Hon. Emmanuel Jime
Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Hon. Emmanuel Jime, from Makurdi/Guma Federal Constituency of Benue State, is very much at home with the ongoing moves to reform the petroleum industry in the country. He was part of the Sixth Assembly, which tried to pass the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) but failed. Earlier in the present dispensation, he initiated a private member bill on the same subject but had to pause in order to allow the executive take the initiative. In this interview, Jime tells Onwuka Nzeshi that the perceived opposition to the PIB by some legislators of Northern origin is misplaced. He also speaks on the on going constitution review and reforms in the power sector
What do you make of the Petroleum Industry Bill and the seeming opposition of the Northern political elite to its provisions, particularly the host community fund?
In my estimation, the PIB is perhaps one of the most important legislative assignments (next to the amendment of the constitution) that the 7th Assembly is undertaking.
Many people may not know but in the 6th Assembly, I happen to have been the Deputy Chairman of the House Committee on Petroleum Upstream and in that capacity, I became very close to the workings of the Petroleum Industry and the PIB.
As a matter of fact, at the beginning of the 7th Assembly, I had actually taken the initiative to author a bill, which unfortunately did not see the light of day because we later agreed that we allow the executive arm of government to take the initiative. I was doing this out of what I believe was my complete patriotic will. The industry as at today has operated basically in an atmosphere of secrecy to the extent that if you really want to deal corruption a blow in this country, then the reform of the oil industry should be the starting point.
I think that the best way to deal that blow was perhaps to conceive the PIB with its twin concepts of liberalising the industry and ultimately deregulation and privatisation. I think that when you do this, you will be bringing the industry in tandem with international best practices. We also know that the key determinant for a thriving economy in the world today is to allow the private sector to drive the economy. This idea is of course consistent with the principles of capitalism.
I am not an apologist as far as this issue is concerned because I believe that there is need for these reforms in the oil industry. It is an idea whose time has come. We just have to wake up to that realisation and then try to see how we can work within it so that whatever area that we may find incongruent with our personal interests we can find a common ground.
So we need to panel- beat this particular instrument before us in order to find answers to most of the fears a lot of people have expressed on the bill.
Everybody has a right to express an opinion on this matter. I do not think that any one individual can actually presume to speak for a whole region as far as this matter is concerned. Yes, we are the North in that large picture but in earnest people must recognise the fact that there are 19 states in the North and each of these 19 states may have a particular perspective that they might wish to take on this issue.
Now let me quickly zero in on what I believe about the PIB and what we think we can benefit from it as far as my constituency, my state and my area of the North is concerned.
The establishment of the National Frontier Exploration Agency, I think is something that the North really must accept with gratitude at this point in time. When I say gratitude, I do not mean that the North owes any part of the country an apology but you know that for too long part of the problem here has always been the fact that the North is regarded as a parasite and that we are not contributing anything to the national cake. Again it depends on what side of the divide you are; I do not accept this classification. But be that as it may, we believe that if you do exploration in the North, that there are large commercial quantities of oil deposits all over northern Nigeria.
It is a common knowledge that oil has been found in a place like Niger Republic, which is a complete desert and exploration is going on there. I think that once we get this agency properly funded as conceived by the PIB, it will allow oil exploration to take place in the Northern Region. If we hit oil in the North then some of the other clauses that may appear in the interim to benefit the current oil producing areas will also apply to the North gradually as time progresses.
I would rather be futuristic in my thinking about the PIB because I believe that in it are ingredients that allows that for once that sector can actually begin to operate like a proper oil industry that can release its real potentials. I hasten to make the comparison with the telecommunication industry. All of us are living witnesses to the fact that at some time we had only NITEL and how the monopoly of NITEL in the telecommunication industry degenerated to a comatose level. But the moment that liberalisation and privatisation came into that industry we know how positive the impact was on the economy. I believe that if we liberalise the oil industry, we can achieve more than ten times the level of economic boom that we got in the telecommunication revolution. We are worried today about unemployment and if anybody is interested in changing the situation and bringing progress, then those who are kicking against a legislation that has the potentials to create jobs may have to reexamine their priorities and review their position.
