A former minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development in Nigeria, Nduese Essien, has said that allowing oil-producing communities to participate in Nigeria’s petroleum industry would be the best option for the development of the troubled Niger Delta region.

Nigeria’s oil, exploited in the Niger Delta, is the major foreign exchange earner and the mainstay of the country’s economy. Its exploitation and export is controlled solely by the federal government.

The Niger Delta has been plagued by poverty and restiveness, despite the billions of dollars Nigeria has made from the oil in the region.

Mr Essien, a former member of the House of Representatives from Akwa Ibom State, said, “13% derivation to the oil producing communities, as well as the palliative added, can never replace the full participation of the communities in the Petroleum Industry.”

He said the federal government took complete ownership of oil in the country at the peak of the civil war in order to use the resources to prosecute the war and “probably as a stop-gap measure”, but afterwards developments in the industry were “manipulated” to place the south, especially the Niger Delta region, in a disadvantage position.

Mr Essien said people from the Niger Delta have been excluded from participation in the oil sector, while other Nigerians have been made to become big players in the sector.

The former minister stated this in February when the joint committee of the National Assembly on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) visited Akwa Ibom State as part of its continuous engagement on the bill.

The text of the minister’s presentation was forwarded to PREMIUM TIMES, Monday.

Flawed bill

Mr Essien, who serves as the political leader of the Akwa Ibom South District, where ExxonMobil and other oil companies operate from, said the Petroleum Industry Bill, in itself, would not bring succour to the Niger Delta when passed into law, except it is reworked upon to introduce some amendment like the definition of the host community.

“Is it the village, the clan, the local government area, the state or whatever?

“Failure to specify who the host community is will create further confusion and hamper the implementation of the PIB as it concerns the provisions for the host community,” he said.

Mr Essien faulted the introductory sentence in the bill which says, ‘The property and ownership of petroleum within Nigeria and its territorial waters, continental shelf and exclusive economic zone is vested in the Government of the Federation of Nigeria.’

He said the sentence is a “fundamental distortion” and should, therefore, be addressed first in order “to bring everybody in line for a smooth and peaceful functioning of the industry”.

Mr Essien explained why the measures to tackle underdevelopment in the Niger Delta have failed in the past, and may continue to fail.

“All these palliative measures have never involved the participation, control and management of the petroleum resources by the people of the Niger Delta region. That is why they have always failed.

“The PIB presently under discussion is another palliative to set the host communities against each other for a share of 2.5% while the status quo of the impoverished continues,” he said.

Continuing, the former minister said, “The PIB has again concerned itself with ‘development’ of the host community without their participation in the exploitation and management of the resources.

“Transplanting controlled development from the administrative headquarters of the oil companies to the area of production does not ever yield full dividends. The handling charges, administrative cost and other interferences have always led to ineffective application of resources.

“The oil companies should live with the community, incorporate them in their activities, utilise their human resources in a manner that will lead to self-sustained growth.

“Development of host communities can come easy when the companies live in the area, appreciate their conditions, grow and develop along with the communities.

“This will lead to self-sustained development. This practice of distancing the oil company owners and their workers from the community is akin to colonial master and colony relationship.

“It has never led to the development of the colonies.

“The host communities host the petroleum resources exploration and exploitation. They host the environmental degradation and deprivation. They host the gas flare while all the revenue, gas flaring penalties and other accruals are paid to the Federation Account to be shared to all Nigerians.

“Gas is flared only in the area of production. Penalty is collected and paid to the Federation account to be shared to all–what an absurd arrangement.”

Way forward

Mr Essien called for a review of the allocation of petroleum blocks in the country and transparent and sustainable efforts to ensure “no such disparity ever occurs again in the industry”.

Meanwhile, the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, has said Nigeria’s over-dependence on oil was stifling the development of other minerals in the country.

He urged the federal government to allow states to exploit their respective minerals and pay royalty to the central government.

“Minerals play a great role in terms of raising revenue for any country, so our overemphasis on oil has reduced our impact on other minerals.

“If the country fully harnesses the gold deposit in Zamfara as well as other minerals in other states of the federation, the country will make a lot of revenue from these minerals that can accelerate development,” Mr Wike said.

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