Most communities in Delta State have kicked against certain provisions of the proposed Petroleum Industry Bill. They sought a better deal for oil-producing and impacted communities in the light of prevailing environmental degradation, under- development and alleged insensitivity of international oil companies.
Several opinion leaders who are members of the host communities made their positions known during an interactive session between the Senate Joint Committee on Petroleum Industry Bill and Oil-Producing/Impacted Communities in Delta State which held in Asaba, the Delta State capital.
Also in attendance at the occasion were the Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, Deputy Governor Kingsley Utuaro; Chairman Senate Joint Committee on Petroleum Industry, Senator Omotayo Alashoadura, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, Senator Umaru Kurfi and Hon. Victor Nwokolo.
Others included Majority Leader, Delta State House of Assembly, Tim Owhefere, Secretary to Delta State Government, Ovie Agas, traditional rulers and Presidents-General of Ndokwa, Itsekiri, Urhobo and Ijaw ethnic nationalities and civil society groups.
During the stakeholders’ meeting, Governor Okowa X-rayed different sections of the proposed bill and urged that the Petroleum Industry Bill should be taken seriously.
He said when the PIB which deals with issues relating to host communities is passed will reduce the level of hostilities and lack of trust between the host communities and oil companies.
Governor Okowa, who commended the Senate Joint Committee for visiting the state to take the views of the host communities and know how they live in the creeks, admonished that all components of the PIB should be considered for the desired results to be achieved.
He said: “I am glad that you are here and this particular bill (Petroleum Host Communities Bill), though, it may be the smallest, is the most important bill, because, if you do not have the buy-in of the host communities, the likelihood of success in the entire petroleum industry will be challenged.
“Things are getting better in the oil communities but, we believe that more can be done and this bill will actually remove every doubt and every fear will be taken care of when it is signed into law. I believe that it will give a lot of room for development in the host communities and that will reduce agitations and allow for a peaceful environment for the operation of the oil companies and when you have the kind of environment that is needed for oil companies to operate in, then, we know that we have greater resources for us as a people and as a nation”.
Governor Okowa further stated that communities should, in collaboration with the oil companies, appoint members of board of trustees for the Oil-Producing Communities Development; Inclusion of Enterprise Development into the capital project funding of the trustees.
He echoed the sentiments of the ethnic groups’ clamour that professional managers for the projects must come from the host and impacted communities, adding that the communities have a pool of professionals in all fields to manage their affairs.
The crux of the matter in the views of stakeholders among other contending issues, are the composition of the members of the board of trustees for the Oil-Producing Communities Development Fund, adequate equity share from the Petroleum Development Fund, tenure of members of the board of trustees , and the issue of 35 per cent affirmative action for women.
Various stakeholders backed the need to ensure that composition of the board of trustees is not left in the hands of the IOC’s, stressing that the appointment be made in conjunction with oil-producing communities.
While some stakeholders clamoured for the 10 per cent equity share in the petroleum development fund, others suggested 2.5 per cent sharing formula less OPEX, stressing that following the commencement of drilling activities, OPEX usually goes down with the implication that no money will go to the communities during the period.
The Ovie of Okpe Kingdom, Maj-General Felix Mujakperuo opined that quantum of production should not be static, stressing that a clause should be inserted in the proposed bill for a review of the quantum of production.
He said: “When it comes to quantum of production for which the communities are going to benefit, I want you to put in that bill that the quantum of production is not static, it changes from time to time.
“So, you must tell us when there will be a review, is it two years, three years that the quantum of production is to be reviewed, because my people are suffering from a similar bill in Delta State. The Delta State Oil-producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC) bill where it was stated that the quantum of production quota be reviewed every two years and since that bill was enacted, it has not been reviewed.”
President-General, Isoko Development Union, Chief Idu Amadhe frowned at improper capture of the issue of gas flaring in the proposed bill, stressing that though the IOC’s pay penalty to the Federal Government what goes to the host communities that suffer the deleterious effects of oil exploration has not been properly addressed.
