Hon. Daniel Reyenieju
The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) now before the National Assembly has been generating a lot of interests and comments from lawmakers. Some consider this piece of legislation as discriminatory to some sections of the country. Chairman, House Committee on Inter-Parliamentary Relations, Hon. Daniel Reyenieju, in a chat with Onwuka Nzeshi, dismisses such negative perceptions...
The Petroleum Industry Bill is again before the National Assembly and already there are discordant tunes like it was during the last session. What is the likely to be the fate of the PIB in this 7th Assembly?
It is true that the PIB is before us again. We have a serious business to do on the PIB issue. One thing I must say is that we must not be arm-twisted, pushed or rushed to take any decision on the PIB. Like I always tell people, if it took the executive one year to prepare the bill and bring to the National Assembly, why would you expect the National Assembly made up of 360 on one arm and 109 on the other to take a decision on it in one month?
If we do that, we might be rushing into another problem. What I am saying is that we should begin in time to scrutinise the provisions of the bill and agree on its passage into law.
I have gone through it. It is not new to me. I was a member of that committee in the 6th Assembly. The bill is neither pro-South nor pro-North; it is a Nigerian bill meant for the business community. It is about how to regulate the industry in line with what obtains in other places. What makes you and I survive in this country today is oil. Our economy is dependent on our petroleum resources. Our survival as a nation is predicated on our oil resources. Ninety five per cent ( 95%) of the national budget is predicated on oil. So, when a piece of legislation is brought out to regulate how things are done in the oil sector, it is a serious business. Like I said earlier, I have looked at the bill and there is nothing too different from the one we had before. It is just a re-arrangement of some clauses and the strengthening of some provisions to avoid ambiguity. In my opinion, I will want us to leave the issue of perception and regional biases until we get to the floor of the House and thoroughly look at the bill. What I am trying to say in essence is that the parliament should be given time to actually look at the bill holistically. We are almost like being stampeded into passing it even before we are able to understand it. This bill could make or mar our oil industry. This bill is all about the oil business, the economy of this nation and the investors. We must bring all of these three interests into consideration. It is an intertwined situation and we should be given enough time to look at the issues in the bill dispassionately. It takes a process and that is why I am making an appeal. I believe we will come out with a very beautiful piece of legislation at the end of the day.
Some people are of the opinion that the PIB doesn’t actually favour the host communities where oil is been explored and produced. Do you share this view?
I still don’t want to agree completely with that kind of opinion. The host communities have always been taken care of in this nation. One way or the other the laws have tried to make some provisions for the people in the oil producing areas. The big question is where is the money? What is the NDDC doing for the host communities? That is one question you should ask yourself. What about the 13% derivation fund being paid to the states? It is not as if there has been a total neglect of the oil producing areas but like Oliver Twist, you must always ask for more. It is not out of place for the host communities to continue to ask for more as long as the oil keeps coming out. Indeed, these host communities face a lot of challenges but I think it is wrong to say that they have not been taken care of at all. You can only say it is not enough. In the new bill, there is ten per cent (10%) set aside for the host communities. If it sails through, I think that should be enough if you add it to the NDDC funding and the 13%. Unless you are telling me that the NDDC and the 13% will be knocked out. The question people should be asking is how best we can spend this money judiciously to the benefit of the host communities. How many states have been able to set up agencies to utilize the 13% that is being paid? Without any bias, the question is whether the little they have is being properly utilized or not. There is need for greater transparency in the management of resources accruing to oil producing states.
In the last attempt at passing the PIB, one of the greatest obstacles was the polarisation of the lawmakers along regional lines. What steps are you taking to build national consensus and avoid a repeat of the past?
I pray the past doesn’t repeat itself. I have gone through all the copies of the bill since the 6th Assembly and I must say it is neither pro-South nor pro-North. There could be some impressions about the bill being pro-South because it is the region that produces oil today.
But by tomorrow, if you find oil in Benue or Kaduna, they will also become beneficiaries of the 10%. Any part of country could be a producer of oil tomorrow and they will enjoy the same benefits. I think members need to sit down and educate themselves on this bill. Let us not look at it that the current Minister of Petroleum and the person in charge of drafting the bill is from the South-south region. It could be anybody tomorrow. This bill is very important because everything in Nigeria is predicated on oil and gas resources. We should avoid being sentimental or myopic in our handling of this bill.
