By John Owubokiri
It is no longer news that Nigeria is a failing state. Some years ago it was just a theory propounded by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States.
When the news of this theory hit the streets of Nigeria, there was nervousness in Abuja, the capital city of the corruption, pretences and insincerity that constitute Nigeria, patriotic indignation and anger in Lagos, the undisputed centre of nationalism, the base of Nigeria’s nationalist activists and unfortunately for them, the attractive piece of real estate in which they have invested life and future but alas, there was ill suppressed joy in the glades and creeks of the Niger Delta, the butt of the Nigerian joke. This is a very serious matter for where the CIA predicted a dateline of 2015, the African High Command and other intelligence agencies have reduced the dateline to 2013!
Discussing with friends at the Bar (NBA) Centre in Port Harcourt we came to the presumptuous conclusion that the managers of the Nigerian State would quickly take preventive action by fixing the ailing state and thereby, frustrate and forestall the CIA’s negative prediction. Our expectations, though lofty and legitimate, were truly presumptuous.
Years after we have not managed to pass a viable Electoral Law that can command the confidence of the mass of Nigerians, the one piece of legislation that can provide a level platform for the rich and poor to determine their future even if mutually exclusive. The thinking in many circles is that the federal government would hastily fix the Niger Delta Question, the first index in the CIA’s list of indices. The Niger Delta has been in flames for years over issues that revolve around environmental degradation, resource appropriation and control as well as the uneven rules of political engagement currently operating in the country. Events in the Niger Delta are the most eloquent testimony that Nigeria is at the brink of collapse.
The Niger Delta peoples are at pains to understand a country in which the laws that regulate petroleum grant the federal government absolute ownership of oil and gas resources while granting host and ‘owner’ communities of solid minerals rights to ratify the federal government’s commitments to companies, firms and individuals that acquire concessions from the federal government.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is Nigeria’s alter ego in oil and gas matters.She is the regulator and pretentious operator of the industry. While many may agree that the NNPC regulates the industry to a limited extent, none would accept that the NNPC has ever operated the oil and gas industry, operating through unconscionable foreign proxies that have bled Nigeria remorselessly.
In official and unofficial quarters, the NNPC is blamed for the losses that have accrued to the country through the industry; many have in consequence called for the scrapping of the body. It is in this backdrop that the NNPC prepared and submitted to the National Assembly, a draft Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).
Keep in mind that the Oil & Gas Industry Committee (OGIC) had submitted tolerably debated recommendations vide reports dated 2004 and 2007, and that the Presidency had submitted its own PIB to the National Assembly.
This recent PIB is the NNPC’s brainchild, her stroke of genius by which she would mutate from NNPC to a National Oil Corporation (NOC) with more defined reach, powers and subsidiaries. The draft PIB is a monstrosity, a modern day legislative mistake which unpretentiously excluded the input of the folk that matter the most: stakeholders. After all, na wetin concern a rapist with pre-coital lubrication?!
Unable to initiate its own PIB, the National Assembly cannot be trusted to do the proper thing: chuck it and initiate a more credible and a more inclusive process.
But it is too much to hope that the present members of the National Assembly, whose docile omissions and acts of betrayal are club-card points of loyalty to the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in the party’s assessment of members ‘return’ potential, would torpedo a draft bill which boldly supplants one submitted by the presidency. For the records, the problem is not with who initiated the process or submitted the bill for debate but the nature of the process that birthed it and the corrective content and quality of the draft. As it is now, the folk who would be impacted by the PIB see it as a sham, a self-serving effort and an open agenda by operatives of the industry to maintain and improve on the status quo at the expense of the people.
The problem is that all these are taking place when all hands should be on deck to save the country from disintegration. But perhaps this is the way to go; perhaps these manipulations and insincere acts of the trustees of our commonwealth are the Glasnost and Perestroika this unsteady ship of state would require to steer itself to the precipice of its destruction and into the hands of the undertakers-in-waiting.
John Iyene Owubokiri is a Port Harcourt based lawyer and national coordinator of the Initiative for Non-Violent Change I n the Niger Delta. He has an engaging interest in the affairs of the Niger Delta, which people think are Nigerian, but are actually global.