By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Henry Umoru, Festus Ahon, Levinus Nwabughiogu, Egufe Yafugborhi, Harris Emanuel, Chioma Onuegbu & Ozioruva Aliu
The House of Representatives was in rowdy session yesterday as some lawmakers vehemently protested attempts by the leadership to adopt the report of the 54-member joint committee of the National Assembly which recommended three per cent equity stake for host oil and gas communities. In the recently passed Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB.
A motion seeking to declare Bauchi an oil and gas producing State was resoundingly rejected by the House of Representatives yesterday.
The argument among lawmakers was so heated that the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, had no choice but to step down presentation of the harmonised report after it had been slated for presentation.
This forced leadership of the House into an executive session.
This is even as the development drew angry reactions from some stakeholders in the Niger Delta, including the pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, which cautioned against actions by the federal lawmakers that could throw the region into fresh crisis, that could impact negatively on the country.
It will be recalled that the Senate had recommended three per cent equity stake for host communities in the the bill passed a few weeks ago, while the House of Representatives granted five per cent.
The Senate had earlier in the day, adopted the 3 per cent recommended by the conference or joint committee without any hindrance, except with the walk-out staged by former Bayelsa State governor, Seriake Dickson, in protest against the adoption.
Outlines of trouble
Trouble started when the Speaker called the Chairman of the Conference Committee from the House and Chief Whip, Mohammed Monguno, to lay the report at yesterday’s plenary.
Immediately, Monguno sought the leave of the House to step down laying of the report.
Official reasons for the development were not given but Vanguard was reliably informed that it was in connection with the Senate’s insistence and approval of the 3% equity shares for the oil host communities which had caused frayed nerves.
Sensing that a similar report was to be laid in the House, some members from oil producing states and the Niger Delta triggered the protests which turned the session into a rowdy affair.
The rowdy session prompted the speaker to call for executive session that heralded stepping down the report.
Gbajabiamila had earlier in his speech to mark the end of legislative year, said the bill will be forwarded to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent.
“The 9th House of Representatives has carried on its constitutional duty to make laws for good governance of the country. After multiple failed attempts over two decades, the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, has passed both Houses of the National Assembly and will shortly be transmitted to the President after proper harmonization with the Senate,” Gbajabiamila had said.
With the stepping down of the consideration, it is now uncertain when next the bill will be formally considered and passed into law as both chambers of the National Assembly are proceeding on annual vacation today, to resume in September.
Senate adopts 3%
In the Senate, the Conference Committee of both arms of the National Assembly adopted three per cent as the actual annual operating expenditure of the preceding financial year in the upstream petroleum operations affecting the host communities for funding of the Host Communities Trust Fund.
Resolutions of the Senate was sequel to the presentation and consideration of the committee’s report on the Petroleum Industry Bill, 2021( SB.510) by Senate Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi (APC, Kebbi North).
The Senate Leader, who noted that that Conference Committee was designed to harmonize areas of differences in the PIB as passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives, said the differences in the bill as passed by the two chambers were in Clauses 9, 29, 32, 33, 41, 47, 48, 52, 64, 79, 86, 94, 104, 125, 160, 240, 310, 317, 318 and first schedule.
Dickson walks out
Earlier, Senator Seriake Dickson (PDP, Bayelsa West), who raised a point of order, explained that he walked out of the Senate because of the three per cent equity share for host communities.
Seriake, who came under Order 43 which has to do with personal explanation, said history should note that they were not part of what he described as obnoxious decision against the people of the Niger Delta.
He said: “First of all, you were all here today (yesterday) during the consideration of the conference report and the observations and interjections that I made by which the Senate President permitted me under privileges to make some comments and I made it clear that the three per cent, ab initio, is unacceptable, it is insensitive.
“It does not serve national interest because the opportunity cost that this two per cent difference will make in terms of security management of the region and of the communities is not helpful to investment inflow people are portraying.
“In any case, this is not coming from the Federal Government, that is why I cannot understand the basis.