Nigeria is about to celebrate its 52nd independence anniversary. As usual many Nigerians argue that the country has not recorded significant achievements since independence. What is your view on this?
I am glad to see Nigeria marking its 52nd of independence anniversary. Like I always tell people, I am a very proud and patriotic Nigerian. I say this with all sense of humility, responsibility and seriousness. In every nation, there are challenges and we have ours too. At this point, people are beginning to ask so many questions and when some of these questions are not answered satisfactorily, some people will begin to lose hope in Nigeria.
For 52 years, why have we not been able to get it right? The other question is have we not actually gotten it right? At what point will you say we have gotten it right?
As a student of Political Science, I don’t really see a divide between a developing country and a developed country. I don’t believe there is any developed country in this world. We are all developing, but at different paces. If the Europeans think they are fully developed, why do they still want to go to the moon? It is part of development. Why do they want to manufacture things that will change from the old order to the new order of living?
The same thing applies to Nigeria. We are developing, but at a slow pace. It is important to note that we have been making tremendous progress in the 52 years we have been around the corner. We have more than enough reasons to be proud of Nigeria. We are a blessed country. When you tell people that we are blessed as country, you attract more attack. What I am saying in essence is that Nigeria is blessed. We have not been able to see the fruits of these blessings. A lot of people will give so many reasons for not been able to achieve anything at this stage. We have our challenges as a nation. One of such is the pre-independence challenge and then the post-independence challenge. One of the post-independence challenges was the prolonged military intervention in our governance system. We fought for democracy until 1999. Now we have been able to sustain it for about 12 years and I think it is worth celebrating.
I will want you to cast your mind back to the military era and consider how the country was in terms of freedom of speech, association, movement and economic development. Look at what we have as at today. During the military era, there were huge challenges in terms of social, economic and political development. I will say that things can only get better if we persevere. I want to tell my constituents that things will get better. They must keep faith that this country will be great.
In recent months we have heard some sections of the polity asking for the break-up of Nigeria. Is this not worrisome?
The issue of disintegration of this country is not a palatable choice. I say no to it. I see no reason why this country should break. We will continue to disagree until we agree on the kind of country we want to have. We must not forget that before the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914, the various ethnic groups in the country had co-existed and interacted freely. For instance, my tribe, the Itshekiri nation, was in existence before 1914 when we were all brought together by the British for administrative convenience. Your tribe was also in existence. They had separate traditional administrative structures. But having been brought together to form a modern nation it is no longer fashionable for us to return to our traditional enclaves at this time. We have to strive and build this nation together. I believe that the issue of disintegration is not in my dictionary and I will never support it.
Some Nigerians believe the National Assembly is not doing enough to stabilise the country. They have also accused the lawmakers of corruption and lack of patriotism to the nation. How true are these Nigerians?
I don’t want to believe or agree with them that the National Assembly as an arm of government has not actually done its beat. We are obligated to our responsibilities and we have kept to it. We must continue to do it. In doing it, there are challenges and those are some of the points you are raising. Ours is to make laws for the good governance of the entire country. We don’t have the powers to implement these laws. We don’t have the powers to punish offenders of our laws. We only have the powers to make laws and it is the executive who implements the laws. It is the judiciary who punishes the offenders of the law. Are you telling me that the National Assembly is not making laws for this country? The answer is no.
Nigeria is not short of laws. Implementation is the problem. If that is the problem, then who is to be blamed? In terms of performance, it is hard to compare the legislature with the executive or to compare the legislature with the judiciary because the three have different responsibilities to Nigerians.
The question should rather be whether or not we are not making laws that are implementable. When the legislature is calling on the executive to tackle some of their lapses, they see it as an assault. In the right sense of it, it is not. Let me take the issue of the subsidy scam. When Nigerians started resisting the subsidy removal, it didn’t start from the legislature. We only responded to the feeling of the people and we told Mr. President to rescind the decision on fuel subsidy. Although the executive has often regarded our resolutions as advisory, the question people should be asking is whether the advice we are giving is making sense at all? I don’t see any reason why there should a conflict between the legislature and the executive on issues that bother on the governance of this nation. We all have our separate responsibilities.
On the issue of not doing well as a parliament, I wouldn’t want to give the excuses people usually give because such excuses don’t make sense anymore. We cannot continue to say our democracy is young and that parliament is the even the youngest of all the arms of government. We cannot continue to blame the past for our failures. It is high time we knew that we are here for serious business.