It is an instrument that benefits the North; it benefits the South and ultimately it benefits the country. The House has taken a position that we are not going to pass the bill just in the form it was presented to us but I think that the main structure of the bill will remain intact by the time we pass it. It is one legislation that is going to drive the petroleum industry in a way that is progressive.
The opposition against the Petroleum Host Community Fund is uncalled for because don’t forget that when oil is discovered in other parts of the country, those areas will also have host communities there. What is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander. I think there is a point, which we made during the debate on the PIB, which people seem not to take into account. The particular section that deals with the Petroleum Host Community Fund actually provides for its source of funding. The fund is to be derived from ten per cent of the net profit of the companies that are producing oil in those communities. Now, I don’t understand what the hue and cry is all about. We have thirteen per cent derivation; that is as far as monies accruing to the Federation Account is concerned and then we have the NDDC and all these other intervention mechanisms, which also draw funds from the Federation Account. But the Host Community Fund has nothing to do with the Federation Account and it is more or less a way of asking those companies to live up to their corporate social responsibility in those communities. The provision is also designed to wtake of situations where there is vandalism, oil spillage and other crisis in these communities. It is from this fund that these issues that amount to economic sabotage will now be addressed very quickly. When you do that you are going to bring on board the Niger Delta communities in a way that it has never done before.
People must also remember that this money will not be sent to the states or local government councils. In fact they have really no responsibility on how this fund is going to be administered. The money is going directly to the communities. Even in a local government area it is not every community that is entitled to this fund. It is specifically meant for only those communities where oil is produced. If we do that what reason would any member of a host community have to attack the oil facility in his area? The problem is that some people think that the ten percent is coming from the Federation Account and that it is additional revenue that will raise derivation to twenty three per cent but that is far from the truth.
The privatisation of the power sector is going at a snail speed and it would seem the parliament is more favourably disposed to backing interest groups opposed to the privatisation of the power stations. What is your view on this scenario?
Following from my attitude to liberalisation and privatisation, I think that the way to go in driving the Nigerian economy in line with worldwide trends is to privatise. Government has really no business in business. The examples are too many for us to see where government has failed in its attempt to do business. The whole concept of privatisation is because government has failed therefore let us allow the private sector to take over and drive the economy. But we have to ensure that we follow due process in our march towards privatisation because that is the only way our development partners and the international community will take us seriously. If you get into a contract and you suddenly terminate or pull out of the contract, I do not see how you can encourage investors to take you seriously. I do not really know what the complaints are but I doubt very much if there is so much insincerity in our privatisation process as to allow people who do not qualify to win bids. There are procedures for somebody to follow in order to win a bid. If you feel strongly and you have the evidence that somebody who does not deserve to win bid has been awarded one and that the process had been abused you go to court. Again, everyone knows that one thing that can boost the Nigerian economy in a manifold ways is an efficient power sector. I am privileged to be a member of the power committee and our position is that once the procedure has been followed to arrive at a bid and you are not satisfied with the outcome follow the legal process that is available for you to seek redress but do not torpedo the whole process of privatisation. As far as power sector is concerned, I know that we are moving in the right direction. If you remember at the beginning of this year, the target of the government was that we should attain a target of 5000 megawatts by the end of the year. Certainly we have not reached the point where we should be but we have made some significant progress.
The House recently embarked on consultations with the people at the grassroots on the review of the 1999 Constitution. Do you think the town hall meetings really achieved the objectives of the programme?
I think I can give it a very high mark. We had had constitution review in the past but the processes were rather highly elitist. During the military regime you will recall that it came by a decree, a situation where the opinion of one man became law.
I think we are moving very well; we have left dictatorship and we are in a democracy. Now what we did in the House of Representatives where 360 members went to their constituents to engage the electorate is the right way. I can tell you with particular reference to my Makurdi/Guma Federal Constituency that this is the first time that I had a crowd that I could hardly manage; there was mass participation and people were excited about the town hall meeting. I was pleasantly surprised at the level of understanding our people displayed on some of the issues we took to the meeting.
I think that for the first time, we are about to have a constitution that will be truly people’s constitution. If making the people own the constitution is all that we achieve it will be worth the while. But make no mistake; we cannot possibly finish the work of constitutional amendment in one term and in one day. It is an ongoing process. We have started very well and I think we are on the right path.