“This money is to be taken out of the operation cost by the IOCs, and the IOCs are not complaining. Yet, this National Assembly and this Senate pegged it at three per cent. There was a time we went into conference and they still upheld the three per cent.
“This morning (yesterday), I drew the attention of the Senate President and senators that in all good conscience to what has happened to the community fund, we will not sit down with them during consensus and I walked out.
“I worked out with some colleagues the very day this was passed and as I informed the Senate President, even during the President’s dinner when we were seated there to honour the President, and we got the report of this conference committee, I walked out, a number of senators also left.
“Today (yesterday), we left because I don’t want history to record us on the wrong side. Some of the senators who followed me, I thank all of them.
“We don’t want history to record that we were part of this obnoxious decision against the producing communities and our people. It is also a decision that is not helpful to the national cause. This is a story that has just started and I hope it ends well for Nigeria.”
Reacting to the 3% equity adopted by the Senate yesterday, the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, and other stakeholders in the Niger Delta, said the National Assembly’s joint conference committee’s re-validation of three per cent equity to host oil and gas producing communities and 30 per cent for Frontier Basin development in the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, was a conspiracy against the Niger Delta.
Continuation of conspiracy – PANDEF
PANDEF, speaking through the National Publicity Secretary, Ken Robinson, said: “It is no surprise, it is a continuation of the conspiracy against the Niger Delta.
“PANDEF condemns the insensitivity of the Senate, the NASS in totally, disregarding the outcry and concerns raised by people of the Niger Delta over the paltry percentage allocated to host communities trust fund, while paradoxically, 30 per cent of NNPC’s profit is allocated to exploration of oil in the frontiers.
“It is regrettable, an act of insensitivity, and PANDEF and stakeholders in the Niger Delta will soon meet to respond.”
N’Delta doesn’t have trusted allies – Sen. Owie
Ex-Chief Whip of the Senate and Niger-Delta leader, Sir Roland Owie, said the approval of three per cent for host communities in the just passed Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, by the joint conference committee of NASS was a confirmation of his age-long belief that people of the oil producing region do not have friends in other parts of the country to support them when it mattes most.
“If our National Assembly members think they have friends among the other parts of Nigeria, they are deceiving themselves because I have passed through it.
“In 1982 at the National Assembly, we were talking about revenue allocation; UPN members in the South-West and Midwest, NPP from South-East, our colleagues from the present Middle Belt, we all met to talk about revenue allocation, which had percentage for land mass, percentage for population, percentage for school enrolment, then those of us from what is now South-South, pleaded then that our revenue derivation should be 10 per cent, all of us agreed, but do you know that after that, something else happened?
“I warned late Tom Ugbuyoko and advised that we should put on the agenda for voting that after land mass, we should put derivation, I said he should do that because he was a principal officer but by the time he came back, I found that derivation was the last and I told him he was finished because these people are not our friends.
“When it came to derivation, all those that were supposed to be for us from the East, South-West all voted against us and we got three per cent as derivation, so the thing has not changed.
“The South-West cannot say they love South-South, it is pretence; if the South-West believes in the unity of the South, if the South-East believes in the unity of the South, our friends in the Middle Belt believe in us, why did they not support us to get higher than what we are getting?
“They are pretending, so whatever they have given, we start with it because never again will children in the South-South be used as weapons to fight anybody. It is all self-interest. If they had believed in us, we would have got something better,” he opined.
Tyrannical governance — Sen. Okon
Spokesman of Akwa Ibom Leaders Vanguard, Senator Anietie Okon, took the National Assembly to the cleaners over what he described as lopsided legislation.
“If you look at the truth and reality of it, this is the kind of policy that is driving Nigerians to self-determination. Let me see where the three per cent they have approved for host communities and 30 per cent for exploration in frontier basin will take them.
“This is a suppressive and oppressive governance and such would lead to the breaking up of this country. That will be the end of the country if they implement it,” he said.
