SENATOR Lee Maeba is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Petroleum (Upstream). Those who know him describe him as irrepressible, blunt and indefatigable. In this interview with Hector Igbikiowubo, Editor, Sweet crude, he speaks on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), 10 per cent for oil producing communities, the Nigerian Content Bill (NCB) and describes the Dr. Rilwanu Lukman/Mohammed Sanusi Barkindo era as the most fraudulent, unfocused and unprofessional he had experienced, among other issues.
The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) has been caught up in the legislative process for quite sometime now, where are we with that and how soon should we expect it to be passed into law?
The report process is almost at conclusion and as soon as the joint committee meets to look at the consultants report and either it is committed or more work is done on it. Give or take, within the next few weeks the report must be ready for plenary.
Concerns have been expressed about the fiscal regime contained in the PIB and this is mostly by multinational oil exploration and production companies. Does your committee plan to address these concerns?
I am sure the multinationals cannot complain because the PIB was open to scrutiny by our joint committee, all of them contributed by what they feel is correct and all the positions given by them including the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) as memoranda were well looked into. I believe that they are well aware that we cannot come out with a fiscal regime that will either bring about very high taxation to divert investment from the country or very low to deprive the government of adequate take. So, we are coming out with an equitable regime that will ensure adequate government take and adequate incentives for foreign firms. We are coming up with a tax regime that to put it in lay man’s terms would not be too high or too low, something in the middle to accommodate all. That is what we can say for now. We are very much aware of the growing competition in the Gulf of Guinea; Angola has opened its doors, Guinea has opened its doors, we are very much aware of this and would not want to come up with a tax regime that would drive investors from the country. We are responsible law makers committed to balancing the act of ensuring that our tax policy is attractive, balancing the act of making sure that government has adequate take from our operations and balancing that act to make sure that there is peace in the Niger Delta to ensure the security of welfare of the oil producing communities.
Talking about security of welfare for the oil producing communities, there is this concern that the delay in the passage of the PIB has inadvertently affected the likely benefits that may accrue to the communities through implementation of 10 per cent equity ownership of oil produced. Considering the delay in passage of the PIB and the need to ensure guaranteed security in the delta, is there any plan to have the 10 per cent consideration presented as a separate bill?
I don’t think the people of the Niger Delta would constitute themselves into the story of the tortoiseÂ there is this story of the tortoise who was jailed for over 7 years and the king said we have to bring out the tortoise. When the king’s messenger went to the tortoise and told him of the king’s plans, the tortoise said look you have to do it hurriedly and the king’s messenger said but you have been here for 7 years and the tortoise said that is not the issue, the issue is that since there is a rumour that I must be removed from here, then it must be done quickly. I hope the oil communities don’t want to constitute themselves into another tortoise fable. The reality is that we are working round the clock to make this happen and mind you, it is 10 per cent profit, nobody is talking about 10 per cent equity. This would be delivered along with the PIB, everybody knows the PIB is needed, it is part of the reform of the administration, the national assembly is part of the administration and we are pursuing the reform aggressively, both houses of the national assembly are working to try to get it passed. I think the PIB is coming soon, the 10 per cent would be delivered to the communities and the 10 per cent for the communities, we have designed it, we have gone far, and it is going to be delivered to the communities.
We are well aware of your efforts to bring the Nigerian Content Bill to this stage. What are your expectations for the industry as soon as the bill is signed into law?
It is not my effort you know, the bill is a Senator Lee Maeba sponsored bill, it is a private bill sponsored by Senator Lee Maeba, so my wish for the indigenous oil companies is for the industry to be given back to Nigerians because it is their wealth and it is coming in big folds. Once the acting president comes back, I am sure the Nigerian Content Monitoring Board will be established immediately and in the next six months I expect the bill to dictate the pace for the operations of the Nigerian oil and gas industry so that international companies that want to do business in Nigeria can come and form partnerships with our companies down here. The job that Nigerian companies now have to do is well defined and the job of the international companies is well defined. The international companies that want to do business in Nigeria and where the bill has spelt out is in signing partnerships so that they get involved. So my wish is that the bill is signed and my wish for the oil producing communities in the Nigerian oil industry would have been accomplished.
There were concerns before now that the multinationals have suffered delays in getting some of their work programmes approved by NAPIMS (National Petroleum Investment Management Services). Is your committee doing anything to ensure that the delay in the contracting cycle is contracted?
One thing you don’t know about the NCB is that it has completely addressed the concerns surrounding contract tendering process; it has reduced it such that when a company advertises for a project, the time for pre-qualification, the time for technical and commercial bids are all provided. By the bill is signed, I am sure that no contract would take more than six months from the tender to the time it is awarded.
