The passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) by the National Assembly and the subsequent signing of the bill into law generated mixed reactions across the country. In this interview, National Chairman, Host Communities Producing Oil and Gas in Nigeria (HOSTCOM), Prince Mike Emuh tells ONWUKA NZESHI that the new law represents a milestone and should not become a politics tool to divide the people
What is the mood of the people in the Niger Delta over the enactment of the Petroleum Industry Act?
It has been ecstatic since the Petroleum Industry Bill was passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly. Now that the bill has been signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari, we have been in a celebration mood.
The day after it was signed, our people from all the oil producing states held a rally at the Unity Fountain here in Abuja. Over 500 people gathered at the rally and it was a celebration galore.
What is in this law that the people of the Niger Delta should be happy about?
We should be happy because for over 50 years, we have been denied our divinely endowed prerogatives of the proceeds of our oil and gas resources. Now that the 9th Assembly has created a record of great history, we must celebrate them.
We must also celebrate the Honourable Minister of State, Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva and the Deputy Senate President, Sen Ovie Omo Agege for the positive roles for their commitment and the positive roles they played in making sure that this bill scaled through all the hurdles.
You know that with our minority status at the National Assembly, the bill would not have scaled through but it eventually did and we are also grateful to every other Nigerian who did one thing or the other to make this law possible.
There is a controversy over the percentage provided for the host communities in the law. Are you aware of this?
Of course, I’m aware that during the passage of the bill, the House of Representatives recommended five per cent while the Senate recommended three per cent but the position of the Senate was adopted at the end of the day.
However, we still celebrate it because the three percent will accrue to the host communities directly. When you look at the Petroleum Industry Act critically, you will discover that it is a law that has taken care of the Federal Government, the oil companies and host communities.
The aspect that favours the host communities states that three percent of the annual budget of the oil companies will be paid to the host communities. This yearly three per cent could amount to over $520million and if you convert that, it is over N300 billion that will go to the host communities.
This has never happened before in the history of this country. We have never had a situation where even N1 billion will go to the host communities how much more than N300 billion.
Beyond this three per cent issue, what else are you celebrating?
In the PIA, gas flare penalty has become part of the law and will now be paid regularly by the oil companies. It was not strictly so before now. Formerly, the oil companies paid to the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) who in turn, paid to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for onward transfer to the Federation Account.
Under the new law, the penalties will not just be paid by the oil companies flaring gas but the money will be channeled to the development of the Niger Delta in terms of fast tracking gas flare out programmes and converting the wasting gas to energy. I can tell you, this is the only way we can change the Niger Delta into a semi- Dubai or semi- London.
We have all that it takes in terms of human and material resources but people should not bring politics into it. We don’t want people bringing nepotism and egocentric behaviour into it.
We must call a spade, a spade. Let us come together and think about what we can do to change the Niger Delta region. It is an opportunity for us to start the industrialisation of the region.
While you’re celebrating, some groups like the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) are not happy and have declared President Buhari and Timipre Sylva persona non grata in the Niger Delta. How do you react to this?
You see, the Ijaws are good agitators and they have proper understanding of the issues at stake. If you give them what belongs to them, they will not make any trouble. In the past, they have received former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan in Gbaramatu; they have also received Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in the most dreaded areas of the Niger Delta.
They are not trouble makers. I’m not an Ijaw man but the fact is that the struggle for the emancipation of the Niger Delta is not for the Ijaw, Ogoni, Urhoboh, Itsekiri, Isoko and Ndokwa ethnic groups alone. It is for the whole of the Niger Delta region. I think the IYC should have a second thought about this matter.
Since the PIB was not passed all these years, what have we done? Is it now that the law has been passed and we are expecting some benefits that we will be creating more problems?
I want to appeal to everybody including the IYC to come together and see how we can manage the resources that will accrue to the region as a result of this legislation. If they have any problem with the Minister of State, Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, they should remember that he is our son. He is an Ijaw man.
Why should Ijaw have a problem with their own son? If they have problems with Mr. President, Muhammadu Buhari and they ban him from coming to our region, what does he have to lose?
The governors that are taking over N50billion every month are there. Why don’t they declare them persona non grata? Look at what is happening in NDDC and other institutions created to develop the Niger Delta.
Those are the things we should be focusing our attention on instead of declaring the President and Minister persona non grata for facilitating a law that will help our people. I say it without mincing words, the three percent provision in the PIA is a welcome development.
We have to start from somewhere. Let us think of what we are going to do with this money and not how to fight ourselves.
But I also understand the people who are raising issues because in this country, if you don’t make noise, nobody listens to you. I want to appeal to IYC, PANDEF and other aggrieved stakeholders to sheathe their swords, calm down and let us work together. In this matter, we can’t afford to throw away the baby with the bath water.
With the warnings and threats already issued by some groups, don’t you think that the Niger Delta could slip into another crisis?
Presently, the Niger Delta is the best geopolitical zone in terms of security, peace and prospects of socioeconomic development in the country. Incidents of kidnapping, armed robbery, farmer/ herder clashes and other vices are less pronounced in the Niger Delta.