FG short-changing N’Delta – Kokori
Former General Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, Chief Frank Kokori, described the action of the National Assembly as unbelievable and unacceptable.
“I felt the Niger Delta people will not sit idle and just watch them cheating the people like that, taking their wealth,. Oil is a wasting asset that after some years, you will not get it. Even though I am not happy with our Niger Delta governors who waste most of the resources we have for personal aggrandizement; the people are being shortchanged by the Federal Government, our own people, it is unbelievable.
“I never knew they will go to that level of arriving at that three per cent. I was thinking they will use five percent to placate the Niger Delta people, but for them to insist on three per cent is abnormal,” he said.
Slap on the face- Amadhe, Isoko leader
In his reaction, frontline leader of Isoko nation and patron of Isoko Development Union, IDU, Chief Iduh Amadhe, said: “It is a slap on our face. That means they do not actually have feelings for the oil producing communities.
“We thought that with the Senate and House of Representatives having different views, one saying three percent and the other five percent, they will arrive at five percent which would have been better for the oil producing communities.
“To accept three per cent means all our people have sold out and those people too do not have good intentions that there should be peace in the oil producing communities. If they had given five per cent, all host communities would have accepted it.
“They will protect and be part of the business. But from what has happened, it means they are promoting crisis in the oil producing communities in Nigeria which is too bad,” he stated.
Legislative holocaust – Mudiaga-Odje
Also reacting, rights activist and lawyer, Dr Akpor Mudiaga-Odje, said: “This is absolutely unbelievable, to say the least. We reject this three per cent equity stake and 30 percent phantom Frontier Basins Exploration with the vehemence of justice, equity and good conscience.
“I speak with sorrow rather than anger at this display of endemic selfishness by the majority tribes of the Nigerian state. The Nigerian state has sequestrated 87 percent of our oil and gas resources in the first instance and now taken seven per cent of our equity stake in this bill which I now paradoxically and sarcastically refer to as the “Petroleum Intimidation bill.
“Let all Niger Deltans, high, middle and low, pick up pick up ourselves and unite against this collective expropriation of our resources and our people by the callous and vainglorious desperation of the Nigerian state.
“We should constitutionally and constructively engage and resist this legislative holocaust. We thus call on the President to suo moto display his fatherly concern on this matter and re- engage the Nigerian legislature to up our equity stake to at least 10 per cent and drastically reduce the Frontier percentage to 10 percent of the profits of the NNPC.
“Notwithstanding, we commend the House of Representatives for being more reasonable and sensitive to our plight by recommending five per cent earlier. Our South-South senators must immediately restart intense lobby to upturn this incubus as recommended by the Joint Committee,” he said.
It’s an imposition – Onuesoke
Also, a former governorship aspirant in Delta State, Chief Sunny Onuesoke, posited: “I have already made my point known to the ruling APC government on different occasions. I have nothing against the conference committee, but against our elected representatives. For me, if this is what they want us to believe, no problem.
“Nigeria remains one of the lowest democratic nation in the world where rule of law is purely made up of fiasco and imposition.
“Was there any proper vote and debate in both Houses before the bill was passed? The question is no. If there was debate, what was the role of our representatives? So be it,” he added.
Maikpobi calls for calm
However, pioneer National Secretary of the Traditional Rulers of Oil Mineral Producing Communities of Nigeria, TROMPCON, Prince Maikpobi Okareme, in his reaction, appealed to the host communities to be calm.
‘The PIB as passed by the National Assembly is not as bad as viewed by some persons. The fact that the host communities now have legal backing to receive funds directly is a prelude to the bigger elephant, which is the derivation funds that Mr. President has assured us shall eventually not form part of the consolidated revenue of the various states governments.
“We should, therefore, work with the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission so that a new revenue allocation bill can be forwarded to the National Assembly before this December.
Okareme, pioneer national coordinator, HOSTCOM, called on the political class, “particularly our governors to lobby the RMAFC and the National Assembly to achieve an increase of the derivation funds from the current 13 per cent.”
Vanguard News Nigeria