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PIB’s 3% equity may open another frontier of insecurity in Niger Delta, says Dickson

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Seriake Dickson

The Senator representing Bayelsa West, Senator Seriake Dickson addressed the media in the Senate on two contentious issues bothering on the passage of the 3% equity shareholding for host communities, which he said they disagreed with, and the contentious clause 52(3) in the 2021 Electoral Act Amendment bill that was recently passed by the National Assembly.

He called for a review of the 3% equity upwards to the 5% proposed by the joint committee on petroleum before Buhari assents to it as it may trigger another round of insecurity in the Niger Delta. He also cautioned the National Assembly over the usurpation of INEC powers on electoral results transmission. JOHN AKUBO was there.

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On the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) the late President Umaru Yar’Adua sent the first Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to the National Assembly. The PIB work started from President Olusegun Obasanjo’s time; that was when the idea was muted.

During Yar’Adua’s time, Rilwanu Lukman was the Minister of Petroleum Resources, and the bill proposed 10% for host communities and also proposed 10% for frontier development. Unfortunately, it could not be passed at the time. We are happy the people are happy that the National Assembly has been able to break that jinx or whatever looks like it. But we must get the PIB right.

As you know, I disagreed completely and most of us disagreed with the 3% equity for the host communities that was eventually passed.

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Of course, you know the history, the Senate passed 3% equity and the House 5% and they went for a conference, which came up with 3%. But my view is that this country is not helping itself, it is not helping investors and it is not helping host communities by not creating the enabling environment to allow investment to thrive.

The argument that approving anything more than 3% will deter investors is not genuine. If the host communities are not happy, would investors come? If they don’t have a stake in exploration and exploitation activities, once investors find that the situation is not conducive they will take off. So, this is not a wise decision because you are not dealing with only one community, but thousands and, hundreds of communities.

Don’t forget that, even the transit communities have a stake. I know that people are arguing about why pipeline communities should be part of it but there is sense in that. If you exclude the pipeline communities, they can sabotage the entire management of the operations. So, it is a question of percentage, it’s a question of proper discretion at the level of management of this host communities’ fund.

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A lot of thinking and skill have to be deployed in the actual management of the Host Communities’ fund. The world knows; these host communities know that at the beginning of this bill, what was proposed for them was 10%. Yet, no one is engaging them, no one is explaining anything to them. All they have seen is that people who say they have majority votes have imposed a 3% equity on them and they are angry. That is why I am of the view that this 3% passed by the National Assembly is not helpful to the Host Communities, the oil companies, and the country. If we want to attract investment, then we must all work hand-in-hand with the Host Communities, get their buy-in, get their understanding and support and first create an enabling environment for investment to thrive. It is not too late to make a new day. There is still room for a review in order to have the buy-in of the oil-producing communities.

I also made a case that there is nothing wrong in appropriating money, giving money for the development of the Frontier basins. But should it be up to 30%? Frontier basins are several in the country. I know that it serves everybody’s interest; it serves the national interest in exploring more basins. There is the Gongola basin, the Benue area, the Sokoto basin, the Dahomey, Ogun, Anambra, and so on. Nobody is against that. But when oil-producing communities are taking 3%, NNPC funds of 30% profit is being allocated to exploration and they have been denied even 5%, not even 10%. It is not a very helpful situation for the oil industry. You all know how we felt. I had to stage a walkout because that was the right thing to do. We didn’t want our names to be associated with that kind of activity. Some were asking me why the walkout? Why not? That is a normal parliamentary practice. When you disagree, you make a point.

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Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021
THE second one has to do with the Electoral Act amendment bill and you have seen the backlash. First, as a member of the committee, the members did a good job in presenting that draft which should have taken care of all the controversies now being raised. That draft would have enabled INEC to transmit electronically where and when practicable; they felt the technology available would make it possible for that to be done. It took care of all the concerns and some of the members of the complaints raised even at the level of the committee. We pushed them through and everyone agreed.