He said leaving the appointment of members of the board of trustees in the hands of the IOC’s was unacceptable as the interest of the host communities will not be represented.
He suggested that traditional rulers and leaders of the communities be involved in the appointment of members of the board of trustees.
But Wellington Okrika, representing the Ijaw ethnic group and ex-managing director, DESOPADEC, urged the inclusion of the provision of 10 per cent equity share in the PIB initiated by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua into the proposed bill.
His words: “The PIB has changed drastically. This is not the bill that was proposed and initiated by our late President Umaru Yar’Adua and accepted by ex-President Goodluck Jonathan and we had a lot of public hearings during that time. The original bill was 10 per cent equity share from the joint venture of 60/40.
“We are aware during one of the meetings with the NASS where some people, because they were misinformed, threw away the provisions of the 10 per cent equity share. The bill we are going to look at is the bill that was originally proposed and has been on the drawing board for 14 years. Why should be now change the bill to a mere glorified MoU with IOC’s? The original bill has the participation of the IOC’s, the Federal Government and the host communities. It is a tripartite arrangement. But right now, the bill is between us the host communities and the IOC’s.
“We will appeal to you to retain the original bill with chapter eight that provides for the establishment of petroleum development fund, the bill, the establishment of petroleum development fund should be between the Federal Government, the host communities and the IOC’s. The equity share from this fund should not be less than 10 per cent in the joint venture 60/40″.
Akpere Ikpesime representing the Itsekiri ethnic group backed the suggestion by others for the appointment of members of the board of trustees, but urged single five-year tenure for the board of trustees.
Emmanuel Avworo, who represented the Urhobo group said a percentage of the penalties from gas flaring be paid into the petroleum development fund, adding that a 20 per cent take-off grant of the license fee of the IOC’s be paid to the fund.
President-General Ndokwa nation, Johnson Opone objected to bringing in of non-indigenes to run the affairs of the communities.
He said: “On tenure and management of the board of trustees, we believe when you talk about experts, we do not want outsiders as provided in the bill to be our professional managers. We want the professional managers to come from the host communities which I can assure has the expertise to drive the fund”.
Ngozi Ochonogor, Assistant Secretary, Ndokwa Neku Union (NNU) wondered why no mention was made in the proposed bill for women, and urged an inclusion of a role for the women folk
She said: “We have observed that all through the bill, there is nothing here for the women folk, not even the 35 per cent affirmative action was covered. It will interest you to note that in the IOC’s what you see are our girls doing menial jobs when we have graduates to work as professionals, the same people who refuse to give us jobs will tag our women as prostitutes, but they will bring outsiders to do this same jobs in our communities. We are praying that for this proposed fund, a certain percentage be spelt out for the women that suffer the most when there is any problem in the communities.”
Chairman, Senate Joint Committee on Petroleum Industry, Senator Omotayo Alashoadura assured the people that decisions have not been taken concerning the bill and the views of the people would be considered, adding that there will also be public hearing on the bill before it is passed and signed into law.
He assured that the petroleum industry bill will be passed before campaigns for the 2019 general elections.
He said: “We are going to pass all the other three bills that have to do with the petroleum industry reforms before the campaign starts. We have set agenda for ourselves of finishing the three bills not later than September, 2018. It is not that we will pass the host-communities bill and leave the others; we are working on the three bills simultaneously so that there will be no lacuna.”
Alashoadura said due to the negative impact of oil exploration and the underdevelopment of the Niger Delta, the Senate is proposing that the IOC’s be required to pay a certain amount of money for the development of the region.
He said the proposed oil industry bill will ensure that committees play a major role in determining the projects that will be established, adding that projects embarked upon must be in consultation with the host communities.
He said IOC’s will no longer solely determine the projects to be sited in communities.
He said 20 per cent will be set aside yearly from the money generated and managed to earn interest for the benefit of the host communities.