Monday, 15th August 2022
Breaking News:

Don’t assent to PIB, Niger Delta stakeholders tell Buhari

By Godwin Ijediogor (South-South Bureau Chief), Chido Okafor (Warri), Inemesit Akpan-Nsoh (Uyo), Agosi Todo and Godswill Sylvester (Calabar), Julius Osahon (Yenagoa) and Ann Godwin (Port Harcourt)
09 August 2021   |   3:07 am
The people of the Niger Delta region had hoped the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), would assuage their burden, having borne pains of oil exploration and exploitation for many years...

Omo-Agege. Photo/facebook/omoagege1

Some threaten peace, others urge calm

The people of the Niger Delta region had hoped the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), would assuage their burden, having borne pains of oil exploration and exploitation for many years, to give a commensurate share due to them. But they were disappointed when a paltry three percent was what they were given, as against the 5 or even ten percent agitated for was what both chambers of the National Assembly put in the Bill.

The manner the bill was passed and the content as it affects the oil-bearing Niger Delta region remain contentious issues to the people of the area, especially concerning the meagre three per cent allocation to the region.

The way the bill was passed into law by the Senate and House of Representatives smacks of a hidden agenda and a plot to marginalise the region. It clearly showed how divided into ethnic lines the country remains.

Little wonder the provision is currently raising tension in the region that had for some time been relatively calm and peaceful.

While elders strive to calm youths from returning to the old ways, stakeholders urge the National Assembly, through the harmonisation process, and by extension the federal government, to address the anomalies before President Muhammadu Buhari signs it into law.

Across the region, it is the same story of despair and dashed hope over the bill capable of rattling the peace. In Akwa Ibom State, many stakeholders have commended the youth for their calmness so far; advising them to maintain the status quo, just as others said the relative peace could be likened to ‘peace of the grave yard’.

According to a professor of Economics, the University of Uyo, and one-time commissioner for Economic Development, Emmanuel Onwioduokit, the government and people of Niger Delta may not condone the situation if the joint conference of the National Assembly refuses to restore the five per cent agreed during the processes of passing.

“He said relative peace is a very dangerous one. If it were the government, I would have been afraid of this time. If this government still loves Nigeria, they should do the bidding of the people; they should revert to the five per cent that the committee recommended. If they still want to carry the three per cent, they will hold themselves responsible for whatever would happen, because now, nobody will listen to anybody in the Niger Delta.

“So, my advice is that when they go for the conference of both Senate and House of Representatives, they should restore the five per cent that all the public hearings seemingly agreed on. That coup done in the Senate will not do Nigeria any good. It is better they take a fraction of a 100 per cent or they forget everything.”

However, a criminologist and lecturer at the University of Uyo, Dr. Aniekan Brown, taking a holistic overview of the situation at hand, said the peace enjoyed in the zone has been possible because those who are supposed to be talking are doing their job well.

“The reason is that the political leaders have not hidden their reservations on the PIB passage on the percentage given to the area and I think those who would have agitated more have reasons to be calm. Note that they just passed the bill, but it is yet to be presented to Mr. President and that takes you to further dealing with the bill.

“But if people were not talking, if the political leadership did not share their reservations, by now people would have taken responsibility and that would perhaps affect the peace of the region.

“Another possible thing may be that most people are not aware of the content and the implications. Don’t also forget that, the designation of oil-bearing communities may not necessarily concern everyone.

“But I think the major reason is that political leadership has made statements and such had helped in calming nerves. People should know that essentially, without peace nothing could be achieved. I sue for peace and I ask that those who should act should take responsibility for the good of the region because the elasticity of peace is not inexhaustible.”

On the other hand, the chairman of Civil Liberties Organisations (CLO) in the state, Frankly Isong, said people of the zone need not quarrel because PIB was not meant for them alone, but for Nigerians, irrespective of the zone.

“It would have been improper for Niger Delta people to carry arms or make the area restive because of PIB. So, whether it is three per cent or five per cent or there is no PIB, there will still be relative peace in the area.

“Another reason for the relative peace in the zone now is because more people are enlightened that arm struggle and violent agitation would not do us any good, bearing in mind what is happening in the Northeast, where people who are suffering the negative impact of insecurity and banditry are the indigenes of the area. Carrying arms to struggle for self-determination is not the best.