Now, you can see the attacks on the National Assembly, the attacks on the senate especially. What I want to say is that there is a marked difference between what we passed in the Senate and what the House passed. If that is so, then there is likely to be a conference committee on it. While casting my vote for electronic transmission of results, I made it very clear that it is unconstitutional for the National Assembly to subordinate the independence of and operational powers and discretion conferred by the constitution on INEC. You can’t subordinate INEC to any other body. It is not constitutional. If that ends up as the position of both chambers, you can be very sure what the likely decisions of the courts will be. This is why you have the Executive and the judiciary. Laws that are passed that are inconsistent with the constitution will be challenged. Like, I said on the floor, it is unconstitutional to subject the operational independence of INEC to another agency.

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However, there is room for further legislative work; Nigerians should not lose hope. It is gratifying to see that Nigerians love democracy and are excited about voting and having their votes count. I believe that the National Assembly exists to make that possible, not to hinder it. 

How do you feel that Yar’Adua presented a 10% proposal for host communities at a time the Petroleum Minister, the late Rilwanu Lukman was from the north. Now, how do you feel that with your predecessor, Timipre Sylva as Minister of Petroleum, a 2.5% is being proposed?
Of course, we felt bad that was why I voted against it. This is not the first time Buhari is presenting this bill. President Buhari’s first proposal was 5%. That is why I said that this matter has been so badly mismanaged. With better advise and strategic thinking, they should have kept it at that 5% and discuss it with the oil companies.

For example, the oil companies still carry out Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities. So, you can engage them and ask what is the cost of their CSR and build it into this, after all the percentage is part of the operating cost. If you remove the CSR, hospitals, schools, some of them are not even usable but they award contracts, which gulp a lot of money. Factor all of that into the Host Communities’ fund, because the fund is for the development of the host communities, you will see that you will even get more than 5%. 

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That is why I said at the executive level this bill has been strategically mismanaged with respect to the management of the Host Communities because it will raise security investments. The Nigerian security forces will need money to work and all of these are additional costs you are not factoring in.

Meanwhile, if you say 5%, and the oil-producing communities are on the same page with you, you have a secured stable environment. This bill has a clause that if there is any damage to any facility that is not natural, that the fund will be utilised in fixing it. The idea of this fund is to also give the host communities responsible for the stability and safety of facilities. So, the host communities are the most important partners. Now the danger is that because of this strategic mismanagement, the Host Communities are now being alienated. Remember that you are dealing with banditry that has not been conquered, and kidnapping and Boko Haram insurgency. Yet, you want to open another chapter in over eight states or more, in communities where the majority of our people reside; most of them are in remote communities that have very little Federal Government presence. I think that the host communities and the people should have been placed as the number one partners for stability and for the development of the oil-producing areas in order to guarantee sustainability in this critical industry without which the national economy will collapse. This is why I disagreed with the strategic mismanagement. So, direct your questions to the Petroleum Minister and the GMD NNPC; they will answer why President Yar’Adua proposed 10%, why President Buhari proposed 5% earlier, and why the minister who is from Bayelsa came to the National Assembly to present 2.5%.

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The chairman, Senate Committee on INEC, voted against your report on the electoral act amendment bill. How do you feel about that?
He is my good friend with whom I disagree completely on this. But you should direct your question to him and I will also be interested in listening to his reply. How the chairman of our committee who agreed with us at the committee level, voted against our collective decision? I moved this clause, framing it to accommodate the concerns of some members who doubted connectivity in their communities. That is why you see the difference between what we presented and that in the House because of those concerns, which were generally the same concern they sighted. We said where and when practicable and everybody agreed, and I thought that we had addressed that concern. The underlying reason is that you cannot take away the professional judgment and discretion of INEC. We are not technical people and that is why you see conflicting reports from NCC and so on and so forth. The agency that we should trust and rely on as to whether they can conduct or transmit results electronically is INEC. Let us not fetter that discretion. That is why it was phrased that way.

