Niger Delta stakeholders, yesterday, defended their opposition to the current Petroleum Industry (PIB), which government officials believe is the solution to the myriads of challenges confronting the region.
They spoke just as some other community leaders from the region threw caution to the winds as they engaged in fisticuffs during yesterday’s public hearing on the bill.
The fight started when Host Communities of Nigeria Producing Oil and Gas (HOSTCOM) was called to the podium to make a presentation. There was disagreement amongst the members, leading to exchange of blows until security operatives intervened. While those involved in the fight hid their identity and angrily left the hall, one Gouha Ukhorumah, representing the Gbaramatu and Coastal Host Communities in Warri South Local Government of Delta State, said the quarrel was basically between two factions of a group that calls itself Host Communities “without a specific kingdom or local government as area of coverage.”
At the hearing, some oil companies, including Shell and Chevron adopted the position of the Oil Producing Trade Section (OPTS), which held that the PIB could not encourage competition and investment in the oil sector.
Chairman of the House Ad-hoc Committee on PIB, Mr. Mohammed Monguno, assured interest groups that his panel would visit oil-producing areas to get more of their views.
In their earlier presentations, some government officials expressed reservations over issues associated with revenue generation going by the PIB. Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Clement Agba, said the country was moving in the right direction with the PIB but it was important that as much as Nigeria wants to protect today’s revenue, it should also look at sustainability.
“We should look at how revenue streams will continue to flow over the years and these are areas that the ministry of finance is looking at because we don’t want to get all the money today and lose tomorrow’s money,” he said.
A representative of one of the host communities /CSOs, Ken Henshaw stated that what took place was not public hearing, saying the Bill failed to address the problems of areas where oil is produced and the legislature refused to hear from them.
Similarly, Inibehe Effiong of Niger Delta Dialogue, the think tank of the Pan Niger Delta Elders Forum (PANDEF) said what the committee did was a tragic injustice and a slap on the people of the region.
“So we feel that this a further demonstration of the contemptible manner that the Nigerian State has regarded the people of the region. This is unaccounted and we will continue to demand that if this so-called host fund that they want to provide for is going to translate into anything, there has to be a significant conversation with the people of the region,” he said.
In a independent survey, residents of the region warned that if the Petroleum Industry Bill is passed the way it is , it will cause more problems in the country. They pointed out that some provisions in the Bill project and subject the Niger Delta community as objects of pity and vowed that the people would resist such.
They also lamented that billionaires were being made from their resources yearly while they wallowed in poverty. Some of the stakeholders who spoke in reaction to the ongoing public are: the National Publicity Secretary of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Ken Robinson; Head of Traditional Rulers in Cross Rivers State, HRM, Dr. Etim Edeth; renowned Niger Delta activist, Ann Kio-Briggs; Chief Judith Asuni, Facilitator of Niger Delta Dialogue and the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Akwa-Ibom State, Mr. Ini James Ikie.
Robinson said it was unfortunate that the PIB had been in the pipeline for over 15 years and that many aspects that are of interest to the people are not reflected in the draft. He said: “There is a component that is of interest to the people of the region and it is the aspect of oil-producing communities development, establishment of community trust. But critical study on the bill shows that a lot of inconsistencies and lacunas have been exploited by the operators in the oil industry to the disadvantage of the people of the Niger Delta region.
“They said, they will give 2.5 per cent as yearly operational cost but the bill indicates that the operators of the industry will determine what constitutes host communities, appoint people who are not members of the indigenous community to be members of the board, those are unacceptable provisions.”
Ann Kio Briggs argues that the current PIB is not the PIB that was earlier presented and accused representatives, lawmakers, senators from the region of watching other people from other regions bastardise the Bill.
“It is supposed to address the issues of the oil-producing communities, I have lost interest in the PIB because there is absolutely nothing they are going to put in the Bill that is going to genuinely address the issues that were earlier raised, that brought about the PIB , our representative are too weak”.
“All we want now is that this country should be restructured, let the people own their resources, if we own our resources , let everybody keep what they have. Let Zamfara keep their own, Niger Delta keep their own, let everyone control their resources. If we can’t live together in peace, then let us live apart in peace, we won’t continue to be enslaved by every government that comes in.”
Dr. Edeth, Asuni and Ikie, noting that serious efforts had been put into the PIB, urged lawmakers to consider the region’s demand and pass the bill.
Activists under the aegis of Social Action and Key Civil Society Organisations, said host communities in the Niger Delta are opposed to the PIB because the proposed legislation failed to address their environmental, human rights and livelihood concerns.
Spokesperson for the group, Mr. Botti Isaac, said the governance structures proposed for the host communities fund deliberately denied any meaningful level of community participation and overtly promoted oil companies’ control and prominence.
According to him, the level of emphasis on oil companies could fuel oil industry divide-and-rule tactics and stoke communal conflicts. He also observed that environmental pollution concerns are almost entirely ignored as the Bill focuses more on production and commercial viability of the industry.
Another group, Centre for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), urged the National Assembly to immediately amend Sections 242, 247, 251 and 252 of the Bill. Executive Director of CCD, David Anyaele, who made this demand yesterday in Abuja, said: “CCD proposes the amendment of the following sections in the Bill.
According to Anyaele, CCD believes that PIB provides an uncommon opportunity to right the wrongs against persons with disabilities in the Niger Delta, adding that observation shows that oil and gas exploration in Nigeria is conducted to the detriment of disabled persons and communities.