“So, youth and people of Niger Delta region have become more enlightened and aware that if you carry arms today, you will kill your brother or mother. This must have been the reason we have not seen restiveness and militancy, kidnapping and other violent acts because of the level of exposure, they know that carrying out arms will destroy themselves and the economy.

“I advise the region to maintain the status quo, knowing that any violent agitation will do more harm than good; they should not be instigated or motivated to carry arms, as that would lead to insecurity in the region. Rather if they are aggrieved with any policy of the government, they should prepare their minds and vote out the government at the polls,” he stressed.

In Cross River State, oil-producing communities are strongly protesting the three per cent set aside for host communities, insisting it falls below their expectation.

Chairman of the Cross River State caucus in the National Assembly, Senator Gershom Bassey, said there was no cause for alarm over the bill, assuring that although the bill is far from being perfect, it would be fine-tuned to meet future realities.

Experts and other stakeholders in Calabar, who reacted, expressed displeasure over the bill, saying it is a shock and a slap to them as host communities to get a three per cent out of the 10 per cent agitation, adding that if five per cent is okayed by the National Assembly, at least the host communities can understand, but that three per cent is considered a big blow on the faces of the host communities.

A stakeholder, who craved anonymity, described the bill as pathetic, emphasising that if five per cent is not granted to the host communities, there would be continuous oil theft and insecurity in the Niger Delta region.

He added that youths in the host communities deserve better living conditions, which can only be achieved if employment for them is taken into consideration, as this is one of the reasons they carry arms.

An expert on security matters, Mr. Mike Anyiam, speaking on how peace could be sustained in the region, stated that human capital development/unemployment, total disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of those in the region require quick intervention, even as he stressed the need for reconciliation processes by the host communities and government.

A lawyer, Leonard Anyogo, warned that the purpose of the bill will be defeated if the national assembly decides to slice five per cent derivation demanded by host communities to three per cent, arguing that the bill has been one of the most anticipated for several years and could help streamline the upstream and downstream sectors of the industry if properly treated without bias.

He noted that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), has been shrouded with activities that are not robust for people in the Niger Delta, saying: “There have been lots of petroleum linkages/oil spillage in the Niger Delta and one of the aims of the bill is to address that issue. If we don’t get that issue right, the purpose of this bill will be defeated, because that is the centre of the agitation over the years.

“Another thing is to have an amicable and peaceful atmosphere so that the oil industry will propel and give us a better outcome. It is very key that we allow this five per cent agitation to go through for the bill to be welcomed by everybody.”

Since the passage of the bill, leaders in the region, including the national leader of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Chief Edwin Clark, have rejected the three per cent allocated to the oil communities, warning that the development could inflame the region.

Also, militant groups in the region, particularly Niger Delta Avengers, have threatened “operation humble,” vowing to ensure zero oil production in the region.

Immediate past president of the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC), Eric Omare, said the whole idea of giving communities a sense of belonging was defeated by the three per cent yearly allocation, a development he warned, could cause unrest in the area.

He said: “The host communities content of the PIB, which was originally proposed as 10 per cent equity and later ten per cent profit, was conceived to give people of the oil-producing communities a sense of belonging in the oil and gas industry as a panache to the age-longed Niger Delta agitation.

“The idea was that with such percentage of oil revenue going to the communities, it would give them a sense of belonging and get their buy-in and cooperation in oil exploration activities. When this is considered against the background of the overriding objective of the PIB, which is to attract investments into the Nigerian oil and gas industry, the PIB host communities fund was a fantastic idea.

“However, as with most good ideas in Nigeria, and because Nigeria is not a nation of people with common aspirations, the idea became a still-born. As far as I am concerned, changing the original idea of 10 per cent equity stakeholdership to ten percent profit and finally to three per cent yearly operationally cost has totally defeated the whole essence of the communities’ content in the PIB.

“I do not know why this present government thinks that giving the host communities what they deserve amounts to doing the communities favour, instead of the government seeing it as panache to a perennial problem.”

He added: “I am totally disappointed in the thinking process of the present government as far as issues of Niger Delta are concerned.

“Now to the specific issue of how to maintain peace in the region, I think government missed a golden opportunity to strike a legal contract with the region, which would have provided the enabling environment for oil and gas operations in the region.

“As a result, I don’t see any difference that the PIB would make in the region as far as agitations are concerned. Things would remain as they are and the agitations would continue, all because of the present administration’s lack of interest in the Niger Delta region.”