As a former House of Representative member, former Governor, and now a Senator, would you say the legislature is oppressive?
Don’t cast aspersions on the legislature. I am not here to say that the Senate and the National Assembly should be cast in the way and manner that you are doing. We can disagree with the legislation, which is what we are doing but that characterisation is too broad. For instance, it is the Senate that raised it from the 2.5% the executive presented. It is now 3%. All we are saying is that it is not enough. In nation-building, particularly in a vast and diverse nation, relying on might and the majority does not build a nation. The majority of votes, strength, numbers on their own do not build a country. What builds a nation in a diverse society like ours is the presence of justice, fairness, consideration for the other, a nation that protects the weak from the strong; a nation that also exists for the few as well as the many. That is the attitude that should inform all political leaders and actors. As a matter of fact, mere reliance on raw numbers without fairness, equity and justice, and consensus-building are inimical to nation-building.

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Will you come up with an amendment if President Buhari assents to 3%?
What will happen if the President assents to this bill, which we disagreed with? We think that there should be a review; there shouldn’t even be assent to it. They should send it for more consultative and lucid work so that while trying to solve problems you don’t create more problems.

As a stakeholder from the Niger Delta, are you saying peace in the region would not be guaranteed with the 3%?
As for guaranteeing security, apart from God, the President is the repository of all security powers. The president is to determine and guarantee stability and safety. However, if he has not done so in the North East for 10 years, you are not doing so for Northwest for about four years, and in the Southeast and in the Southwest, I think it is against the national interest to open another frontier of conflict.

The Niger Delta is the only region enjoying relative stability because of the policies that late President Yar’Adua initiated. He did not only proposed 10% equity for Host Communities but also granted amnesty, which is still working and we are all in support of it. He created the Ministry of Niger Delta. That is how you build a country, stepping in, standing for the weak and the few, and not relying on numbers and power.

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How united were the lawmakers from the South-South, what resolutions did they make before the PIB consideration?
Let me correct you; Senator Sekibo and I were mandated by the Southern Senators Forum and the South-South Forum to reach out to all key opinion leaders and we did. We spoke to most of them and they all supported our 5%. People may not know the kind of consensus-building some of us have been doing because, for me, that is our brand of politics. Disagreements are normal and legitimate but you reach across the divides and seek a common position and we did a lot of that. All of them assured us they were going to support 5%. Mind you the executive proposal was 2.5%. So the 2.5 % did not come from Senate, it was what the executive brought and came here to defend in the public hearings and even before we voted.

The Senate report also had 2.5% but because of these consultations, the Senate Committee graciously went back, did its work, and brought 5%. That is what people may not know and Senator Sekibo, Ajibola Basiru, Chua Utazi and I were on that committee. I conferred with them, including the Senate President.

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Now, what happened was that before we took that deliberation and votes, the Minister of Petroleum and the GMD of NNPC were invited to give us the executive perspective. I don’t know why it was done, it was not parliamentary but that was the decision of the leadership. They came supposedly to enlighten us on the technical aspect of the bill. The main message they came to deliver was either 2.5% equity for Host Communities or no investment. So, I can feel how most members who had given us their commitment felt when they heard that tough position by the executive, saying anything higher than 2.5% will mean no investment inflow. I think that last-minute intervention was what accounted for the change of heart.

Earlier, you said there should be a review of the bill before Presidential assent. As a representative of the people, what is your next line of action on this 3%?
What we are doing is also the next line of action. It is a story that has just started, that is still unfolding and everyone has a role, including the media, to continue to make the case for fairness and equity on the part of all. If the parliamentary work at this stage is concluded, I believe we are talking to the people in the executive arm and I believe that even the NNPC and the oil administrators of the petroleum sector are keenly following the development in the country and particularly in the Niger Delta. I still think it is not too late to make a new day, to do what needs to be done.

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