By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
THERE were more than a few interrogations raised by stakeholders of Niger-Delta on the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, before and after the National Assembly passed it, after which President Muhammdu Buhari gave his imprimatur, making it the Petroleum Industry Act, PIA.
The posers encompassed respectability of the stingy three per cent to Host Communities Development Trust Fund when, contrariwise, a jumbo 30 per cent was apportioned for exploration activities on frontier basin development mainly domiciled in the North that produces no oil; obnoxious definition of host communities, a key component of the law; superfluous powers granted oil companies over host communities, which attempt to make them slaves in their own land, among others.
Presidency, NASS utter disregard
Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, umbrella group of leaders and stakeholders of the coastal states of Niger-Delta, Host Communities of Nigeria and several other interested parties had, profusely, adumbrated the suspicions and expectations of the region regarding the petroleum law.
The expectation was that Buhari should refer the legislation back to the National Assembly to sort out the modifications before giving assent, as the irksome provisions were fundamental to its efficacious implementation.
Both the National Assembly, which passed the PIB, and Mr. President, who approbated, ab initio, recognized that the current legislation was not trouble-free and was not what the people of Niger-Delta wanted, but still turned their backs.
Ironically, after paying no attention to the imploration of Niger Delta to reconsider the regulation before formal acceptance, the President beseeched the same host communities of Niger Delta, to accept the controversial three per cent equity allocated to them in the Petroleum Act.
Similarly, President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, stated that if there were identified areas in the PIA that require amendment, they should be brought to the National Assembly for legislative action.
Lawan, fielding questions from journalists shortly after a brief ceremony at the Presidential Villa where the President announced the setting up of an implementation Committee for the new law, noted: “So, this is something we all have to address with some optimism and hope that it would be okay.
“But because we are human beings, no act of human beings could be perfect. So when we are able to see issues, the National Assembly is there. Bring them for amendment. Even the most difficult issues can still be brought back to the National Assembly if it is worthwhile to do so.
“But I believe that there is no need for us to be emphasizing the problems rather than the prospects.”
Minister of State for Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva, under fire from people of the region for exuberantly defending the three per cent equity to host communities, said the Federal Government would further engage oil-producing host communities in the Niger Delta on issues regarding the three percent of operational costs allocated to them in PIA.
What rankles in Lawan’s entreaty just as with Buhari is the insensitive manner public officials manage combustible matters. Before the two chambers of National Assembly went on the harmonization episode, the Senate President received copious notifications from HOSTCOM and other affected stakeholders angrily complaining that their inputs to the statute were overlooked, and should be incorporated at the harmonization.
Yet, the nation’s number one lawmaker spoke as if he was anticipating objections to the law for the first time and was, therefore, providing opportunity for amendment.
Reacting to the action of Mr. President, Ijaw youths under the auspices of Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, last week, condemned the ratification of the law, saying Buhari was no longer welcomed to Niger-Delta, also warning Sylva not to step his foot on the region, following his role in the passage of PIB.
With the inexplicable delay in inaugurating the substantive Board of NDDC, it was well-known that how the President managed the petroleum law would determine the peace and next line of action in the region.
However, leaders of the region, who thought Buhari would take the shrewder option of asking the National Assembly to address the grievances of the people by further harmonizing the PIB, have been proved wrong.
Rather, government in what looks like time-buying, has proposed the same engagement it jettisoned and, to betray its intention, gone ahead to set up Implementation Committee.
PANDEF said: “The signing of the PIB into law by Mr. President, despite protests from the people of the Niger Delta region, is insensitive and remains unacceptable to all well-meaning Niger Deltans.
“PANDEF considers it a clear message to the Niger Delta people that how they feel and what they say does not count, at all, in the schemes of the Nigerian project.
“We will make our response to the callous act known after due consultations with critical stakeholders of the region”.
Similarly, Ijaw National Congree (INC), led by Prof Benjamin Okaba, which was still dazed by the President’s action, said the Federal Government would hear from the congress on a later date.
National President, HOSTCOM, Chief Benjamin Style Tamanrebi, who maintained that three per cent was offensive to the host communities producing oil and gas, on his part, said: “We are the ones pleading with President Buhari to consider the host communities’ plight by rejecting three per cent for Host Communities Development Trust Fund in the PIA, he declined; therefore, it should not be him asking us to accept three per cent when he knows that our demand is for 10 per cent.”