For Olorogun Fred Majemite, a governorship aspirant in Delta State, what was given to the oil communities was not what was expected. But he cautioned the oil communities not to resort to destruction of oil installations in the region to register their hurt, saying such installations are properties of the region.

He stated: “I am happy the PIB has finally been passed after it has been there for donkey years. Looking at the problems in the Niger Delta, we can never get enough, as the region is grossly underdeveloped.

“Our thinking is that we should not get anything less than 10 per cent, so that if we add the 13 per cent derivation, it would make some sense. But we are starting from somewhere. I want our brothers outside Niger Delta to understand that there is hardly any state that does not have any mineral resources. See what is happening in Zamfara, where they are mining gold illegally.

“Every state should begin to look inward and begin to tap into their resources, but everybody is dependent on oil and oil will run dry or there might be a shift, like what is happening in America, where they are focusing on shale oil and we saw the impact on oil business in Nigeria.”

Prince Yemi Emiko, the Media/Publicity Director, Olu of Warri Palace, said the whopping 30 per cent “frontier exploration fund” was money for the “oligarchy” and misplacement of priorities.

Emiko stated: “Lack of transparent engagement has always been at the bottom of agitations and violent reaction to governmental policies and actions in the Niger Delta.

“Concerned leaders from the area were still appealing to red-eyed agitators over the seeming delay in constituting a substantive Board for the NDDC when this bill was passed, allocating a mere three per cent to Niger Delta communities, while giving a whopping 30 per cent to “Frontier Exploration Fund,” mostly seen in industry circles as a “slush fund” for the oligarchy.

“The bill also forces the NNPC to contribute 10 per cent of its OPEX into the Fund, boosting accruals on this Fund to a staggering 30 per cent.

“The panacea is for the President to ask for adjustments on the PIB in a way that will bring the ND to a minimum of say 10 per cent before his assent. The story making the rounds that upping the community commonwealth fund from three per cent will affect the CAPEX and OPEX of the IOCs is simply hogwash. Operating expense in Nigerian oil industry is some of the cheapest in the hydrocarbon world.

“Government would now also need to stay a committed course on NDDC, ensure a speedy conclusion of the ongoing audits, put a professional and very robust Board in place and ensure clear-cut oversight and disciplined supervisory arrangements that will bring NDDC to the path of working for people and no longer for the oligarchy and other forces.”

Ken Orubebe, an activist and founding member of Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities (FNDIC), and the influential CHIKOKO Movement, while criticising the three per cent allocation to oil communities in the bill, said the youths were very angry and that he sees another zero oil production in the Niger Delta region in due course.

He said: “At several fora, we told our leaders that the present structure of Nigeria and the National Assembly is skewed in favour of Northern Nigeria. The independent constitution our forefathers struggled to build had been replaced by the fraudulent 1999 Constitution given to us by fiat by military presidents of northern extraction.

“No legislation in favour of Southern Nigeria will come out good. When we struggle to submit our position papers before the legislative committees in the National Assembly, it is a mere waste of time and resources.

“If Mr. President goes ahead to sign the three per cent for host communities in the current bill as passed, I foresee another round of operations zero oil and gas production in the Niger Delta.

“Can’t you smell and feel the annoyance of youths of the region, especially concerning this three per cent allocation? For some of us, it is either Nigeria is restructured or we go our separate ways, which of course, could be bitter.”

National President, Niger Delta Nonviolence Agitators Forum (NDNAF), Wisdom Ikuli, and rights and environmental activist, Morris Alagoa, see dialogue as the best option to achieving their purpose.

To Ikuli, though the Nigerian crisis resulting from gross underdevelopment of Niger Delta is a ground conspiracy of many key players, both local and international, the region should seek caution and dialogue, assuring that people would apply dialogue as the best way out even in the midst of the current height of provocation, instead of resorting to violent agitation.

He said: “The drama, manipulations, and every other pre and post-PIB politics are part of agenda that is set to perpetuate the gross underdevelopment of Niger Delta region.

“One of the major tactics by the explorers and exploiters is the deliberate provocation of people of Niger Delta to violence in order to justify ongoing exploration, exploitation, and economic and environmental genocide in the region.

“Moving forward, for one to understand the above, it is pertinent to look at a prevalent subject from a multidimensional approach, where we have the supremacy tussle between those who conceptualised “WAZOBIA” in a country that has over 250 distinct ethnic groups and tribes, which were hitherto independent nations, emirates, empires, kingdoms, and clans before the amalgamation of 1914 by Sir Fredrick Lugard and then foreign cum external interest.”

