Nwoke: Bill on Freedom from Hunger Vital to Nigeria’s Poverty Eradication Effort

Hon. Chidiebere Nwoke, a former deputy speaker of Abia State House of Assembly, is senior legislative aide to the senator for Abia Central Senatorial District, Senator Theodore Orji. In this interview with Charles Ajunwa, Nwoke speaks on some of the important bills and other legislative efforts of the Senator in the last 10 months. Excerpts:

On how would you describe his experience in the last 10 months at the National Assembly, especially, in terms of the performance of his principal?
Senator Theodore Orji has so far sponsored two motions, which resulted in resolutions of the Senate. The first motion was on the need to publish air accident investigation reports, which was moved by him, and that was in October 2015. The commission that is supposed to be publishing such reports went on air and was unhappy that such motion could be done on the floor. They said they had been publishing the reports. So, we kept quiet. We only asked them to go to the Senate Committee on Aviation, to which the motion had been reported, and make themselves clear.

Eventually, when the Senate Committee on Aviation submitted its report, it was discovered that, contrary to what they were saying, no such reports were published. And the Senate lambasted them and made it mandatory for them to go back and publish those reports. Senate President Bukola Saraki also took time to commend the sponsor of the motion, Orji, for the research he did to bring such motion to the fore, since it was a motion that would help the nation save lives and property.

The second motion is on the urgent need to empanel the national council on public procurement. This motion was referred to a committee, which submitted its report to the Senate, before a resolution was passed on it on January 13. The reference number is S/Resolution/080/01/16.

On bills sponsored by Orji.
Also, the senator has sponsored up to six bills. These bills were gazetted; they all passé through first reading. One of them is SB199. This bill is an act to amend the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Sharing Contract CAP G3, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, and for other matters connected therewith. If you come to the Senate, you will find out that several senators will be claiming that they have sponsored several bills, but those bills never pass through second reading, only first reading. They die a natural death. But, in this case, one bill (SB199) has gone through second reading already.

The SB199 is a very complicated bill. This CAP G3 was passed since 1993, and in this principle Act, Section 16 provides as follows: that the provisions of this Act shall be subject to a review, to ensure that if the price of crude oil at any time exceeds $20 per barrel, in real terms, that the share of the government of the federation in the additional revenue shall be adjusted under the production sharing contract, to such extent that the production sharing contract shall be economically beneficial to the government of the federation.

On the significance of the bills.
So, the import of this Section 16 (1) is that, in respect of deep offshore exploration of oil, if at any time the price of crude exceeds $20, the contract concerning that exploration shall be adjusted, so that the amount of royalty payable by these oil exploration companies to the federal government shall be increased. This was since 1993. And you remember that there was a time that crude was selling at $150 per barrel. Even under former President Goodluck Jonathan, it was at $120 per barrel, before we began to see the free fall of oil prices. But, for a long time, it has not gone below $20 per barrel.

There have been publications on this. Femi Falana, on the THISDAY of July 15, 2015, said Nigeria had lost up to $7billion due to the inability of the National Assembly to amend this law.
Now, sub-section 2 of the same section 16, says that notwithstanding the provisions of sub-section 1, the provisions of this Act shall be liable to review, after a period of 15 years, from the day of commencement, and every five years thereafter.

From 1993 till date, it is well over 20 years, and no such amendment has been done. There was even a provision that made it possible not to pay anything at all. That is Section 5, and it is the very section that we are seeking to amend. It is headlined: Royalty Payable in Respect of Deep Offshore Production Sharing Contract. Its sub-section 1 says: “the payment of royalties, in respect of deep offshore production sharing contract shall be graduated as follows, i.e, in areas of 201 to 500 metres water depth, 12 per cent; from 501 to 800 metres depth, 8 per cent; from 801 to 1,000 metres depth, 4 per cent; in areas in excess of 1,000 metres depth, 0 per cent. That’s what these people have been paying as royalties since 1993, yet we have lawyers, senators, and nobody ever saw the need to amend the Act. This is a priority bill.

On the other bills.
We also have HB71, a bill for an Act to make provisions for freedom from hunger and the rights to adequate food of acceptable quality, the right of every child to basic nutrition, and for connected purposes.
We have HB72, a bill for an Act to repeal the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission Act, CAP no. 117, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, and re-enact the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission, to provide for the creation of an attractive incentive framework, and a transparent, predictable, and facilitating environment for investment in Nigerian and related matters.

