I think that it would be foolhardy to think that this is one of those things that could be wished away.
Certain things can play out. For instance, you can find there is an overwhelming feeling in the area especially because of the period during which the bill has been presented. The Federal Government is talking of amnesty and it is also talking of presenting a Petroleum Bill that does not reflect yearnings of the people of the region.
You are also talking of relocating the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI) to Kaduna, and then it is also talking of the recent re-organisation within the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation ( NNPC). The people are scandalised that nobody from the region was given any of the important positions in the NNPC.
So all these have come as a package that shows that there is no serious attempt to deal with the issues of the Niger Delta. And this is a government that came with a slogan saying one of its seven point agenda is dealing holistically with the issues of Niger Delta.
As I have always said, if you are involved in any meeting and halfway into the meeting you are still talking about only the items on the agenda, such a meeting cannot be said to be a success. And any government that can deal in a critical manner with the problems of the Niger Delta, would enter the history books as one that posterity would smile on.
How do you see the bill vis-a-vis the recommendations of your committee?
These are some of the things that I get worried about. We submitted the report last December. There are aspects of our report which should have been given the benefit of a bill. For instance, we looked at the responsibilities of oil companies; we also looked at a period of grace in terms of environmental degradation and we asked that oil companies should get insurance bonds before they start operations within these communities.
For instance, if there is an oil leakage this arrangement would be used to accommodate that environmental degradation. We also made recommendations about the personnel that work in the oil companies and how it should be sensitive, even gender wise to people of the areas of operation. We brought in a whole lot of package including the fact the PTI should receive more funding such that it should be upgraded into a university. None of these issues are reflected. It shows that someone is not taking our feelings into consideration.
FG must be fought to a standstill – Prof Itse Sagay
While stating his position on the proposed oil bill, constitutional lawyer, Prof Itse Sagay said: “I agree wholeheartedly with the governors, in fact, it they (governors) didnâ€™t do that, a lot of us would have been attacking them on the issue by now.
Because, they have this Petroleum Industry Bill coming up, which is solely concerned with enhancing the remuneration which the Federal government is going to earn from the oil industry without addressing anything with regards to the Niger Delta, which is the owner of the oil. So there is no provision for royalties, there is no provision for derivation, there is no provision for environmental clean up, there is no aspect for resource control.
So, what the Federal Government has done is to behave as if the Niger Delta, from whose soil the oil is coming from, has no connection or relevance to the bill. So, they (governors) have to put their foot down and fight the Federal Government in this case, to a stand still; because you cannot continue to ignore the owners, grab all the oil, divide it amongst yourself, spend it and leave the owners to continue to wallow in abject poverty, in misery and under development. Thatâ€™s what they are doing.
And the other one, which is the decision to relocate the Petroleum Institute to Kaduna, is an act of extreme provocation to the Niger Delta. Kaduna does not produce one drop of oil, Kaduna State is still being maintained by the Niger Delta oil. As if that generosity is not enough they now want to remove an institute for training of petroleum personnel to work in the industry which is exclusively located in the Niger Delta to the oil dry and barren Kaduna and they even said it is funded by the PTDF, which itself is 100 percent funded from the Niger Delta oil proceeds.
So, the thing is an amazing act of provocation which is uncalled for. I donâ€™t know why this government wants to start provoking people to become angry. I am disenchanted with this country. I donâ€™t understand this government, itâ€™s as if Yarâ€™Adua wants to throw all of us into chaos with what heâ€™s doing.
It is an ethnic agenda – Irewegbe
MR Ernest Irewegbe, an Abuja based legal practitioner is a strong and consistent voice against the despoliation of Niger Delta communities in the name of oil exploration. In this interview with Vanguard he spoke on the petroleum bill before the National Assembly and the downgrading of the Petroleum University in Effurun, Delta State. Excerpts:
â€œPresident Yarâ€™ Aduaâ€™s action as an overkill on the Niger Delta region. It is an ethnic agenda, another stage in the northernisation of the financial and oil sectors of the national economy. We are not blind to the way the present government has filled the commanding heights of Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and other key industries with northerners.
â€œIt beats every reason that President Yarâ€™ Adua could think of moving the institution from Niger Delta where the oil industry is domiciled to an arid zone where there is neither oil exploration or viable petroleum consumption. I think he has gradually succeeded in putting in the hands of his northern brothers our collective national patrimony.
â€œChief Olusegun Obasanjo who had a better cause to site the university in Yoruba land , Ondo State being an oil producing state, did not panther to any ethnic sentiment when he bought the idea of Senator Fred Brume to convert the old PTI to university status in the early days of PDP administration. People had objected then to it being christened by President Obasanjo as College of Petroleum and Gas Engineering in affiliation to the University of Benin.
â€œPerhaps those initial controversies (including sponsored demonstrations) by all sorts of lobbying groups opposed to any relationship with UNIBEN at that time may have led to this killjoy action of the present government. Even then it is an overkill, provocative and disgusting.
â€œThe disquiet this policy somersault has caused is no surprise. Even relocations of headquarters of local councils have been greeted in the past with violence. The action will no doubt reignite militancy in the area because the people see government action as a slap on their face. Our anger is genuine. The relocation of the school is a proof of government reluctance to develop the Niger Delta region even though it is the area that produces the wealth that sustains the entire country. The facilities and other opportunities that could come to the region will now move with the institution to the northern part of the country where there is no drop of oil.
