By Jimitota Onoyume
SENATOR Lee Meaba represents the Rivers South East Senatorial districtÂ in the Senate. He is currently Chairman Senate Committee on Upstream and also heads the joint committee on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB)
In this interview heÂ spoke extensively on the capacity of the Nigerian Content Bill to transform the local and national economy of the country. Excerpts:
Letâ€™s look at the Nigerian Content Bill you sponsored. How is it likely to address challenges of poverty in the Niger Delta and the nation at large?
The Nigerian content development in the oil and gas industry bill 2005 is something we started work on in 2005 and up to 2006 with the International Oil Companies (IOCs). We were not able to pass it because of pressures from the iocs which tried to stop the bill. People came up that I had all kinds of interest and I asked what kind of interest. Luckily in 2007 I was re-elected. And I started working on it again. Last year we got through both chambers of the National Assembly . It is now on the table of the acting president for assent. It was one of my visions to make legislation that would encourage Nigerian content development.
The bill will add value to the society, empower the locals. The bill as is called is Nigerian content. This takes us to the stage of community content in the bill. Community content development will improve the life of the communities, the host communities, and the people who live there.
In the bill for any project to be done in your local government as an oil producing area the company doing that project must establish a project office in that community that can award at least 60 percent of the support contracts for the job. You donâ€™t need to go to Abuja to look for support contracts in a project going on in your community. For instance, you want to build a gas plant here the entire support project like procurement, construction etc must be awarded to the 60% worth of it. It must be awarded in that community.
At the last Nigeria Oil and Gas Conference (NOG) Shell raised fears on the PIB that it can affect investment opportunities in the country.
(Cuts in) The easiest way to operate a company is to see that there are no existing laws to limit the company from its vision. So every company needs a lawless environment to make profit. Law appears an impediment to profit making illegally. And the companies are ready to make illegal profits. Talking about the IOCs objecting the PIBÂ it, well the IOCs also objected the Nigeria content bill. It has 115 sections. They said 105 section was obsolete etc, not in tune with their operations. So should be deleted.
Letâ€™s look at the Niger Delta. Most of the mega floating stations that were built all ver the water ways in the region are yet to commence operations. How do you react to this?
This takes us to deregulation. It is only in Nigeria government gets involved in petroleum product distribution, marketing. This should not be government business. There are companies that register to do such business to make profit. So government going around the water ways building mega floating station, you know if a company let’s say Oando builds mega station on the water ways, the day they finish, the banks that gave them money to build the stations are waiting for their returns. They will start dispensing products immediately. They start to dispense product to make profit. Government is Father Christmas. This is why they can build and allow it to decay. If they had deregulated the market it wonâ€™t be so.
You know that Nigeria does not have a national storage. What happens in time of emergency? Nigeria is supposed to have strategic depots, shielded from attack. But none.Â And the depot should guarantee at least a minimum of thirty days supply in times of emergency. And if you have three it means ninety days supply and it is a period to stabilize. We donâ€™t have any strategic reserve facility. This is why you see fuel scarcity everywhere. In the United States (US) before you see fuel scarcity there would have been a state of emergency that would have lasted for months. They have strategic reserve that can fuel the whole of America. They even have for crude oil. You know when the crude oil price jumped, America had to go and open their strategic reserve which they hardly operateÂ except the president permitted the reserve to be opened. When they did the oil price crashed and China opened their own too. All through the time militants were disturbing in the region Nigeria should have set up a national reserve.
What is your assessment ofÂ the post amnesty programme?
I donâ€™t see any amnesty working. I have said it consistently; the amnesty programme is mostly talks about nothing.
There can be no true amnesty without rehabilitation; there can be no true amnesty without re engagement. You bring a militant from the creek after debriefing him, you send him for orientation, no house to live. So where do you want him to go. This is a manÂ that has been used to bush live for over a year what do you call it when you cannot rehabilitatate the man, even a single room?
The amnesty is not really an amnesty until it carries the true component of amnesty, of reengagement, social renewal. The amnesty now does not have any social renewal project. It is just a pronouncement, a hurried pronouncement. As far as I am concerned if we want to do amnesty we must go back to the drawing board. A car is not a car until it has engine, radiator, headlamp etc. If it is a true amnesty it should come out with all the components to sustain it. For now I see it as a skeleton car that does not have components to make it move yet somebody somewhere is saying move this car, move this car.
What is your assessment ofÂ Niger Delta Ministry performance?
Unless the Ministry is funded it will be seen as a creation for administrative convenience or for propaganda. When you create an institution without proper funding then it is a propaganda box. A propaganda box as far as I am concern is a Pandora box. And anything can come out from it (general laughter)
Nevertheless do you have any word for ChiefÂ Godsday Orubebe, the Minister of Niger Delta?
The word I have for him is that he should ask for more money. Take a comprehensive look at what he is supposed to do and come out with a plan and tell the world that this is what we want to do. Because if you donâ€™t have the money you canâ€™t do anything. And if you donâ€™t do anything then the ministry is useless.
There is this allegation in some quarters that the political leadership in the region shares in the cause of underdevelopment in the area…
(Cuts in) This is right. When in 1999 this administration came on board we had the likes of Anthony Anenih who created leadership for the region. We had an Anenih that was in control of the governors. You rarely saw people went out of what he tolerated. The Anenihs have wound off, no longer in office. Now the new governorsÂ came in through his support or not. So you can see that all the governors came in through one support or the other. So that takes us to the critical issue of leadership.Â Chief E.K Clark tried to provide leadership but who is listening to him? There is no leadership. State governors are like Commanders of their states. A lot of them are not interested in the unity of the people in the state.