•What makes PIA 30% frontier basin exploration fund a scam
•3% won’t get to poor N’Delta people; few leaders will share it
•State NLC chairs have turned errand boys to govs
•Since lawmakers have failed, labour should be last hope of the common man, but labour movement is now docile
•I was put in prison for Abacha to increase fuel price from N2.70k to N11
•Whenever they increase fuel price, do you see the market women benefit from it?
•Oil companies spend their own money to explore, now you want to pay 30%; It’s fraud, rubbish
By Festus Ahon & Ochuko Akuopha
ELDERS Statesman and former Secretary- General, Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Union, NUPENG, Chief Frank Ovie Kokori, in this interview x-rays the Petroleum Industry Act, security challenges facing the country, President’s Muhammadu Buhari’s insistence on open grazing, just concluded NDDC forensic audit report and other topical issues.
The much awaited forensic audit report of NDDC has been submitted to the Federal Government, what is your reaction?
People say it (report) should have been sent to the president directly instead of the Attorney-General. The Attorney-General will tell you the President said he should receive it on his behalf, people are following the whole controversy. Nobody has seen what is in the forensic audit report, it is just speculation and what they said about the report. They are also saying that people should be punished or they should publish it publicly to know the indicted people because Akpabio has been using some tricks on Niger Delta.
He started his tricks from the six months they gave to him for the forensic auditing, now he has used almost two years with a sole administrator. So, he is now telling you that there are so many contracts not done, this not done and all that, but we have not gotten anything yet. The report has not been published. Until we get the real report before people can talk about it.
Part of the findings is that N6 trillion has so far been released to the commission and 13, 777 projects were abandoned. How does this make you feel as a Niger Delta leader?
These are things we have always known in the Niger Delta. Is there any strange thing there? They give them money every year; that is not money they gave to them in one day. That is the money they have been using since 20 years ago, since 2001. If it is a real forensic audit, at the end of the day, we will know who got what and what the result of the contract was.
Many contracts are really abandoned; this road here, as small as this road is, has been abandoned. Everything is abandoned everywhere and these monies went into private pockets and nobody bothered to probe them. Some of us have cried and cried about corruption but what can you do? Even President Muhammadu Buhari who we thought would be a savior is surrounded by crooks and nothing is happening. So let us wait till the report is published.
While outsiders blame Niger Delta leaders for the scandal, some Niger Deltans have come to blame powerful Nigerians in the Presidency and NASS who appoint their cronies to man NDDC and control the agency from Abuja, collecting money for contracts and abandoning them. What is your take on this?
That is correct. It has always been like that. I was the pioneer Secretary of OMPADEC; I started OMPADEC in 1992 and I went there with my own funds; with NUPENG facilities. The vehicles I used were NUPENG facilities. The military President then, General Ibrahim Babangida and former governor of Delta state, Olorogun Felix Ibru, pleaded with me because the secretary position was zoned to Delta state and chairman zoned to Rivers State. I said I could not leave NUPENG and go and do that, but Ibru who was our governor said ‘Frank, you are the only person who can do it.’
So, I was the executive secretary when I was sworn-in, after about three or four months in Port-Harcourt, setting up the OMPADEC, then Albert Horsfal who was supposed to be an honorary chairman became an executive chairman. So, I became administrative secretary. I was not a civil servant, so how can you turn me into a civil servant?
I was told I would be the executive secretary, that was how I left OMPADEC in four months after setting it up with my own funds and NUPENG facilities even though the then Rivers state governor, Ada George, gave me an apartment at the Government House in Port-Harcourt.
I had to go and beg NUPENG again, because I took a one year leave of absence. NUPENG did not want me to leave, so I had to go back, because I could not work as a civil servant, and my governor, Ibru, supported me.
So, when you are in NDDC, it is just to ‘eat’ the people’s money, so the poor Niger-Delta people will be shouting. Now three per cent, it will not get to them. They will not enjoy anything. The militant boys, the leaders, will get the money. All the struggle at the end of the day, it is people like Ateke Tom, Tompolo, Asari Dokubo and a few of them who are enjoying the whole money. The rest militants, nothing.
If you go to the creeks, it is a waste land, bamboo houses and all that, apart from when you go to some towns like Yenagoa, but in the creeks where the oil comes from, there is nothing up till today. So when people shout Niger Delta, no, it is just the few leaders who take the whole money. If you increase this thing to 10 per cent, it is they, the few leaders who will still sit down and ‘eat’ the money. The men, the ordinary women, children and the others will continue to live in poverty.
A top official of NDDC once said that if the names of looters were made public, the country would break, do you subscribe to the names of NDDC looters being made public?
The names should be published. They always say that, that this country will break. Ah! If they make a statement tomorrow, Nigeria will break, and they do not say anything. They have not been able to make any statement up till today. Tell me, who has made any statement that made Nigeria break up? They boast that if they open their mouth, Nigeria will scatter. All is just to get money, get the government’s attention and all that. If you are in opposition you talk strong and then the government will call you and settle you.
Nigeria is an unfortunate country; very unfortunate. If people like us wanted to take bribe, we would have got bribes in billions of dollars. There was no managing director of an oil company who did not want me to be on his side. There was no military leader, is it Babangida, was it Abacha, all of them wanted me to be on their side. It is just integrity; I say no, you are my friend, yes, but this election is free. Abiola was not my friend; the military people were even my friends, because as secretary general of NUPENG, if you wanted to increase oil at that time, if I said no, you couldn’t increase the oil pump prices. I went to prison when the pump price was N2.70k per litre and within three months when they locked me up in Barma, this man just increased it to N11. There was nobody to challenge Abacha again and every day they just increased and I retired, so nobody to resist them. And labour aristocracy came into it. Like in Delta and some other states, do they have labour unions? They just go there, NLC, and they just become boys to the governors and when they finish, they become Special Assistants, from there they make them Commissioners.