Commenting on the position of the governors of Niger- Delta on the latest development, the erudite lawyer said: â€œThat the South-South governors have woken up from their slumber is interesting. For the first time their action is in tandem with the wishes of the people. We would advise them to press forward, not to give up, until the battle is won.
They should know that entire petroleum bills are not in the interest of the Niger Delta region. While the country proffers to be a federal state the contents of the petroleum bill are the very hallmarks of a unitary state. It has no provisions in terms of royalties and benefits for the region that host the oil companies. Since the governors were voted to work for the benefit of their various states, they should forget the faulty processes that brought them to power, work together to ensure that the bills are not passed into law by the National Assembly.”
It’s recipe for nation’s doom – Ijaw group
THE Ijaw in the diaspora under the auspices of Ijaw Foundation have accused the federal government of stoking the Niger Delta crisis. Dr Ebipamone N. Nanakumo, President of Ijaw Foundation Board of Directors, a United States based organization who spoke to Vanguard lamented that the petroleum industry bill and the planned building of a Petroleum University in Kaduna where there is no crude oil is brazen assault on the dignity and welfare of the people of the oil producing Niger Delta. Excerpts:
â€œThe announcement by President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua administration last Wednesday, July 22, 2009, made by the Petroleum Minister, Dr. Rilwanu Lukman, to reverse the upgrading of the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI) in Warri to a Petroleum University and instead relocate it to Kaduna is a brazen and unacceptable assault on the dignity and welfare of the ever_ruthlessly oppressed, plundered, abused and impoverished people of the oil producing Niger Delta.
â€œIt is not gainsaying the fact that it does not make any sense economically to site the Petroleum University in Kaduna in view of the enormous expenses needed to regularly transport faculty staff and students from Kaduna in the far north to the oil wells and oil facilities exclusively in the Niger Delta, to conduct research.
â€œAs aggravated insults, the government, also plan to build the headquarters of the Petroleum Trust Development Fund (PTDF) in Northern Nigeria, at Abuja, at the cost of N11billion, in addition to enacting an extremely obnoxious new Petroleum Industry Bill that would totally rob the Niger Delta people of the ownership, control and enjoyment of their crude oil and natural gas resources.
â€œThe insensitivity and callousness of the deliberate, unfair and oppressive policies of the Nigerian State against the people of the Niger Delta defy definition. Such shameless selfishness and sectionalism are inimical to national cohesion and, indeed, spells speedy doom for Nigeria as a nation_state!
â€œThe prevailing pervasive Ijaw youth restiveness and insurgency are compelled and propelled by the imperative for survival and self_defence, in the spirit of Isaac Adaka Boro, against the political subjugation and relentless ruthless oppression of the Ijaw people, unbridled plundering of their oil and gas resources, wanton destruction of their habitat and means of subsistence, their utter neglect and deprivation, atrocious violation of their basic human rights and dignity, continual heinous genocides perpetrated by an occupying military force of the Nigerian State that kills Ijaws with impunity, and resultant abominable squalor, hopelessness, despair and anarchy.
â€œIt is the height of insincerity and hypocrisy for the Nigerian government, which is wooing the Niger Delta freedom fighters with amnesty to resolve the Niger Delta crisis, to simultaneously enact and implement policies that will further rob Niger Deltans of their rights and dignity, and ipso facto, alienate them and stoke the Niger Delta Crisis! This is yet another example of the federal governmentâ€™s lack of commitment to justice and peace in the Niger Delta.
â€œIn solidarity with all Niger Deltans and all well_meaning Nigerians, Ijaw Foundation, a platform for collective action by all Ijaws and all Ijaw organizations in the diaspora and the Ijaw homeland, therefore calls for the immediate reversal of the said obnoxious and unacceptable policies and plans of the Nigerian government. We demand and insist that the Petroleum University must not be built at Kaduna but instead the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI) in Warri be upgraded to a Petroleum University, as had been planned by the preceding Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
â€œWe also demand that the headquarters of the Petroleum Trust Development Fund (PTDF) must not be sited in Abuja but in Bayelsa State .
â€œFinally, we reject the current Petroleum Industry Bill and call for a new bill that grants and allocates at least fifty percent (50%) of all oil prospecting licenses and oil blocs to Ijaw/Niger Delta business interests and Niger Delta State Governments, Local Government Councils and communities.
â€œWe urge the Yarâ€™Adua administration to stop all policies and actions that are inimical to national cohesion and survival of Nigeria .â€
In his own reaction the Patterson Ogon, Founding Director, Ijaw Council for Human Rights, described the federal government action as a threat to its acclaimed desire to bring about lasting peace and development in the troubled region.
â€œThe Ijaw Council for Human Rights (ICHR) described the decision by the federal government to relocate the PTI and the processes of the contentious Petroleum Industry Bill as the most absurd, senseless and ridiculous by any administration, military or civilian, willing and desirous of addressing the fundamental issue of peace building and development in Nigeria .
â€œComing at a time when tempers are high and questions as to sustainable community livelihood and ecological health are key, the whole scenario can be likened to a man who is at the verge of losing his manhood but plays the ostrich.
â€œThe justification by the Minister for Petroleum, Alhaji Rilwanu Lukman for siting the Petroleum Varsity in Kaduna is not only pedestrian but advertises a historical disdain for the genuine demands of the Niger Delta people for development.
â€œIt certainly has the capacity of throwing spanner in the works in this whole amnesty plan by the federal government. The National Assembly should take caution in dealing with the Bill. Let them ensure that the bill is harmonized to conform to any bill in the extractive industry operating in the country rather than treating the Petroleum Industry bill as different from others in the extractive industry.â€