By Henry Umoru
Senator Magnus Abe, lawyer, politician Rivers South East in the Senate on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and he is presently the Chairman, Committee on Petroleum (Downstream)
He also chaired the Senate Joint Committee on Petroleum, Downstream, Upstream, Finance and Appropriation.
Before coming to the Senate, he was a Minority Leader in the Rivers State House of Assembly, served as Commissioner for Information under the Peter Odili administration and subsequently as Secretary to the State Government in the administration of Governor Rotimi Amaechi.
He spoke on issues pertaining to the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB in an interview in Abuja. Excerpts
What is happening to the PIB Bill?
The PIB is here in the National Assembly. It has not been slated on the order paper contrary to some insinuations here and there. There is no problem as far as I know with the PIB. It will be treated like any other law that comes to the floor of the Senate, but it is already being taken care of in the House of Representatives and it will definitely come up in the Senate.
Like any other law that has the kind of impact and consequence that the PIB would have on economic life of this country, it has elicited quite some interests across the county. It is not just North and South. There are all sorts of interests in the PIB. The multinationals have their interest, the indigenous oil producers have their interest, the oil producing communities have their interest, and of course, every state in this country has an interest in the PIB because of the idea that it will one way or the other affect the revenue that accrues to the country. So it is not a bill that anybody would take lightly. So, I see the interest of all sections in the PIB as healthy and to be appreciated.
The whole essence of a law is that it is the aggregate of what Nigerians agreed upon that becomes the law that is binding on all Nigerians.
So, I think that whatever misgivings or interest that people have in PIB will come out and be addressed. But what I know is that substantially, almost everyone I know in this country agree that there is a need for us to take a second look at the way we have been dealing with our hydrocarbon resources in this country. I don’t know of anybody whether from the North or South who believes that what we are getting now is the best that we can do. I don’t know of anybody who believes that what we are getting now is the best that we can get.
What about opposition from the North against the PIB and how the presentation suffered on the floor of the Senate?
What happened is that as you would remember, the day the PIB was slated on the floor was the day after the aircraft that involved late General Azazi and late Governor of Kaduna State and everybody felt that it was not appropriate for such an important matter on a day immediately after such a tragedy. Nobody was in the mood to talk about PIB that day including myself.
So, naturally it was agreed that it should be stood down to another legislative day but naturally because it was a PIB, if it was any other law, it wouldn’t have raised any eyebrows, but because it was PIB, all sorts of insinuations have gone into why we did not take it on that day
So what will happen to the Bill now?
It would be introduced. The nature of the senate and how issues are pitched, there are a lot of things that have been outstanding and I really can’t say for certain because I am not the chairman of Rules and Business.
But some governors from the North are working against the Bill and in particular, the Kano State governor, what is your take on this?
I haven’t heard the Governor of Kano say that, you are quoting him to me and I don’t think that the interest of the North is not protected in the senate. There are senators here from the North, definitely, at the end of the day, what we would pass would be what Nigerians agree upon and we won’t know what Nigerians agree upon unless we discuss the issue. The PIB is important to everybody in this country and if you hear reactions on the PIB, you shouldn’t deal with the extremes. Definitely in any piece of legislation, there would be extremes, but is the compromise position that becomes the position.
If you hear some of the oil major producers, they are also taking an extreme position ‘if you pass the PIB bill, in fact we will stop investment in Nigeria.’ If you hear the executive (presidency) talking, they are also having some kind of extreme position that this is the minimum that the Nigeria government must get from its oil revenues. So, all across the place, people are taking position.
If any governor has a position, he can stake it out, but the assurance I will give to any Nigerian is that the PIB will be discussed in the National Assembly and at the end of the day, it is the national interest that will move this country that will guide our deliberations in the senate and National Assembly and not particular interest of anybody.
At the end of the day, what is good for Nigeria will be good for Kano. The whole idea of the PIB is to improve Nigeria as regards our hydro carbon resources. You can improve the position of Nigeria without improving the position of every State that benefits from our hydro carbon. I don’t think there is any way that any state will not benefit from greater improvement of our hydro carbon.
For example, today, Nigeria is doing less than 2.6 million barrels, there are lots of people who believe we can do more than that if the atmosphere is right. If we do 4.6, won’t Kano get more money from what they are getting from 2.6 million?
So, it is when you take the law and apply it to the general situation of the country that you find out what is good or bad about it. But I am open-minded about it. If people are able to convince all of us that the law would be bad for Nigeria, I would not support it.
Months after the Senate Joint Committee on Petroleum Downstream and Upstream, Finance and Appropriation completed its job on the utilization of subsidy and the report laid, nothing is happening. Why?
Let me say that the issue of the senate investigation into oil subsidy has been concluded, submitted in the open and not privately. It was submitted to the senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So, as a chairman of the committee, it is when I am called upon by the senate to come and present the report that I will do so.
When I present the report, then you know whether I have been settled or not but like I said earlier, it is not the place of an individual senator to determine what the senate will discuss.
That is the function of the Rules and Business Committee and contrary to what you are saying, the report has actually been slated twice for discussion but we couldn’t take it. So, there are so many reports, bills, motions that are before the senate, I don’t think there would be any time when anybody will say that a report will not be discussed in the senate, it would be discussed because it is a document that is with the senate.