All NLC state chairmen are boys to their governors. We built NUPENG like a freedom fighting body, so we liberated our country. Those were the things we did. When they say they increase pump price money, do you gain anything? You increase it and you will not see one kobo benefit to the woman going to market to feed the children. No welfare, nothing.
In the PIA, 30 per cent is allocated for oil exploration at the frontier basins and the Minister of State for Petroleum and NNPC GMD say Niger Deltans should be thankful that three per cent is given to host communities, what is your take on this?
As an oil expert, I know that 30 per cent for exploration frontier is unnecessary because if you do that, then I should have come to say I opened a company to do oil exploration without any kobo and then ask for frontier money to explore oil. All the multinationals do, the IOCs, they come with their money. Shell comes with their own money, ExxonMobil comes with their own money; Agip comes with their own money, Chevron Nigeria Limited comes with their money, Agip comes with their money, TEXACO comes with their money, Total comes with their money to explore because these are rich multinationals. These companies are richer than Nigeria, so if they lose, they lose and if they win, they win. But that is what they tell you; that they have seen some dry wells in the Niger Delta and all that. But if you say frontier something, to me, with my experience in oil exploration, it is a fraud.
You cannot just go to the Chad Basin and some other places and use the people’s money to make endless exploration that you will get anything out of. You will not spend your own money and you say you are exploring, yet you will not get one barrel of oil, that is rubbish. So anybody can say he wants to explore oil because there is 30 per cent to and collect; they will share it among themselves.
Against all odds, President Muhammadu Buhari is insisting on open grazing. As a stakeholder in this country, who do you think?
I think the President is wrongly advised. He knows that open grazing is no more realistic in the 21st century, so why open grazing? It has caused so much pain and hardship to us in the whole country. Most of these killings in this country, the herders are maybe 70 percent responsible.
People hide under the guise of herders, there are innocent herders, like the ones we have in Nigeria until when these criminal ones came from the Sahara to join them and start getting cheap money. You kidnap somebody in the street and you say you want N50 million, N20 million, N20 million, so which business is more lucrative than that?
People accuse Buhari of nepotism and I am finding it difficult these days not to join these people because the Buhari that I know, I felt would not be doing certain things like that. So why should he be talking of looking for grazing routes that were founded by the colonial people more than 60 years ago when Nigeria’s population was less than 30 million people? It does not make any sense.
Every part of the country is having one form of security challenge or the other, are you satisfied with the Federal Government’s handling of the situation?
How can I be satisfied? I cannot be satisfied. It is a shame when I hear that you just go to a school and kidnap 250 children. Where do you take them through and you say you have security in the country. These things are happening in the savanna area of Nigeria where the whole place is open. How do you carry 250 children and you will be moving with them? Nigeria security says they have satellites, they have drones, they have everything and you can’t detect where they are.
You spend billions of dollars on the security agencies. How do you carry 250 children and you will be moving and nobody will stop you? This is a disgrace. I do not believe it is my country; this is unbelievable, the north is a savanna; Kastina is a savanna, Zamfara is a savanna. There is no thick mangrove forest there, so how do you carry 300 children and you will be moving with them and no security people will intercept you?
Then you will leave these children in the bush for one year, two years, three years, you do not know where they are and yet you collect all these monies? It is a charade. I am an elder statesman now and when I sit at home, I cannot do much any longer.
If I were in the labour movement up till now, I would have gingered the labour movement. The labour movement should be the last hope of the common man. If the politicians cannot do it, if the National Assembly cannot do it, the labour is for the people. The labour movement should be the tribune of the people. At a stage in my life, I had to use what I had to fight the military, because Nigeria had no freedom fighters like South Africa. There was no reservoir of freedom fighters.
The oil workers were the best paid when I was there. There were no casual workers, there were no contract workers. I went round the whole section of the oil industry and told my workers that this struggle is not for arrears; I have negotiated good salaries for you people all over the country. Even I had to turn the Petroleum Training Institute, PTI, from an ordinary polytechnic earning the same salaries as NNPC, so my workers believed in me that this man does not take bribe. This man is for us.
The civil societies can only carry placards and ruthless military dictators do not listen to placards. African dictators do not listen to placard -carrying civil society people; they need force to fight them and we used the oil union which was the live-wire of Nigeria. When we say the oil union, the oil unions control the platforms, the oil terminals, the Nigeria refineries were working and we controlled the whole refineries; we controlled the tanker drivers, so those were the only people we could use and I had to go underground because I knew what I was doing. So now when I see docile trade unions, if the government does rubbish things, I look at them, I shake my head. You have to ginger the President himself and he will be up and doing.
Nigeria’s economy is worse off under your party, APC, can you clap for the Nigerian government under President Muhammadu Buhari?
I am an APC man but I thought APC would do better than this, but not going back to PDP. Going back to PDP is like going back to Egypt; that is the most corrupt party in the world, but to me, I am disappointed in APC. APC should have done more than what they are doing, because if you look at when we were campaigning to come to power, if you see what the party was telling the people; the people were all excited, but since he sat in there, he refused to listen to the people most of the time.
The man himself is not corrupt, but when people around him are so corrupt, what do you see? Buhari is a good man. I can vouch for him for that. I have even been oppressed by his administration. At my level, I was oppressed. He signed a job for me and the job was taken away from me by a minister who suspected that I will be too straightforward to work with; that I will be too principled; that I have too much integrity to work with him. Buhari kept looking at the whole thing and he let it go like that. So there are certain things he does that make people to actually feel disappointed, if not, the APC came with very good plans, but these days, I am afraid, I don’t know. But like I said, the PDP is not an alternative, so Nigerians should pray.