BY PETER EGWUATU
Chief Oghenovo Charles Majoroh, former President of the African Union of Architects, is also a past president of the Nigerian Institute of Architects. Back home, he is the first Deputy President General of the Urhobo Progressive Union. In this interview, Majoroh, who recently marked his 67th birthday, x-rays the security challenges facing the country and the developments in the Niger Delta with particular reference to the Urhobo nation. Excerpts:
What’s your take on the Petroleum Industry Bill? How can the nation move the oil sector forward; as northern lawmakers continue to resist the 10 per cent royalty to the host communities in the Niger Delta?
There are five major blocs or interests currently highlighted in the unfortunate face-off:
The petroleum industry experts who see the old regime for exploiting our petroleum resources as outdated, inimical to the environment and skewed unfavourably to the advantage of the I.O.C;
the northern elements who do not have oil and consider anything that may benefit the oil producing areas as an issue that must be opposed even if there are profound benefits for the generality of Nigerians;
the international oil companies who want the status quo ante to remain; the new oil finds in several parts of Africa which are being used to pressure Nigeria’s production and marketing prospects to remain stagnant; and; the increased production in America (from “fracking”) which used to be our main market now, putting a downward pressure on Nigerian’s sales and demand.
Many flimsy reasons are being used to punch holes in the passage of the bill, foremost of which is the 10% provision for oil producing communities. Whereas this is strictly meant to be taken from the profit after tax of the oil companies, therefore, it has no impact on the distributable pool available to all parts of Nigeria. The vociferous refusal of the northern elements to pass this bill simply because of that provision can only be attributable to primordial envy rather than economic issues.
There is an urgent need for concerted persuasion of the “refusniks” on this important bill. They need to be told about the overall benefits to the economy and the common good and the dangers inherent in not passing this bill on time particularly given the ever changing balance between the cost of production and the cost of sales the USA pushes for new energy sources and creative forms of renewable energy for the same shrinking market.
Discussion on this very strategic bill should be shifted from the narrow confines of the National Assembly to the wider plains of the people and constituents who have not been influenced by the intense lobby of the international oil companies(OICs). It calls for a national debate spearheaded by the leadership of all strata of our country, to be kicked off by Mr. President himself. He must own the PIB project, and not pretend to be an uninterested observer.
How do you see the award of N36.7bn compensation to the Odi community in Bayelsa State by the High Court over the military invasion of the village during the Obasanjo administration? How do you think the money should be utilized?
The N36.7 billion compensation to the Odi community is justice delayed. Fortunately, it is not justice denied, as the wheels of justice grind slowly but surely.
Honestly, the kind of military mindset that resulted in the Odi invasion and massacre must be expunged from our democracy permanently. Never again must this kind of military rascality be tolerated in our country without clear accountability and reprobation. Unfortunately, so many years of military dictatorship in our country has practically militarized our political structures and culture. We all therefore have a collective responsibility to eradicate these military vestiges and impunities from our democracy.
The money should be managed directly by the people of Odi themselves for the exclusive reconstruction of the town and the rehabilitation of the citizens of Odi.
Would you say the establishment of the Ministry of Niger Delta and NDDC has helped to fulfill the aspirations and yearnings of the people of the Niger Delta?
The spirit behind the idea is novel and well-meaning. But the organs have been politicized and peopled by persons who have not taken the assignment with the required vigour and aggression it requires. People should look back and remember that these interventionist organs derive their being from the findings of the Willinks report of 1958 which, over five decades ago, recognized the need to treat this watery part of Nigeria with special care and attention.
A constant reminder should be in place at the swearing-in of all senior officers for the ministry and NDDC to imbibe the vigour and sense of urgency their tasks require.
In essence, there have been some successes, but the conflicting roles of state govt, LGA, federal ministries and these agencies have not been properly streamlined. The yearnings and aspirations of the Niger Delta have been partly fulfilled and will be further improved upon when the “contra-tendencies” are streamlined.
How do you react to the Federal Government’s amnesty programme and the 2014 terminal date set by government? Are you comfortable with the idea of putting an end to the programme now with the fragile peace in the region?
The amnesty programme has greatly influenced the reign of peace in the Niger Delta and taken a whole generation of youths and able-bodied men out of the creeks and into the productive sector of our communities.
I do not know what made the 2014 deadline necessary, but, surely, until the goals of the amnesty programme are substantially met (particularly the training and re-absorption of the fighters into the mainstream of society), setting a specific terminal date may be counterproductive.
If however this date is based on purely financial considerations, then the cost benefits of the amnesty should be weighed against the probable oil production losses as well as absence of the existing peace in that region.
When you replay the Urhobo nation of your teen years and place it side by side
with the present day Urhobo, in terms of socio-political development and national recognition, what emotions come to you? Where do you think we got it wrong or missed the mark?
An organization of 80 years ought to have a much more organized plan for succession so that this should no longer be an issue. We need a re-affirmation of our understanding of the vision enshrined in our constitution, more strategic thinking based on relevant data collation and analysis; elimination of unnecessary internal squabbles and a more open, collective and inclusive decision making process.
There seems to be growing threat from our ethnic neighbours against our political survival in Delta State, and at the centre? As a top national executive of the UPU, what has been the response of the UPU to this threat?
The threats and challenges are more internal than external. There has been a concerted reaching out effort in the UPU to our neighbours to form bridges for mutual benefit for the future. The recent past political experiences have been bad for us and the UPU will in due time find ingenious ways, working with all stakeholders to fashion a way out of the tunnel for this generation of Urhobo and the next. No more details for now.
Few years ago, you advised Urhobo to come out with a road map and to create machinery for discussing the way forward and to bring together divergent groups in Urhobo land? Has this been achieved? What role would you play or have played towards this?
I still believe in what I postulated at that time. Particularly on the need for the creation of institutions and systems which should be in place to make the leadership more impersonal, such that incoming leadership should see and continue to execute a road map set up by previous occupants of positions in the organization.