Also speaking, constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, Inibehe Effiong, said, “The way it is going, it may result in agitation. When people are talking and you do not listen, it may result in other ways of communication.
“It seems Nigeria only listens to violence. What the National Assembly and Federal Government are saying is that they cannot listen to Niger Delta people except they resort to violence.”
All over Niger Delta, there is total dissatisfaction with the provisions for host communities of the region, which bear the brunt of oil exploration in the PIA, which the National Assembly and Mr. President should have managed before thumbs up.
As it is, the region has been practically told to go to hell.
Gov Ayade slams FG, NASS
The town hall meeting on PIA, which Minister of State for Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva, had hinted seems to be in the same line of putting wool over the eyes of the people when the deed had been done.
Governor of Cross-River State, Prof Ben Ayade, who defected to the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, not long ago, screamed on the proclivity of the Federal Government to deceive the people when he played host to members of the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) led by the state’s representative, Ntufam Eyo Nsa Whiley, last Thursday, in Calabar.
Recalling how the Senate Committee on PIB that toured the state failed to mirror the grievances of Cross River in the bill before it was finally signed into law by the President, the governor said categorically that the PIA seeks to perpetuate injustices that the state had suffered over the years.
“With the PIB, as far as we are concerned as a state, we have been reduced to want in body in spirit and in soul. There is no indication whatsoever that the review of the revenue allocation will be based on the principle of jurisprudence, equity and fair play”, he said.
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“When the PIB committee visited, I took my time and articulated in the best of professional grammar to explain to them that producing communities are not as delicate and sensitive as impacted communities. Cross River State bears the brunt of production, but today the PIB is signed into law, insensitive to the oil impacted communities to which Cross River State belongs.
“In the same PIB, 30% of revenue is set aside for frontier exploration, luckily the Calabar basin which they refused to recognize in that category which stretches from all the mountain basins, cutting across the whole of Bakassi, Biase Odukpani, Okuni, Ogoja, Yala is heavily impregnated with hydrocarbon.
“The geo-coordinates have been issued by myself since 2016 to the federal government. Today we watch and see how the 30% set aside for the frontier exploration will be managed. And we will see what will happen to the Calabar basin”.
At the moment, agitators were already regrouping in the region to determine the way forward. Leader of South-South region, Chief Edwin Clark, and other leaders, who have persuaded the crusaders to shun violence as an option are themselves in tight spot for government has repetitively taken advantage of the situation to undermine their peace efforts, which was the reason PANDEF and INC said they want to carry out consultation.
However, there is apprehension already that militants could ask the elders to take the backstage, which some leaders had long forewarned the Federal Government.
RNDA defends Buhari, Sylva
Detecting the resentment, a coalition of militant groups under the aegis of Reformed Niger Delta Avengers, RNDA, which appears to be protecting the interests of Buhari and Sylva, has taken up a fight to counter opposing voices.
RNDA differed with PANDEF, Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, and other agitators over the PIA.
The leader, self-styled ‘Major General’ Johnmark Ezonebi, in a statement, described the objection by IYC against the President and Minister of State for Petroleum for assenting to the bill as irresponsible and narrow-minded.
“It is imperative to state here that it is unbecoming of Chief Edwin Clark and PANDEF concerning the unnecessary and unguarded utterances they been voicing out on the pages of newspapers and television stations over the PIB and pressure mounted on President Buhari”, Ezonebi said.
“Why is it that Clark and his group never came up with PANDEF to mount pressure on Jonathan to pass PIB into law, and where was Senator Seriake Dickson, who was in House of Representatives and was later Governor of Bayelsa state for eight years and only Ijaw- speaking governor to rally round to ensure the PIB was passed into law by Jonathan, but now is now using disparaging comments on Chief Timipre Sylva?
“The RNDA with the coalition of the nine militant groups in the creek that is agitating for the overall development of the Niger Delta region condemn in totality PANDEF’s position for attacking and criticizing Mr. President for assenting to the PIB over the three per cent for the Oil producing communities.
“We want to use this medium to warn those troubleshooters in the region that is trying to use this PIB three per cent issue to cause problem in the creek should quickly retrace their steps now and withdraw from whatever useless and meaningless threat statements been declared before now”.