We have HB73. It is a bill for an Act to provide for national planning process and for other matters connected therewith. If you go to the states, you have Ministry of State Planning. At the national level, we have the same thing. But you will discover that there is no synergy. We want to have a national planning process. For example, if you want to know the economic policy of the present administration, you will be baffled to realise that they don’t have any policy direction. Everybody is still groping in the dark.

We also have HB77, a bill for an Act to ensure that diverse energy resources are available in sustainable quantities and at affordable prices in support of economic growth and poverty alleviation, taking into account environmental management requirements and the interaction among economic sectors to provide for energy planning, increased generation, and consumption of renewable energy, contingency energy, supply, and to provide for other matters.

In Nigeria, we don’t appear to have any control, pertaining to energy supply. To what extent was the generation and supply tackled by the last administration? We do not know. We were in Turkey, and we observed that they do not have any natural resources, but they have outgrown Nigeria by far, through their agriculture and manufacturing. What about Nigeria? We have abandoned agriculture. We cannot do anything now, because you have to depend on power. These are the things the bill is addressing.

Now, you have HB79, a bill for an act to provide for the management and conservation of Nigeria’s bio-diversity. This one is a little bit complex, and it will require a careful and contextual appraisal. It involves the protection of species and ecosystem that warrants national protection, the sustainable use of indigenous biological resources, the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from bio-prospecting involving indigenous biological resources, the establishment and functions of a national bio-diversity institute, and for matters connected therewith.

So, by the time you go through the lead debate, you will understand the bill better. The lead debate is a kind of briefing by the sponsor of the bill to the Senate. Everybody will just listen, and those who want to oppose will do that, those who support will also do that, after hearing what you have to say in the lead debate.
In the past, people thought climate change was only for Western countries, but it is already here.
There is no bill that we have that is not good, and there is no motion that we have moved that has not generated diverse interests. And that is my happiness.

On the committees Orji belongs to.
He is the vice chairman of Senate Committee on Agriculture. Recently, we were in Turkey, and the chairman of the committee was to travel with us, but unfortunately he was too occupied. So, His Excellency led the delegation, where we attended a kind of seminar on agriculture, organised by the Turkish government. We came back home with a lot of benefits.

He is also a member of the Senate Committee on Police Affairs; Senate Committee on Health; Senate Committee on Marine Affairs; and Senate Committee on Aviation.

Apart from his membership of these committees, the Senate President nominated him to be among the Senate delegation to the European Parliament. And we went to Brussels, Belgium, and attended the EU parliamentary meeting. In this case, also, the leader of the delegation, Senator Danjuma Goje, opted out, and the mantle fell on His Excellency, and he led the delegation. He also addressed members of the EU parliament and answered their questions about the kind of democracy we have in Nigeria. He was highly applauded for that speech.

His Excellency is not a senator that anybody can overlook. Having been an executive governor of a state for eight years, he is quite experienced and very outspoken. And he is quick to learn. There are no senators whose bill got to second reading faster than Orji’s. Ordinarily, the motion that got to second reading was one that would have terrified a new senator, because it was calling on the Federal Executive Council to set up the procurement counsel. Immediately the motion was put up, the Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, quickly asked that he be included as a co-sponsor. That shows you how apt and good the motion was. A new senator would have chickened out. It was quite commendable that he was able to do this.

On what Nigerians should expect from Orji by the time he clocks one year in the upper chamber in June.
The job of a legislator does not end in legislation. I think it is three-pronged: law making, representation, and oversight. We have only been talking about law-making. In terms of representation, you are aware that His Excellency is at home with his people, and he is already sponsoring a scholarship programme that involves more than 60 students from his constituency. He has spent millions on that programme. Also, during the Christmas, you must have heard what he did to touch the lives of the indigent people in his constituency. Just recently, he gave out different empowerment tools to his constituents. He was governor and he knows the needs of his people.

In terms of oversight, it’s the same thing.

So, his constituency should expect a continuation of his large-heartedness. Our office here is the busiest in this Senate wing of the National Assembly. People come here with their various needs and we do our best to accommodate and help them in every way we can. His Excellency has also been able to employ some persons. We do our best to give recommendation letters, make phone calls, and connect them to the people who can give them employment. The constituency should expect more dividends of democracy by the time he clocks one year on the seat.

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