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North, South clash looms over PIB

By The Citizen
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A North-South clash is looming over the controversial Petroleum Industry Bill currently before the National Assembly.

The central stage is the National Assembly, where senators and members of the House of Representatives are already sharply divided on the clause providing for the allocation of 10 per cent of oil revenue to oil-producing communities in the country.

Also joining the fray are leaders of the South-South, who have vowed to fight for the passage of the bill in its entirety.

The clash was sparked off by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Housing, Bukar Abba-Ibrahim, who said on Monday in Abuja that the North would oppose the PIB because it was lopsided in favour of Niger Delta states.

The All Nigeria Peoples Party senator reportedly described the PIB as 'unfair and unacceptable,' especially the contentious clause.

Abba-Ibrahim had argued that the Niger Delta had several other sources of revenue from oil apart from derivation accruing from the Niger Delta Ministry, the Niger Delta Development Commission and the Presidential Amnesty Programme.

The senator said giving an additional 10 per cent of oil revenue to the oil producing communities in addition to existing ones was inimical to the prevalence of peace in the country.

He said, 'Derivation is only one out of seven sources of revenue for the oil producing states. They have the Federal Government's take home, the NDDC with over N500 billion being projects only in oil producing communities. They also have the Niger Delta Ministry with over N400 billion; Federal Government grants in the name of amnesty and oil companies doing social corporate responsibility.

'By adding another 10 per cent to the seven sources, I don't know how you are going to have peace where resource allocation is so skewed to one side and unfair.''

He received support on Thursday from another Northern senator, Danladi Sankara from Jigawa State, who told one of our correspondents on the telephone that the PIB must be stopped because it was designed to satisfy sectional interest.

Sankara, who is a Peoples Democratic Party senator, said that benefits accruable to the oil producing communities should not be to the detriment of other parts of the country.

'There is certainly no way the PIB will pass the way it was sent. It is clearer that the way it was crafted, only one section of the country is being favoured to benefit.

'While no one is saying they won't benefit, such benefits cannot be to the detriment of other sections; we will not allow it. This country belongs to us all,' he declared.

But senators from the South, who reacted to the comments by Abba-Ibrahim and Sankara, disagreed sharply with them.

A senator from Abia North, Nkechi Nwaogu, said the provision of 10 per cent revenue for oil producing communities was not too much.

The senator warned that unless the host communities were taken care of, the country could start having problems that could hamper national development.

She said, 'We cannot neglect the goose that lays the golden egg. I support the way the clause was captured in the bill. The figure of 10 per cent for host communities is not too much.

'The environmental degradation in the communities, is it happening across the country? If we don't take care of the communities and we start having problems, it will affect our development.'

Also speaking, Senator George Sekibo (PDP, Rivers) faulted his Northern counterparts on the issue, saying it should be viewed from the perspective of the disturbing level of environmental degradation in the oil producing communities.

Sekibo insisted that Nigerians should look at the passage of the bill as a move to redress the environmental degradation suffered by the Niger Delta because of oil production.

He said senators should see the bill as a and not for a section like the HYPADEC bill that was passed to take care of the problem of degradation in the hydro electric power generation communities.

'The PIB that we have now is better than what was given to us before. As for whether the 10 per cent being proposed for oil producing communities is too much, that is not the right sense of judgment.

'The right sense of judgment is how much damage has been done to the environment in the last 50 years. In the next 50 years, we may not have a habitable environment in these places. As we speak, gas flaring is still going on with all the evils associated with it.

'For those who argue that the NDDC and the Niger Delta Ministry are already too much, I will say the NDDC was set up to assist with the infrastructural development of these areas. What has the Niger Delta Ministry done since apart from trying to do the East West Road, which is an initiative of the Federal Government?'

Senator Aloysius Etok (PDP, Akwa Ibom) urged the Northern senators to accept the PIB as a way of addressing the injustice done to the people of the oil producing communities over the years.

