Sunday, 10 February 2013

Edwin Clark on PIB and the Niger Delta

Elder statesman and Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin K. Clark has outlined his position on the Petroleum Industry Bill, awaiting passage into law at the National Assembly, and how it affects the Niger Delta people.

He spoke at the International Conference Centre, Abuja in a paper titled ‘PIB and the oil producing areas equation’.
While appreciating the efforts of government to get a deal for Nigerians in the Bill, in terms of increase in revenue and encouragement of local content in the industry, Clark named some areas, or existing issues affecting the citizens of Niger Delta region, which the current Bill has failed to address.
These, according to him, include increase in transparency and accountability in the process of licensing and tendering in the oil industry, stoppage of damage to the Niger Delta environment, economic empowerment of the people of the area, and increase in the funding of development activities in the area.
Clark, who express gratitude for the opportunity given him to air his views at the conference, declared “as a Nigerian and a nationalist, one must agree that a significant overhaul is needed in order to take this country forward, but as a Niger Deltan, I cannot stand by and merely be silent and allow the mistakes of the past to remain unaddressed, or even re-enforce. And I will not allow further mistakes to be made to compound the suffering and marginalisation of our people.”

Also of importance to the elder statesman is the issue of the enpowerment of the Niger Delta people on activities in the oil industry in the manner of engaging them as true stakeholders – a consideration that should be naturally given to them, over and above other Nigerians.
He expressed dissatisfaction over the provisions of a Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board, saying this was not as not far reaching enough. “Let there be a quota system that measures the participation of Niger Delta indigenes in all organisation involved in the petroleum sector in the region, including the international oil companies, IOCs, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC and indigenous oil companies,” he said.

He also harped on the need for more funding of development activities in the region, especially all projects presently undertaken by the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC and the Niger Delta River Basin Authority, to support the development of the region.

Clark maintained that educational initiatives, such as the Petroleum Technology Development Fund, should be geared towards the indigenes of the Niger Delta, with at least 50% of Scholarships being reserved for his people, decrying the situation at the moment, whereby only between 10% and 20% opportunities were allowed for the region. Worse still, he said, the candidates from the region were considered eligible only if they had made a minimum of Second Class (Upper Division), or higher, for post-graduate studies, whereas the requirements were relaxed for candidates from other non-oil producing areas.

He appealed to government – particularly the law makers (members of the National Assembly) presently at the mill with the PIB to also, consider the Petroleum Equalization Fund – to ensure uniform pricing of petroleum products through out the country. “Those of us in the Niger Delta often experience prices for PMS, AGO and Kerosene, far exceeding the prices at the pump elsewhere-not only when compared to Lagos, but even when compared to areas of the North, where the products have had to travel far greater distances,” he asserted.

Seeing this as a great irony, considering that the products came out from their backyard, he cited it as another source of corruption, with the savings from the money which government provides for the re-imbursement of the differences in transportations, “being stolen and payment selectively passed on to the end consumers”

Chief Clark welcomes the idea of the Petroleum Host Community Fund, HCF, which was proposed in the new Bill, but expressed hope that the 10% of the net profit by Oil Companies, meant to be paid into the Fund for the development of host Communities, would be implemented faithfully.

With such measures in place “the interests of the Host Communities and those of the Oil industries, will be more closely aligned,” he stated, urging government to come out with the new law that would, “for the first time, begin to benefit Nigerians, not minding the feelings of the IOCs, since it was natural that the IOCs would complain, as their revenue was going to drop considerably”.

Other areas Clark would want the government to look at, and redeem urgently, is the 18% derivation Fund agreed upon by all Nigerians at the National Political Reform Conference of 2005, to be paid to the Niger Delta states, which was yet to be implemented, to date, as well as the funds intended to be made available to NDDC for the ongoing project on the East-West Road, which were yet to be released and which had stalled activities there.

He recalled in this regard, that most projects in Abuja and even at Minna Airport in Niger state, were funded by the Federal government, by direct payment to the Julius Berger Company that handled them, in terms of barrels of crude oil, during the Babangida and Obasanjo era and wondered why the same government should decline such arrangement in the case of the NDDC road projects, resorting to loans, instead.

On the spirit of equal participation, Chief Clark urged government to consider including in the PIB, autonomous Oil Exploration Agency, OEA, which would encourage the exploration of oil in other parts of the nation, other than the Niger Delta Region, to address the present consternation arising from the lack of attention by the NNPC to these areas.

While appealing to Nigerians, especially those living outside the oil producing areas, to show sympathy and identify with the plight of those in the oil producing region, particularly the coastal areas, he regretted that “it is most insulting for people to claim that oil produced in the Niger Delta is a natural gift to all Nigerians”. He insisted that the land, as well as the oil and gas produced in the Niger Delta, belonged to the people of the region.

Chief Clark pointed out: “We are all still brothers and sisters living in a united Nigeria”, adding that what worries him most now, was the total exclusion of the Niger Delta people from the social and economic benefit of the oil and gas, bestowed upon their land by God, reminding all that the same Almighty God put the people of the region in the difficult terrain, which has never been developed by revenue from other areas of the country.

Criminal Negligence
Clark described as criminal, the neglect of the oil producing region by successive governments since oil was struck there in commercial quantities, in 1956.

He declared, “Oil was first discovered in commercial quantities at Oloibiiri in Bayelsa state in 1956. However, if you go to Oloibiriri today, you will not only see that it is a devastated town, but also that it has been criminally neglected by the federal government – no light, no water; in short, there has been no effort by the federal government to invest in the area…”

Clark said this was shocking and most disappointing, considering the huge contributions oil had made to the well-being of the country and the level of devastation and damage of the ecology and the environment of that region resulting from oil.

The elder statesman noted that it was in the context of the criminal and persistent neglect of the region that the Kaiama Declaration by the Ijaw Youths, was made in December, 1998, when a decision was taken to struggle for resource control, freedom, self determination and ecological justice.

He maintained that “the federal government, instead of looking into the demands of the militants, consequently occupied the creeks in December, 1998, and January, 1999, mobilised forces and attacked the youths, who were making peaceful demonstrations at the expiration of their ultimatum given to the oil companies, leading to the deaths of many of them at Odi, Kaiama and Yenegoa.

He remarked that ever since then, there had been little progress and the Niger Delta still remained neglected and under-developed. According to him,”the East-West Road is hardly progressing, there are no Federal Universities, save the Federal University at Otuoke and the Federal University of Petroleum Resources at Effurum; there is mass unemployment-the list goes on.”

Culled from the Sweetcrude Reports, Sunday, November 18th, 2012.

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