By Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa and Ben Dunno, Warri
As mixed reactions pour in over the President Buhari’s recent signing into law of the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), communities in Niger Delta region are weighing the option of going to court to challenge some controversial clauses in the Act which they considered to be inimical to the peace and progress of the region.
Apart from the three percent derivation which they want increased to five per cent, others include the one which says: “for a community to benefit from the three percent, there must be no pipeline vandalisation and oil theft” and another which they think mandates the oil companies to take all decisions about the Host Communities Trust Fund, on behalf of the oil-producing communities.
The PIA has already caused division in the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC). While some members of the executive arm want a decisive action, the Senate arm is not interested in further agitation. The national spokesman, Ebilade Erekefe, declared President Muhammadu Buhari and Minister of State for Petroluem, Timipre Sylva, persona non grata in the Niger Delta region.
He accused them of being insensitive to the plight of the Niger Delta people and threatened that they would be greeted with boos and jeers anytime they come to the Niger Delta region. Disagreeing with his stance, however, the Speaker, IYC, Digimie Eldred Pogoyo urged security agencies to investigate the threat against President Buhari and Sylva by Erekefe.
Pogoyo who would want all agitations against the PIA to cease said the people should focus on the positive side of the law. According to him, Sylva as Minister of State has brought more development to the region more than previous ministers that have come from the region.
The Vice-Chairman of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Chief Nengi James, who feared that the signing of the PIA could ignite anger across the Ijaw land, explained that the major problem was the lack of coordination between the people and the representatives at the National Assembly on one hand and the lack of enthusiasm by some governors on the other hand.
“The people are also having mixed feelings because even if the money in increased to the percentage the people demanded, there is this fear the money if given to the governor may not even reach the host communities. The governors can collect the money and ensure that not one per cent gets to communities that produce oil but expended on communities without oil,” he said.
King Bubaraye Dakolo, Adaga IV, Ibenenaowei of Ekpetiama Kingdom wants Niger Delta lawyers to head to court over the Act. Dakolo , author of “The Ri ddle of the Oil Thief” and brother to Capt Perebo Dakolo, executed for his involvement in the Gideon Orkar Coup of 1990, sees the PIA as an aberration as it seeks to put a yoke on oil producing communities. According to him it is different from the one initiated, years ago.
“It seeks to criminalise the people of the Niger Delta by including in its provision that for a community to benefit from the three per cent, there must be no pipeline vandalization and oil theft,” he said. “Putting this around the neck of oil communities is stigmatization. For over 20 years, the federal government has been fighting oil theft and they have not been able to stop it. Now, how do they expect communities that are not trained to be able to do so? The law is criminal, and most unfortunate. The SANs in the Niger Delta region should go to court and challenge it.”
Eric Omare, President of Ijaw Youth Council, noted that there was supposed to be enthusiasm among the communities over the signing of the Bill into law but the reverse is the case. “The PIA is supposed to create a conducive environment for investors to invest but with the anger in host communities that cannot happen.”
The Act is breeding disaffection, said Ken Henshaw, Executive Director, “We the People, warned. Accusing the PIA of treating oil producing communities like the subjects of oil companies by empowering these companies to take all decisions about the Host Communities Trust and Fund on behalf of oil producing communities, he urged them to challenge the provisions of the Act in the Supreme Court.
A statement signed by Hon. Ken Robinson, its National Publicity Secretary, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), decried the implementation of 3 percent allocation conceded to oil producing communities, and called for its upward review.
“This PIB falls way short of the expectations of the Oil and Gas Producing Communities, that bear the brunt of unconscionable industry operations,” it noted. “
What this act signifies is an unequivocal message to the Niger Delta people that how they feel and what they say, do not count, at all, in the schemes of the Nigerian Project
That’s insensitive, abominable and unacceptable to the good people of the Niger Delta, the critical economic nexus of the entire Nigerian territory. The Niger Delta people will speak, shortly, after full consultations, on this callous act, on the best legal and political response”.
But in his own reaction, President, National Coalition of Niger Delta Ex-Agitators (NCNDE-A) General Eshanekpe Isreal, Aka Akpodoro, commended President Buhari for having the political will to sign the bill into law after over a decade of its politicization on the floor of the National Assembly.
He urged the stakeholders in the oil bearing communities across the states to ensure that the allocation from the 3percent conceded to them in the PIA is properly utilized for the purpose of both human and infrastructural development so as to positively impact the lives of the people. He appealed to state government, National Assembly members as well as their counterparts in the state assemblies to liaise with various host communities constituted authorities saddled with the responsibility of disbursing the funds to effectively use the money to better the lots of their people.