He said that it was wrong for anybody to oppose the provision in the PIB meant to take care of the communities which had suffered over 70 years of environmental degradation associated with oil production.

He called on all senators from the North to reciprocate the gesture of the southern senators who supported the HYPADEC bill to take care of communities devastated by electricity production.

'What is fair and equitable cannot be wrong. Nobody should be afraid of doing the right thing because doing the right thing can never be wrong.

'It is unfair for anybody to say that to give 10 per cent to oil producing communities to help ameliorate their plight is unfair.' he said.

An Action Congress of Nigeria senator from Oyo State, Olufemi Lanlehin, said the clause providing 10 per cent to the oil producing communities should be critically examined.

'Although I'm still studying the bill, the issue of 10 per cent should be carefully treated. I think there should be a holistic approach to the whole issue,' he said.

The situation is not different in the House of Representatives, which has already passed the bill to the committee stage for public hearing.

The Chairman, House Committee on Rules/Business, Mr. Albert Sam-Sokwa (Taraba State ), supported the 10 per cent provision for oil-bearing communities.

Sam-Sokwa, who is the chairman claimed that those opposing the provision did so out of sentiment.

'Nobody should be heard complaining about that money (10 per cent). This is not government but money that will come from international oil companies making investment in Nigeria.

'It is to be used to address the problems in oil communities like pipeline vandalism and oil theft. People should read the bill properly before they oppose the provision or condemn it.'

But his colleague from Enugu State, Mr. Ogbuefi Ozomgbachi, observed that the provision was skewed in favour of only communities that could produce crude oil.

Ozomgbachi explained that what Nigeria needed was a general provision that would be beneficial to 'all communities producing mineral resources, not oil alone.'

He spoke further, 'What we need is a general provision that sets aside a specified percentage of profit for any community that produces any mineral; it can be five or 10 per cent but let every mineral-producing community benefit.

'It is not only about oil, we need to deemphasise oil. In the South-East, some states like Enugu have coal. The communities there should be entitled to 10 per cent of the profit of what they produce.

'Same for the South-West, there is bitumen. Let them get their 10 per cent as well. In the North, let the states there benefit from whatever mineral they produce.'

Another lawmaker from South-South zone, Mr. Bassey Ewa, took a middle course, saying that Nigerians should be allowed to decide whether the 10 per cent was necessary or not.

Ewa, who is the chairman, House Committee on Gas Resources, told Saturday PUNCH that he was nominated as one of the lawmakers to conduct a public hearing on the PIB.

'Let the Nigerian public decide what is appropriate. This is why we are conducting a public hearing. It is not for us as a committee to say whether the provision is appropriate or not.'

Also speaking in separate interviews with Saturday PUNCH, some South-South leaders expressed outrage at the growing opposition to the bill by  the North.

Those who spoke include the Ijaw National Congress, Mr. Robinson Esite; a former President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, Mr. Ledum Mitee; and the leader of the defunct Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force, Alhaji Asari Dokubo.

Dokubo said, 'These people do not want peace, they do not believe in negotiation; what they want is to take what does not belong to them.

'We must stand to fight; the oil belongs to us; the people of the South-South, we want 100 per cent and not 10 per cent.

'When our political leaders don't talk, these people feel larger than life… For me, this is just a rant, they are pushing us. The solution is for us to go back to fight.'

Esite, who described the comments as unfortunate, warned that the privilege of sharing the oil resources of the Niger Delta shouldn't be abused.

'The oil is not a collective property; it is the sole property of the Niger Delta and shared among Nigerians out of care for neighbours. This privilege should not be abused by whatever means and by whosoever.'

Also speaking, Mitee said, 'It is unfortunate if a regional position is taken on the PIB. A senator is supposed to make laws for the good of the country and not for a region. You don't need to deal with PIB in a manner that suggests throwing the baby away with the bath water.

'It is not good to give an ethnic interpretation to the PIB. Most Nigerians have agreed that the PIB should be passed into law. The communities are not getting the benefit of the oil. (Punch)