·Keep standing against your people
By Ignatius Chukwu
The man under the greatest fire at the moment over the signing of the Petroleum Industry Bill into law (now Petroleum Industry Act, PIA) may not be President Muhammadu Buhari but the Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipreye Sylva, who was governor of Bayelsa State, a predominantly Ijaw state.
This is because while President Buhari’s condemnations are from far, the people condemning and in fact attacking Sylva are his fellow Ijaw brothers and Niger Delta kit and kin.
His Ijaw kinsmen had paid him a visit few days to the signing and wanted to understand the insights into the Bill then, and he tried to provide that, assuring them that the Bill was not against them. He also made them understand that a Bill passed would not be tampered with except it is signed and later amended. He promised them that a sensitization series would start immediately after the signing. The delegation led by one chief, Timi Kay Ogoriba, seemed satisfied and many expected that the Ijaw and their son at the highest oil industry affair would were on same page.
This however turned opposite the moment the Bill was signed into Law at the opening of the week.
The most virulent attack came from the Ijaw National Congress (INC) led by Charles Ambaiowei who shot from the hips by saying, ‘Keep standing against your people.”
The statement said: “Not surprising. You also refused to sign in support of Bayelsa State creation in your days as Honourable Member of Rivers State House of Assembly. It was required of Legislator(s) representing an area demanding for a State to sign.
“You’re emboldened by some Ijaws penchant for being shifty, inconsistent and always settling for a mess of porridge to launder and adulate such monstrous acts.
“The recent visit to your office at Abuja by people of apparent repute who claimed dubiously to be Ijaw Elders and supposedly mandated to be speaking for Ijaws like TK Ogoriba (Central Zone), Anabs Sara-Igbe (Eastern Zone) and Dan Ekpebide (Western Zone) may sabotage in vain the Ijaw National Congress and the Ijaw Youth Council.
“No one can pretend that because a people may be oppressed, every individual member is virtuous and worthy. The real issue is whether in the great mass the dominant characteristics are decency, honour and courage.
“I’ve contributed this for the records today and in same fashion I bluntly told some Ijaws in 2014 “you are a disservice to Ijaws for refusal to canvass/defend Ijaw agenda/objectives as submitted by Ijaw National Congress to the National CONFAB”.
The next to attack their son along with the President were the elders under the PANDEF led by Edwin Clark who outrightly declared the signing as quite unfortunate. They regretted that President Buhari went ahead to assent to the Bill despite what they termed overwhelming outcry and condemnation that greeted its passage by the National Assembly, especially with regards to the paltry 3 per cent provision for the Host Communities Development Trust Fund and the said brazen appropriation of an outrageous 30 per cent of NNPC Ltd profit for a ‘dubious, nebulous’ Frontier Oil Exploration Fund.
They said: “This PIB falls way short of the expectations of the Oil and Gas Producing communities that bear the brunt of unconscionable industry operations.
This assent by President Buhari simply speaks to the repugnant attitude of disregard propelled by arrogance, disdain and contempt with which issues concerning the Niger Delta Region are treated, particularly, by the present Administration.
“What this act signifies is an unequivocal message to the Niger Delta people that how they feel and what they say, do not count, at all, in the Schemes of the Nigerian Project. That’s insensitive, abominable and afar every boundary of proper Democratic practice, and, therefore, unacceptable to the good people of the Niger Delta, the critical economic nexus of the entire Nigerian territory.
“The Niger Delta people will speak, shortly, after full consultations, on this callous act, on the best legal and political response,” according to Ken Robinson, National Publicity Secretary of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF).
The president went ahead appoint their son as chairman of the implementation of the same BIA that the Ijaw do not want to hear about.
Another Ijaw group the INDG/ ljaw Peoples Assembly screamed their disbelief and utter disappointment at the signing of the controversial Bill against the cries of the Niger Delta People.
A statement signed by Ben Nanagha (President) and Dortimi Tawari (Secretary) said they had hoped Mr. President would exercise his discretion rightly by referring the Bill to the NASS for reconsideration. “Now assenting to the Bill without addressing the manifest injustice to be visited on the Ijaw people is regrettably setting the stage for a new form of hostility and mutual distrust.”