So I want to appeal to our people to let peace reign. I am a father to the youths and I believe that we should resolve all our differences amicably. In fact, whosoever that is kicking against this law and wants to foment trouble should have a rethink because we must start from somewhere.
The thirteen percent derivation fund enjoyed by the oil bearing states today started from zero but graduated to 1.5 per cent and three per cent, before rising to 13 per cent.
What we in HOSTCOM are saying is that if we start with three percent today, it will be easier to review the law and seek an upward review of the percentage than to create a new law. If this law had not been passed, we would not even have any percentage to work with as host communities.
Have you made any entreaties to the IYC and other aggrieved groups?
We will soon call them to a meeting so that WD can reason together. They are creative, reasonable and sound minded youths. I’m appealing to them to heed the call to come together.
We are also going to invite the Minister of State, Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, Minister of Niger Delta Affairs Senator Godswill Akpabio to a meeting to iron out these issues. These are our brothers who are representing us in this government and we can’t afford to isolate them.
We just have to work with them and think of what we can really do to maximise the opportunities in the new law. We need to deliberate on how to set up the HOSTCOM Trust Fund Commission and manage it in the best possible way.
Fighting ourselves will not resolve the issues before us. Even when we are not happy with government policies and actions, we should be objective and constructive in our criticisms.
Look if OPEC could congratulate Nigeria over the enactment of the Petroleum Industry Act, why can’t we in Nigeria congratulate our own government for enacting this same law?
If the international community could declare that this is the first time Nigeria is having such a comprehensive law governing the oil sector, we too should see something good in the law.
What plans do you have for the HOSTCOM Trust Fund?
We need our intellectuals and professionals who have the interest of the region at heart to come and brainstorm with us even as the Implementation Committee on PIA set up by the Federal Government is also working on it.
We will be collaborating with our businessmen and women, traditional rulers and youths to chart a course for the management of the fund. With this fund, we can begin to plan on the diversification of the regional economy from oil and gas to agriculture and industrialisation.
Therefore, we need people who are professionals in various fields; people who are God fearing. We’re looking up to our Leaders of Thought, President Generals of the ethnic nationalities, Traditional Rulers, Community Youth Leaders and Women Leaders across the region to work with us in bringing the dream of a HOSTCOM Trust Fund to fruition.
There are fears in some quarters that the law as it was enacted puts the control of this fund in the hands of the government. How would you respond to this?
No. It is a misconception. The PIA falls into three broad spectrums because the law has aspects that relate to the government, oil companies and host communities.
There is no way that the Federal Government and oil companies will come and dictate to the host communities in the management of the three percent fund.
The law stipulates that the fund is for the host communities and to be managed by the Host Community Trust Fund Commission. We must obey the law.
Some persons have also criticised the provision of the law where it places liability on the host communities for any damage to oil facilities in their domain. What’s your take on this?
We shall look at certain provisions of the law that appear to be detrimental to the interest of host communities.
Like you mentioned, the aspect that when a pipeline gets ruptured or vandalised that the community will be held responsible I think that as time goes on, we are going to take another look at that aspect of the law because we have identified an error there. But we are not after that now.
There is also the provision of 30 per cent for oil exploration in the frontier basins. We are also not looking into that aspect now, after all the frontier basins are not restricted to one part of the country.
At the moment, let us look at the good aspects of this law and see how we can use them with immediate effect, to bring about the transformation of our region.
How can we invest this money in Agriculture, Industrialisation and Manufacturing? How can we harness the gas flared around our communities and convert it to energy to power our homes, offices and factories?
These are the questions that should bother us. I want us to look at the positive issues instead of bickering all the time.
What is your relationship with the governors of the Niger Delta? Many of them are not also happy with the PIA because of these dark sides.
It is not surprising that many of our governors are not particularly happy about the PIA. It is expected because they are in the opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party.
You can see that our political leaders from the same region who belong to the All Progressives Congress are not complaining. But what are these governors complaining about?
That they control the 13 percent derivation fund of over N40billion every month and for twenty years, they cannot account for over N44 trillion? What are they complaining about?
That the Niger Delta is underdeveloped? They might not be happy with what I am saying because I’m not in support of any oppression. The 13 percent derivation does not belong to any governors to use to develop the state capital, leaving out the villages in the creeks and swamps. No light. No school. No water. No road. No industry.
Nothing. Is that what we should be happy about? So, if they are not happy, at least they are comfortable. Do they want to be more comfortable than they are now? I know that they may regard me as their greatest enemy because I’ve been calling for the removal of the 13 percent derivation from their hands.
Let us call a spade a spade, the host communities are suffering; God has given them so much but it has not been getting to them. It will be a shame for any governor to come and challenge HOSTCOM because the 13 per cent they have today actually belongs to the host communities.
They are holding our money and failing us. I’m not saying that the present government has gotten everything right but on the PIA, we are comfortable with what they have done.
We have been losing a lot for a long time. Let us appreciate what we have now because it is a good start. Let us come together and see what we can do to transform the Niger Delta