Daniel: National Assembly Should Act Boldly, Promptly on PIB

Hon. Reyenieju Daniel represents Warri South/Warri West Federal Constituency of Delta State in the House of Representatives. In this interview with Damilola Oyedele, Daniel explains why the National Assembly should pass the Petroleum Industry Bill without further delay. Excerpts:

What is your view on the recent restructuring at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation?

Reorganising or restructuring depends on what they want to achieve with NNPC, as long as it is done within what the law permits. They know those that are capable of delivering based on their policy thrust and what they want to achieve with the corporation. That leads to a crucial question, what is the policy thrust of the new GMD, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu? He says he wants to drive NNPC to perform with the best practices all over the world. He has said sub-sectors of the NNPC need to be restructured to meet the policy thrust of the government and what is this policy thrust; it has to do with modalities for how the NNPC can be profit-oriented business wise.

He even disclosed that in the past refineries took crude free of charge, the PPMC takes the refined products and sells to the public without accounting. But he wants to restructure in a way that the PPMC pays for the crude it lifts, so when it sells to the public, it makes money to keep the sector running. Of course, we cannot continue with the business as usual attitude. If we do, this country will never grow.

My opinion is that the GMD has to ensure the sustainability of the process where each of the restructured units can be independent, to the extent of not breaching the law, but making profit. For example, the NNPC has over 200 doctors and some of the best hospital structures. But how many people are they treating, and how many people from the public go there to receive treatment? What is wrong with giving the medical unit to a profit-oriented CEO or GED who knows his responsibility is to make the hospital work and even allow the public access medical services and pay for it? That way, we can reduce medical tourism where we spend billions of dollars all over the world.

But the National Assembly initially opposed the restructuring.

These are things we really need to look at as a parliament to analyse the bottom-line of what the man is trying to achieve. We were voted into office to support government policies, not to always criticise government policies. This we can do by making laws to back the policies. This is not about the interest of the legislature or executive alone. This is also why we canvass building strong institutions, not strong individuals. In Nigeria today, what we have are weak institutions with very powerful individuals at the helms of those institutions. So when they leave it is as if everything is going to crumble. So I completely support the restructuring of the NNPC.

The Petroleum Industry Bill is expected to resolve many of the challenges in the sector. What factors are responsible for the continuous delay in its passage?

We are talking about a sector on which the economy of the country survives, with very heavy foreign investments. So apart from restructuring the PIB, which was introduced in the sixth assembly, in a way to suit Nigeria, there is economics of it, which cannot go so smoothly without some intervening forces, whether negatively or positively.

This is the challenge. But the legislature has to take the bull by the horns, pass it the way it has been done, and then expect at some point amendments when necessary.

The local content bill was passed in 2010. I was one of the sponsors then, and in 2015 there was an amendment. There is no law that is absolutely perfect. But in the course of implementation, those areas with limitations would be clear, and then amendments are introduced. Virtually all of our laws right now are being amended, that is the way it should be. But we cannot talk of amending a law that has not even been passed.

The PIB can be amended in as little as three months after its passage. So what are we waiting for? How can we be waiting for a new PIB when we already have a PIB that has witnessed all the storms for the past 12 years? Are we saying the one that would be brought now would not face the same challenges as the past ones?

Just before the expiration of the last assembly, the House passed the PIB, but the Senate could not concur before its expiration. Some have said that the House seems to be more committed to the passage of the PIB. Do you agree?

I cannot speak for the Senate, but I know that we do not have to depend on the Senate to do what we think is right for Nigeria and the Senate does not have to completely depend on the House to do what is right. At the end of the day, if the House does what is right, it just needs to seek the gavel of the Senate for concurrence.

We do not actually need to be on the same page at the same time; both the Senate and the House, whichever comes first, is to seek the concurrence of the other.

I just want to play my own role by way of reintroducing the bill and in doing that I was very careful. I brought the minority leader, the majority leader, major and minor stakeholders, and made sure it went through first reading. There were 20 of us, but I was the lead sponsor. I did not want to do it alone because it is a bill that is in the interest of the country.

One of the major challenges the bill faced in the seventh Senate was that some northern senators insisted they would support it only if oil was explored in the North. But the amount of expenditure on such a project became an issue. Don’t you think that would again affect the PIB?

That was one of the major challenges we had in the sixth assembly and it also reared its head in the seventh assembly. But like I always say, it is not personal or regional or about religion, but about a law for the good governance of the people of Nigeria.

That issue was adequately addressed and that is where you have in the PIB, the frontier agency. It was actually created in unbundling. It was something that we needed to do, we need to have it, we cannot run away from it. How are we sure that we do not have oil in the North, especially as they have in Niger Republic? I have been to their oil farms. Between the Niger Republic and the Sokoto end of it, we do not know the demarcation between Sokoto and Niger Republic.

Are you saying there is oil in Sokoto?

There is oil, we just have not done enough or we have not been committed to exploring it. That is why the northerners came up with the argument, that yes, we need a frontier. I said why not? We will do it and it is going to be in the public glare and everybody will know that we are doing it. If we discover oil it is for the interest of this country, but if we do not, then everybody knows that there is no oil.

There is nothing wrong in creating a frontier. That is not too much in the interest of the unity of the country because you cannot say, set up a specific frontier to explore oil in the North when you have a one Nigeria. It would have been the same process. But if that is what is going to stall the passage of a nice bill, why throw out the baby and the bath water? Just allow it to go and then fund it, there is nothing wrong with that, the money belongs to the entire country.

Some have also argued that the oil workers union, some of who oppose the PIB, seem more protective for the oil majors than the national interest. Do you subscribe to this view?

I have said earlier that unionism in the oil industry is becoming too overbearing on the progress of the industry in this country. Let me give a practicable example. The NNPC sometimes in Warri shuts down for more than a year without any work, sometimes due to a fault. But what happens, salaries are still being paid, the workers get everything they need to get.

Take Ajaokuta Steel, take Delta Steel in Warri, workers are still there but for many years now, there has been no production. They are not generating anything, not even one naira for the country but the Nigerian government is paying them because there is a union. Can they do that in MTN or in Globacom? They cannot, because while there are unions in these companies, they are privately owned and perfectly controlled. So if we now say whether it is 10 years that the facility is not working, the worker should be paid, who bears the brunt? It is the government. What I am trying to say is that if an agency or an institution is not working, why should people be paid for it, even if it is not their fault? The unions are just after their welfare and that is why they are into unionism. But they don’t think about the effect of it.

I recall that before Obasanjo left office, he privatised Kaduna refinery and Warri refinery, Dangote got one and Otedola got one. But the unions fought it, the legislature supported them and it was reversed. But let’s be fair, assuming the privatisation scaled through, maybe we would not be having this shortage of fuel that keeps reoccurring, because it would be properly managed.

The telecom sector was privatised, MTN came on board, GLO came on board, and ECONET came on board. Now you have ETISALAT, SMILE and others. The single one that was left for government to manage, which is MOBITEL, where is it? It is dead now and they are still paying salaries; they are not working and they will also pay gratuity to them too.

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