The group probably did not hear that a Bill cannot be sent back at that point as their son had explained. The group however said the blunt refusal as it were for upward review of the Host Community Trust Fund from three per cent to 10 per cent is very disappointing and leaves more to be desired. “This is one instance of executive recklessness and disdain for the Ijaw people and legal theft of our natural resources. Listening to the plight of the people and responding accordingly is the hallmark of a democracy and responsive government. Regrettably, we find this lacking in this Government.
“We are equally concerned about the fraudulent allocation of 30 per cent of profits to frontier exploration activities which are in the Northern part of Nigeria to line the pockets of (others). The redefining of host communities to include States traversed by pipelines is equally unjust, oppressive and regrettable.
Describing the law as oppressive, they said it disappointingly failed to prevent gas flaring and environmental degradation hence consigning the Ijaw people to health hazards and early deaths.
“INDG/ IJAW PEOPLES ASSEMBLY have recoiled under the stone to consult widely for our next legal line of action. For the records, INDG/IJAW PEOPLES ASSEMBLY reiterates its consensus in line with that of the Ijaw National Congress (INC).”
Sylva’s response to Ijaw elders before the signing
The Minister who played host to the Ijaw elders before the signing had tried to give them insight. He said the Federal Government would engage with oil-producing communities in the Niger Delta over the three per cent equity allocated to them in the recently passed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).
The leaders had visited him to congratulate him on the passage of the PIB after 20 years.
Sylva urged the host communities to effectively manage their funds, lamenting the situation where communities in the Bonny Island could not access funds paid to them by the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Company (NLNG) following court cases instituted by some individuals.
According to him, he has extracted the commitment of multinational oil firms to relocate their operational headquarters to the Niger Delta region, urging the elders to continue to sensitise communities on the need to secure public assets in their areas.
He said: “We are planning, alongside the Minister of Information, to hold town hall meetings in the host communities after the Presidential Assent to the PIB. We need to have more stakeholders’ engagement on the three per cent allocated to the communities. People need to know that it is from production costs and not from profit. The production cost is always higher than the profits.
“Today, I can tell you authoritatively that we are on the last mile of the oil economy. Economies around the world are now discussing renewable fuel.
“We must understand that very soon we might wake up and find out that oil is not as valuable a commodity as we thought before.
“Coal did not finish before the world moved away from coal. There is still a lot of coal deposit in Enugu today but if you give some of it to someone, he might not appreciate it because the world has moved away from coal.
“We must support every effort to ensure that the oil we have today is produced and sold so that we can get the benefits.
“For the past 20 years we have been struggling to pass the PIB and that introduces a lot of uncertainties in he horizon because when you are in the process of amending your laws, investors would hold on to see what the amendment will be.
“That was why since the last 20 years, investments in the sector was on hold. Last year, there was over $50 billion investment in Africa and what came to Nigeria was $3 billon because of the uncertainty in the sector.
“Our main challenge is resource management. If we manage all the money coming to the Niger Delta, NDDC, 13 per cent derivation, three per cent host communities funds and even the one from the Amnesty Programme, we won’t have some of the issues currently confronting us.”
Earlier, the 33-member delegation led by a chief, Timi Kay Ogoriba, commended the minister for the unprecedented reforms in the petroleum industry, especially the radical expansion of the gas sector.
On the PIB, which had lingered for 20 years, the delegation lauded the minister for handling the herculean task of working with the 9th National Assembly towards its eventual passage.
The delegation noted that by this great feat, Sylva’s footprints in the sands of time would remain indelible.
The delegation, however, advised the government to sustain its enlightenment efforts as regards the three per cent component of production costs standing as host Communities Development Trust Fund in the Bill, emphasising that knowledge and understanding of the magnitude of socio- economic benefits the trust fund guarantees would go a long way to assuage fears and concerns
He spoke about Bonny and the inability to access NLNG community fund as a result of litigation.
Now, the minister would have to begin the consultation series he promised to gain the buy-in of his kinsmen. He also would have to assure them that the amendment would begin fast, plus address the issue of three per cent and 30 per cent to outsides. He also needs to show that he was not part of undoing the oil region and show other benefits that his people would quickly get.
(First used in BD Sunday)