In the last three and half years, we have seen four group managing directors superintend the NNPC calling to question the direction of government regarding this critical entity in the country’s economic life. As someone in charge of superintending the industry from the legislation perspective, are you looking at the possibility of ensuring that the position of group managing director is tied to a tenureÂ to avoid a situation where people are replaced at the whims and caprices of whoever determines the fate of the person occupying that portfolio?
The PIB has addressed this concern, it stipulates the qualification of who becomes the group managing director and this was not there before now in the Petroleum Act, the PIB has defined tenure and every group managing director shall be subject to confirmation by the Senate. So the issue of group managing director of the NNPC is being treated along the same lines as the institution of the international oil companies. And talking about the several changes in group managing directors, I have been here for 7 years as oversight chairman of the petroleum committee, I worked with Jackson Gaius Obaseki, he was a very wonderful man who served from 1999 to 2003, then Funsho Kupolokun came and served from 2003 to 2007, he enjoyed a full 4 years tenure under Obasanjo. I think Funsho left because he was not interested in working any longer after Obasanjo left but the issue surrounding the departure of Alhaji Abubakar Yar’Adua who succeeded Funsho was a personal vendetta of Alhaji Rilwanu Lukman who came in with his personal assistant, Mohammed Sanusi Barkindo, he wanted to take total control of the industry and I can tell you as the oversight chairman that the era of Lukman and Barkindo was the worst in the industry,Â the most fraudulent, the most devastating impact on local content, the worst in public relations and I can tell you that Barkindo still has a lot of cases to answer. I can tell you that he was not removed owing to political consideration but for economic fraud perpetrated on the institution and the investigation of his tenure would reveal much. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is aware of this, he has a lot of cases to answer and he may be the typical example of a former group managing director of the NNPC that may face serious charges out of office.
Can you shed some light on these cases of corruption you have mentioned?
A man’s innocence is taken for granted until he is proven guilty by a court of law or investigation panel but I can tell you that as a man who has been in charge of oversight function for the industry for some time, their administration marked the most fraudulent, the most innate, the most unfocused and the most unprofessional administration of the NNPC and I think the decision of the Acting President to replace him have saved the oil industry in a million ways.Â And I salute the courage of the Acting President for reacting to the recommendations of several parties who have seen the massive corruption that underscored the Barkindo administration and I can assure you Barkindo will face corruption charges very soon.
Under Barkindo, the NNPC came into debt in excess of N1 trillion (one trillion Naira) for sundry service, so it is an organisation at the edge of liquidation. I can be quoted, the records are there. Over one trillion naira was incurred in debt from sundry services provided by creditors. Anybody can go to court and demand for a liquidation. You can see that the lives of Nigerians have been taken to the lowest ebb. If an organisation like the NNPC can face liquidation, then you can see for yourselves what my concerns are. It’s like a man who loses his soul; he dies spiritually, what is left of the life of that man? That is why we are investigating crude oil sales and remittances to the federation account. So NNPC reduced itself to a position where it was selling crude oil, remitting what it liked to the federation account and used the rest to cover up the internal decay. Those are part of what we are investigating, fictitious contracts, and single source contracts awarded by the NNPC. I know from the days of Funsho Kupolokun, up to Abubakar Yar’Adua, issues of single source negotiation contracts were completely banned but Barkindo came back with so many fictitious single source contracts. These are fraudulent contracts that are questionable. We will see when we start the investigationÂ we will expose all these. I am not telling you anything out of fiction. We will take everything down on record and hand them over to the necessary prosecution authority to prosecute him and all his cohorts. I have said it before, I had passed a vote of no confidence on Barkindo and his entire management team and I recommend that all of them be sacked accordingly. Not just Barkindo but all of them that served in his management committee should be sacked because they are all part of the inept and fraudulent executive Barkindo committee of NNPC
The Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) coming up in Houston, Texas , USA is around the corner. What do you expect Nigeria to come away with in terms of attracting foreign investment to the country’s beleaguered oil and gas sector?
I am very sure that the issue of the PIB will come to play in Houston. I am chairman of the joint committee working on the PIB and until the report is taken to plenary I am not in any way authorised to reveal contents of that report other than to give you a synopsis like the highlights I gave in answer to your earlier questions. All we can say to the international community is that we are making a law that is investor friendly and attractive and we are very mindful of the fact that unfriendly legislations would drive away investors. We need our friends, we need investors and we are sure the PIB would enthrone an investor friendly regime, very fiscal friendly regime, very operational regime and a very friendly commercial regime. And soon as the Nigerian Content Bill is signed into law, it would remove the conflict between what is due to Nigerian companies and that which is due to the international service companies. And above that the situation in the Niger Delta is calm. Thus our friends who are around the world must encourage government by participating to ensure that the amnesty programme which includes key aspects of provision of rehabilitation facilities, industrial estates are set up to create jobs for the people so that we can have a quiet oil industry.