CHUKWU DAVID reports that the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) and the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, 2021, by the Senate has continued to provoke bickering, public criticisms and defence of individual and collective actions among the lawmakers
Since the Senate passed the controversial Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which has been in the National Assembly in the last 13 years on the July 1, and the 2010 Electoral Act Amendment Bill, 2021, on July 15, the Red Chamber appears to have lost its unity and relative peace.
The Ninth Senate under the leadership of Ahmad Lawan has enjoyed relative peace compared to what obtained in the Eight Senate under the leadership of Bukola Saraki, when the Senate had a running battle with the executive arm, particularly the presidency.
But the resentment in the Senate at the moment emanated from the ethno-regional cum partisan politics that played out during the consideration and passage of the two bills. It was obvious that senators of northern extraction conspired to determine what and what should be passed and what should be jettisoned, using their numerical strength to override the wishes of their southern colleagues.
For instance, in the PIB, the apex legislative chamber slashed the Host Communities Development Trust Fund to three per cent from the five per cent recommended by the Senate Joint Committee on Petroleum Resources Upstream, Downstream and Gas Resources.
It was obvious that the northern senators were instrumental to this downward review just as they ensured that 30 per cent of profits made by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was approved for oil exploration, which will largely be focusing on the North.
The Executive arm of government had proposed 2.5 per cent in the draft bill which it forwarded to the two chambers of the National Assembly in October last year for consideration and passage.
The host communities threatened that they would not accept anything less than 10 per cent, when they appeared before the joint committee and made submissions during the public hearing.
Addressing journalists after the passage of the bill, the Senate spokesman, Senator Ajibola Basiru, said that the Senate decided to reduce the initial recommendation following the briefing of the chamber earlier in the morning by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Group Managing Director, Mele Kyari and the Minister of State, Petroleum, Mr. Timipre Sylva. He explained that the three per cent would translate to $502.8 million per year, which is equivalent to N5 billion based on the current exchange rate, noting that it would be sufficient to address the concerns of the host communities.
It was Senator Ahmed Babba Kaita (APC Katsina), who moved a motion for the reduction of funding for the Host Communities Development Trust Fund to three per cent as against the five per cent earlier recommended by the committee.
Meanwhile, stakeholders from the Niger Delta region have been threatening that if not reviewed upward, the three per cent allocation to the host communities is an invitation to fresh agitations in the area, a development some people have expressed fears over its possibility might precipitate violent protests and disruption of oil production in the region.
As the issue of PIB was still raging, the Senate again, a fortnight ago, passed the Electoral Bill, dashing the hope of Nigerians, who had earnestly expected an amendment that would guarantee a credible electoral process for the country in subsequent elections.
The Senate had during the clause by clause consideration of the 2010 Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021, rejected the recommendation of its Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Clause 52(3), which empowers the electoral commission to apply electronic transmission of election results “whenever and wherever applicable.”
The Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, who rejected the ruling of the President of the Senate, Lawan, on the voice vote in favour of the “Nays” called for a division of the House for a head count voting. The result of the voting revealed that 52 lawmakers were against electronic transmission of election results, while 28 supported it.
The result also showed that the Red Chamber was polarised along party lines as nearly all those who voted “No” were of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), while those who voted “Yes” were members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the main opposition party.
The voting pattern that ceded the powers of and subjugate INEC to the discretion of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the National Assembly on the issue of electronic transmission of election results, angered most Nigerians, who have since then continued to criticize the lawmakers.
Consequently, it was observed that 24 hours after the controversial passage took place, the senators who are now in the eye of the storm, became apprehensive and started making desperate efforts to explain and justify their actions.
Some of the senators include the Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege (APC, Delta Central), the Deputy Senate Leader, Ajayi Boroffice, Opeyemi Bamidele (APC, Ekiti Central) and Ajibola Basiru (APC, Osun State), among others. In separate press statements, they made efforts to convince the public, particularly their constituents that their actions were in the best interest of the people.
They claimed that they were also in support of electronic transmission of results but were only guarding against disenfranchising their constituents, who reside in rural areas, where there might be no network to conduct elections and transmit results through electronic devices.
They also expressed disappointment with their colleagues in the PDP over their position on the matter, accusing them of attempting to pitch them against their constituents by subjecting them to open balloting through the division of the house. Another set of senators, who have demonstrated anxiety over what transpired on the Electoral Bill penultimate week, are those who were absent from the Chamber at the time of voting. They have also issued statements to the media, with some of them claiming that they were in support of the electronic transmission proposal but stormed out of the chamber in protest over what they perceived as anti-people decision to vote against what was earlier recommended by the Senate Committee on INEC. Those in this category are Senators Stella Oduah (PDP, Anambra) and Ifeanyi Ubah (YPP, Anambra). The duo, in their separate statements, claimed that they walked out in protest. However, they did not make any comment on the floor of the Senate to express their dissatisfaction with the move to kill electronic transmission of election results before leaving the chamber. Also, it appeared that they sneaked out to avoid being noticed. Just last Thursday, the senator representing Bayelsa West Senatorial District, Seriake Dickson, at a press a conference in Abuja, cautioned that what he considered as the paltry three per cent for the Host Communities Development Fund as approved in the Petroleum Industry Bill is an invitation to unrest in the Niger Delta region of the country. Dickson also expressed dissatisfaction with the attempt to subjugate INEC to the NCC and the National Assembly on the issue of electronic transmission of election results as passed by the Senate in the Electoral Bill, describing the action as unconstitutional. The lawmaker, therefore, called on President Muhammadu Buhari, not to sign the two controversial bills into law until further legislative works are done on them to address some of the contentious issues that had generated so much agitation in the polity. Meanwhile, Senator Eremienyon Degi, who incidentally, is his counterpart from Bayelsa East, has reportedly accused him of inciting violence in the Niger Delta over the three per cent allocation to the oil producing communities in the PIB. Reacting to the accusation, Dickson said that it was a shame that Degi and his cohorts could condescend so low, urging all Nigerians to disregard the matter, describing it as propaganda and a typical case of taking the local Bayelsa politics to the national level. The recent development at the National Assembly, with respect to the controversies trailing the Petroleum Industry Bill and the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, has made most Nigerians to believe and conclude that some of the lawmakers don’t actually want the country to make progress in view of their roles in handling critical issues of national interest.