Hon. Uzoma Nkem-Abonta, a lawyer, is the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Public Petitions. He represents Ukwa East/West Federal Constituency of Abia State. In this interview he spoke on challenges facing the passage of the PIB and the way forward,excerpts…
YOU were a member of the Sixth Assembly and you were also a member of the Seventh Assembly. In the Sixth Assembly the House of Reps allegedly ‘killed’ the PIB, in the Seventh Assembly the House of Reps passed the PIB but unfortunately the Senate could not concur. And there is the feeling the House is not likely pass it again in the Eighth Assembly. Nigerians will like to know why you guys have so far refused or failed to pass a bill that will enhance the oil industry in Nigeria?
Without mincing words, I think that the matter of PIB is very political and not handled as it ought to be. I once said that PIB should be treated as a budget. We are talking about improving our revenue base yet we are not doing the needful that will professionalise and bring sanity in the oil industry. I think it is a deliberate attempt by some persons, some cabals, some influential Nigerians, so to say, who benefit from the disorderliness of the oil industry, that is why PIB may not see the light of the day.
The enemies of PIB are those who do not want the oil sector organised. PIB will bring sanity to the oil sector, it will lead to greater revenue, bring about a better participation of persons, and even reduce restiveness because the host community would have been taken care of. Right now we are treating PIB as if it should not bother Nigerians; if we are talking of restructuring, PIB is an essential law that must be in place. But you can see the composition and structure of Nigeria, that is what is also fighting PIB.
Most Nigerians, particularly in the oil producing areas, are mere spectators in the oil industry; they are not partakers and the partakers are the ones who are frustrating PIB because to them it will include some persons that are being excluded. The idea is to permanently exclude people they think are second class citizens from benefiting from the PIB by frustrating them. Otherwise, for something that will bring sanity into the oil industry; we all agree that with the introduction of PIB the oil sector will be sanitised, yet we are not doing the needful. So who is fooling who?
In the Sixth Assembly, it never saw the light of day; in the Seventh Assembly, the Senate somehow didn’t concur. What’s holding back the Eighth Assembly? We’ve spent a lot of time and money pursuing constitutional reviews that may also hit the rocks. If we have put one tenth of that effort, the PIB would have been a thing of the past.
With all the efforts we put into the constitutional amendment, it also ended up in total confusion as even the states are threatening not to even endorse most of what we have passed. Therefore, until we get PIB right, the oil sector will remain disorganised and the Nigerian economy which depends on oil. We are not in charge of our oil sector, so to say. The number of foreigners that are in the oil sector are more than the Nigerians.
After how many years of prospecting oil, it is a thing of shame. And to professionalise the place, to indigenise the place, PIB is also necessary. Laws should not be made or refused to be made because of one person because it could turn around tomorrow. Oil is being prospected now in the north, around the Lake Chad. So if oil is found the same problem will also be there.
You are from an oil producing state, particularly in your constituency, Ukwa East-West. There is this argument, particularly in the Senate, that if you must give host communities a percentage, that frontier states too should get something. Do you think this is appropriate?
No, they shouldn’t. Let’s take this thing to the basics: Oil producing and those that host oil facilities and those that have pipelines crossing them, if you are impacted by oil production then you should get something.
If, for example, tank farms and whatever is put in your place and so on, you are impacted by the activities of oil, therefore, there should also be a percentage. If they are drilling oil at your backyard you are heavily impacted; therefore, there should also be a percentage. If a pipeline crosses your frontage, there are some inconveniences you will suffer; there should also be some percentage; it should be so graduated.
But telling me that you make your percentage for frontier states that is futuristic, then that is wrong. But should there be oil discovered, then so be it. If the exploration business impacts you negatively, then you should be compensated.
If the frontier states are saying that there is a kind of negative impact by the activities, fine. But they should be able to say so, they should be able to so determine. Not only in oil, a lot of mining activities that should be looked into. If you go up North you will see what they call illegal mining and whatever, but I think they are so punished. As far as I am concerned it is illegal to mine without a licence.
As an experienced lawmaker what do you think the Eighth House of Assembly should do to make sure the bill is passed?
I am not going to say; it is not a question of individual, it is a collective thing that should be done by the House and of course it has not been done because of the “power play.” If the House wants to pass PIB, within one month they can do so. It has been referred to an ad hoc committee or whatever.
The same thing happened in the Seventh Assembly. It was referred to an ad hoc committee that even went to London and places to look at it. Why are you going to London or Ghana to do PIB when you are writing a law for Nigerians. Are they going to copy a model in UK, are they going to do a special study? We are talking about an Act that will come from us, as it suits us. To me it is time and money wasting.
I think in the interest of PIB, they should have given them a time frame within one month to tidy up that and produce in a short time frame. But I don’t want to be a prophet of doom, let me give hope that by the time we resume the report will be ready and we will assiduously and speedily pass it so that we will watch what the Senate and Mr President will do.
The Senate has passed the PIGB. About eight weeks ago, the bill that captures the host communities in the PIB, passed second reading in the Senate. Six weeks ago the House was on the verge of consolidating the three bills. So as it is now the senators are ahead of the House while the Senate is already rounding up with PIB. So what is your advice to your colleagues?
For some time now, particularly in this Eighth Assembly, the Senate appears to be proactive whereas most of the things they published they have done, emanated from the House. I can tell you from bills I crafted and had passed here, the Senate published it as their own because they concluded it. So it is like they take the show from us even when the House originated them. So I am not surprised they are able to finish their PIB.
Yearnings and aspirations
You can look at the number of the House, I won’t say it is a problem. It contributes in what we are doing and the speaker of the House, Dogara in his wisdom wants us to also do a very fine work and bring it out which I think the committees are doing. But I think the consolidation, and all that, has to be done.
I will personally move that we fast- track the work on PIB so that we can meet the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians.
We must master our oil sector, more so that the Western world are already planning to stop the use of petrol; they have given a deadline for petrol cars to be abolished and if that happens, what are we going to do with the petrol, are we going to drink it?
So we should also now begin to develop our own cars that will use our petrol. I thank God that if it is solar energy or the one that favours us here in Africa, they want to make a device where you can charge your batteries and move on. But God will let them postpone that because God loves Nigeria; so I think that date will not be realistic so that we can sell our petrol.
However, be that as it may, we must master our petroleum industry so that we can be able to do things ourselves. With this threat of abolishing petrol, you can see that most foreign IOCs will now reduce their investment on petrol because it will not be marketable any more.
So, if that happens and we fail to master the situation, then we are doomed. Diversification should be embraced now. We must open our eyes, we must get out of politics, we must do the needful. Let us now imitate the Malaysian and the Singaporean examples; we must be able to work like the Asian tigers and jump on to something and take it and PIB is one of the things we must promote. And we must even look beyond PIB to look at what after and that is what I am thinking and preaching the unity of Nigeria should be paramount and to have this unity and stop agitations, restructure Nigeria peacefully to achieve basic unity that will take us across the pending global consequences. So we must get prepared and the system restructured now.