He continued: “But in the midst of these gross injustices, people of Niger Delta, especially youths, have discovered the secret weapon of manipulation their aggressors and exploiters have been using, which is often provoking them to violence, and which are always met with superior forces led by the federal troop and other security agencies.

“The people have, therefore, changed tactics, which has worked, and one of such results is the supremacy battle amongst the self-acclaimed owners of Nigeria, while the people of Niger Delta they often conspire and unite against during every agitation are now spectators and peace-makers.

“In conclusion, I can assure you that the people of the Niger Delta will prefer dialogue as the best way out even in the midst of the present height of provocation instead of resorting to violent agitation.”

Alagoa, aligning with Ikuli, added: “We are in a democratic dispensation and I think things have to be done within the ambits of the law. Democracy allows for lobbying and protests and so our people should take positive advantage of these windows to better the lots of oil-producing communities in the Niger Delta and elsewhere in the country.

“The peoples of the Niger Delta and indeed Nigerians of good conscience have a window of opportunity to register their position democratically.

“As far as I am concerned, what is left to be done is damage control. The elected representatives of the Niger Delta region at state and national levels failed to do the needful since the PIB journey started 13 years ago in 2008.

“While some northern state governments sent top public office holders to represent them during public hearings, we never saw much from the Niger Delta.

“The oil companies never relaxed either; they showed appearances at public hearings and made the joint presentation. But governments of the Niger Delta were nowhere to be found. Host communities and civil societies, like HOSTCOM and ERA/FoEN tried, but there were no representatives from ex-agitators or ex-militants; neither were there any from state governments of Niger Delta collectively or individually.

“So, they shouldn’t just wake up and act like fish out of water. They had amply opportunity to express themselves but showed no concern.

“While I urge the president to take steps to jack up the percentage for host communities, whatever is approved gets to the communities is most important, because the sailing 13 per cent is denied over 90 per cent of the oil-producing communities in states like Bayelsa and Rivers.

He stressed: “Even 50 per cent won’t be enough. But if internal enemies and benefit captors would not prevent this from getting directly to the oil producing communities that have borne the hazards of oil industry-induced pollution, then it may be a good starting point.

“As far as the current 13 per cent derivation is concerned, the oil-producing communities for which the funds are meant are not happy, especially in Bayelsa State. Some have several oil wells, but there is no government presence.

“So, it is whether the funds will get to the oil-producing communities that matter first, not how much is approved, judging from our past experiences.”

National President, Movement for the Survival of Izon Ethnic Nationality in the Niger Delta (MOSIEND), Kennedy Tonjo West, disagrees with Ikuli and Alagoa, arguing that the three per cent is orchestrated to undermine the oil-producing communities and by extension southern part of the country.

He said the people couldn’t guarantee peace and stability in the creeks and elsewhere in the region, adding: “We need not talk about peace in the region now. The three percent for oil-bearing communities as proposed by the northern caucus in the National Assembly has further exposed the truth that there is no oil in the north and all the speculations are calculated propaganda to exploit the resources coming to the country to develop the north, via a clandestine means or certain cabal wishing to enrich themselves using the exploration of the frontiers as a conduit pipe.

“The recent desperate move by the north to grab or covet any goodies that are ordinarily coming to other parts or regions outside of the north is not healthy for this country; it is either they get a larger chunk of the pie or they play the spoiler role.

“With this kind of weird and unfashionable political disposition to continually oppress other regions, just because they are in power and have the numerical advantage in the National Assembly.

“The Niger Delta people are badly hurt and grossly undermined. We don’t have hope of one Nigeria anymore. Some regions now feel they are superior to the other while bringing nothing to the table. Anyone who is talking about united or one Nigeria is living in a fool’s paradise. The government of the day is doing everything within its power to northernise Nigeria.

“We are ready to support any coordinated groups willing to frustrate the economy if the government does not repent of its ways. Obviously, we reject three and five percent; it is 10 per cent or nothing.”

A former special adviser to Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike and a rights advocate, Opunabo Inko-Tariah, appealed to aggrieved Niger Deltans and indigenes of the oil-producing communities to exercise patience while the leaders sort things out with the authorities, adding: “It is my conviction that accommodation can be reached that will satisfy both the government and host communities.”