A former lawmaker, Chief Nduese Essien has called on the National Assembly to take a holistic look at the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) before its final passage in order to protect the interest and rights of the oil producing communities.
He made this call over the weekend in Uyo while speaking with some journalists on the clauses of the bill which is now at the committee level of the National Assembly.
Essien who represented Eket Federal Constituency between 1999 to 2007 at the House of Representatives, opined that since the host communities bear the brunt and hazards associated with oil exploration and exploitation, taxes and royalties on gas flaring should not be put into the federal allocation and shared to every State in the country.
According to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) stalwart, revenue accruing from such tax, should be given directly to the host communities.
“As it is now the communities host petroleum resources, they host the hazards and deprivations, they also host the gas flaring, while all the benefits such as Royalty, gas flaring penalties, and all the other things are paid to the federation account and subsequently shared to all Nigerians.
“You can imagine that the oil companies that are exploiting petroleum resources do so with gas flaring occurring in the area of production then they are penalized to pay for flaring gas and such penalty is shared to everybody in Nigeria.
“It is the most absurd situation. This is something we were pressing, when I was in the National Assembly and it is not right that gas flaring penalty should be shared to all parts of the country.
“What is the justification for making it to be shared to all parts of the country, even the royalty? That of penalty should not be treated that way, so the PIB should look into such areas and be able to address inconveniences and the causes of disaffection within the host communities that have always led to disruption of production and the rest of it”, he said.
Essien further noted that before passing the oil bill, the National Assembly should take a serious look into how oil blocks are allocated, saying that it should be reviewed in a mana that communities where drilling takes place are involved unlike the subsisting norm where it seems only individuals from a particular section of the country has the sole right to own oil blocks.
“The non host communities’ owners have been misled into believing, mischievously though, that they are indeed the real owners of petroleum resources in Nigeria. This erroneous belief is what led one of the ‘attack dogs’ to proclaim that the oil in Southern Nigeria belongs to the North.
“Somebody had the audacity to say that the oil in the South belongs to the North, that it drained from the North and accumulated in the South. Apparently, that is why they have been given to exploit the oil resource. And since this statement was made, no federal agency has commented on it. It is therefore assumed to be taken.
” So, what I am saying in effect is that the PIB should address that situation and it should review the allocation of oil blocks and get the people from the host communities to be involved in the process of exploitation, of petroleum resources without which what we are trying to do called ‘PIB’ is not going to have any meaning”.
He observed as well that the PIB has not really defined what is or who a host community is, stressing that such should be corrected before the final passage of the bill.
“The other item I want to talk about is host community. The PIB does not define who the host community is. Is it the village? Is it the clan? or, is it the local government council? the state or whatever? This should be clearly defined. In some areas where the entire state is not oil producing, and thus not qualified to be classed as host community, some state governments have appropriated the benefits of host communities to the entire state, thus further worsening the status of these communities.
“PIB should come out with a clear definition of a host community. Failure to specify who the host community is would merely create confusion and hamper the implementation of the PIB.
“Then the PIB’s interest in the host community is to provide for its development without participating in the exploitation and management of the resources. Having been deprived of ownership, that is by allocating the oil blocks to non host community people, they have also been deprived of participation in the management agencies that are established.
“Like you know, for many years now the NNPC is always headed by people from non oil producing areas. In fact, almost all the Board members for years have always come non oil producing communities.
“So, this is not a pleasant situation. That may also explain the fact that people from non oil producing areas are the ones that have excelled in the study and experience of the oil industry much more than people from here. You find that virtually most of the top positions people said to be qualified come from outside the oil producing communities. So, this is something for us to worry about.
“What I am suggesting is that the agencies set up to oversee the activities in the petroleum sector should state specifically what positions would be given to the people from the oil producing areas, on the Boards, on the agencies, whatever, so that we can be sure of participation in the management of the petroleum industry,” he stressed.