THE current debate following the Public Hearing on the proposed Amendment to the NLNG Act, to enable it begin to pay three percent of its total annual revenue to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), makes interesting reading.
In a full page advertorial by Prof. Jasper F Jumbo, Chairman and Traditional Head of the Jumbo Major House of Bonny, one of the Landlords of the NLNG, published in the Nation Newspaper, edition of Tuesday May 10th 2016, it was exhaustively argued that “the Niger Delta Communities which the NLNG project should develop substantially are brazenly disinherited, underdeveloped and craftily marginalised and have remained at the negative receiving end of NLNG’s growth over the years”
Prof. Jumbo observed that the gestation period (pre and post operational holiday tenure) should have been fixed in that Act to read between 7 to 10 years and therefore supported the amendment of the NLNG Act, to incooperate fixed tenure of the tax holiday. It was his observation that gas gathering into the NLNG plant criss-crosses several Niger Delta Communities, dislodging their traditional occupational skills of fishing and farming as well as neighbourhood ecological sanctity and general well being. It was therefore his contention that, in the light of contemporary development and ecological problems in Bonny, Soku, Obioafu, Obrikom and other gas supporting communities in Rivers and Niger Delta, the unspecified gestation period Tax waver should no longer be allowed by the National Assembly to remain perpetual.
On the other hand, the Managing Director of NLNG, Babs Omolowa, in his presentation at the Public Hearing, also reported in Nation Newspaper of Thursday May 12th 2016, stated that it is vital for the Federal Government to respect the sanctity of agreements with investors, so Nigeria would not be seen as a Nation that breaks agreements. He stated that the “NLNG needs to be in position to support the Region through being a successful Nigerian company bringing value to the Delta and the Nation in general, but that this would only be possible if the promises made to investors are not broken by amending the NLNG Act which will certainly portray the country as one that does not honour agreements”.
On analysis of the face value of the two sides of the argument, one sees some merit for each side. But on a scale of balancing, in good conscience and facing reality of the moment, it is clear that the argument of Prof. Jasper Jumbo for and on behalf of the host communities of NLNG is infallible. There is no place in the world where Agreements, Conventions or even Laws and Constitutions are static and not subject to amendments. The American and even our Nigerian Constitution have been amended many times and the present one, 1989 Constitution (as amended) is still undergoing further amendment. There is therefore no reason why the NLNG Act should not be amended to reflect present realities. If, as its being complained of, that the level of application of resources for the development of the host communities of the NLNG is grossly inadequate, why shouldn’t the Act be amended, to make the goose that lays the golden eggs happy and be in a position to continue to lay the egg in a more convenient and comfortable environment?
Yes the country may have reaped well over $33billion from its initial investment of $2.5billion in the NLNG project, as disclosed by the MD of the NLNG at the Public Hearing. But the question still remains how much of these have gone into the development of the host communities? You cannot be paying taxes, royalties and other levies to the Federal Government for the development of all parts of Nigeria while the particular areas which bear the burden of the operations of the project are neglected, abandoned and deprived.
If this was not so Prof. Jumbo would not have recommended that NLNG should assist in the equipping of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, the Niger Delta University in Bayelsa, the Federal Polytechnic Bonny, which at present have out moded machines and facilities, and the Petroleum Training Institute (University) Warri, with modern state of the act machines and equipment. This is in addition to provision of sound industry-level technological support for the otherwise displaced local youth, fisher folks and women subsistent farmers in the local communities.
An amendment to the NLNG Act will provide impetus to giving more attention to these areas which may not have been factored in, at inception of the project. Otherwise youth restiveness in the area will continue. When this happens, will it be said that the main aim and objectives of setting up the NLNG has been achieved. DEFINITELY NOT. Our national policy thrust should indeed, be guided more by our local needs and realities than by pleasing external interest which care little or nothing about our survival and fortunes.
Mr. Chike Okeke, a political analyst, wrote from Abuja.