FOR THOSE WHO HAVE LOST FAITH

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The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, vows that the PIB bill will be passed by April, writes Adelaja Samuel

Crude oil discovery in Nigeria has been a mixed bag of blessing and

curse. Development experts often refer to a pathetic scenario when

discovered natural resource becomes a source of strife and a bigger

problem as a resource curse; it is indeed a paradox of plenty.

The oil boom of the early 70s in Nigeria brought a doom of a sort.

Agriculture which was the mainstay of the nation’s economy was benched

for the free and easy money from crude oil. Palm oil which was

produced in commercial volume before the oil boom was abandoned for

peasant farmers in the Mid-west and Eastern parts of Nigeria; ditto

cocoa in the West, cotton and groundnut in the North.

Malaysia took the lead in palm oil production in the world from the

seedlings it reportedly took from Nigeria. Not all, the resource curse

also bred ethnic and militia struggle as indigenous land owners where

crude oil resides lay claim on their ancestral land. They called for

Resource Control. Consensus was reached for derivation earnings. The

oil communities and states got a fairly bigger share of the cake to

douse tension.

Yet, the problems remain unabated. Not even the upward review of

derivations earnings could assuage the yearnings of agitating

communities. Poverty, under- development and lack and want were

commonplace in the oil-rich region. Emergency billionaires emerged

without lifting a pin, and wanton greed, corruption worsened the lot of

the masses in the area.

Environmental Activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa and his fellow kinsmen drew the

ire of callous, brutal Nigeria’s dictator, late General Sani Abacha

over agitation for better deal and regeneration of degraded

Ogoni-land. They paid with their lives. The struggle continues till

date leaving pain and blood on the trail.

The distraction of crude oil and the neglect of other real sectors of

the economy were really calamitous. Till date, crude oil still

dominates Nigeria’s economy, accounting for around 90% of export

earnings. The country has the largest oil and gas reserves in

sub-Saharan Africa with an estimated 37bn barrels of oil and 188

trillion cubic feet of gas, according to a report by African Business.

The largely ungovernable industry has cost the country unimaginable

fortunes. Everything is vague and international interests and

multinational corporations exploit the loose and unstructured

industry to their advantage. Joint ventures between oil giants and the

nation’s oil corporation cum regulator, Nigerian National Petroleum

Corporation (NNPC) were skewed in favour of the oil firms.

“Value has leached away through opaque licensing deals, unaccountable

middlemen, a lack of refining capacity and graft in the government and

state-owned NNPC. Sabotage

and pipeline theft in the oil-rich Niger Delta have ensured that the

taxpayer loses out on billions of dollars in annual revenues”, an

article titled, ‘What is Nigeria’s Petroleum Industry Bill and why is

it significant?’ published in a African Business aptly captured.

To better harness the potential and plug massive wastages in the

sector, successive governments since the inception of the current

democratic dispensation tried to enact governance and order in the

sector without much success. The Muhammadu Buhari government made

honest efforts culminating in a new version of PIB distilled into four

critical segments.

The House of Representatives Speaker, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, a man

of action who has shown exemplary leadership over and again since he

assumed office as Speaker has shown more than passing interest in the

bill. This time around, he stamped his feet and resisted further

dilly-dally on the all-crucial piece of legislation. He staked his

reputation and assured the world that in barely three months away, PIB

will be passed as an Act of the Nigeria’s parliament.

Trust Gbajabiamila, if he has to climb mountains and ascend hills, the

speaker will embark on such a voyage to meet the set date. He is a man

who is in a hurry to see Nigeria transform into Eldorado. The volcano

ripple-effects of the PIB on the economy, host communities and the

massive jobs that will erupt along multiple value chains of the

unbundled sector will energize Gbaja to push through PIB by April.

For those who might fear that thoroughness will be sacrificed on the

altar of due diligence and clinical perusal should not fret. The

speaker is finicky to a fault. His training as a lawyer designed him

so. He displayed that when the controversial Water Bill debate raged

at the floor of the Green Chamber.

Powerful cabal who are unduly cashing out and making a kill from the

unstructured industry cannot stop him. The collective interest of

Nigeria and her people far outweighs the parochial and selfish

interests of the powerful few.

The speaker said, “For the most part, we all agree on the need for

legislative action to make improvements through statutory and

regulatory reform. Therefore, it is disappointing and frankly

difficult to explain how successive governments have failed to deliver

on the promise of reform despite this broad agreement. Ladies and

gentlemen, we have an opportunity and an obligation to do better, and

we will.

“We are not oblivious to the fact of many contending interests in this

sector. These contentions do not need to result in conflict,

especially when we know the objective of national prosperity benefits

us all. Therefore, the process of engaging with stakeholders will

continue beyond this public hearing to accommodate the diversity of

interests and ensure all critical views form part of the deliberations

that inform the final legislation.

“Regardless of whatever other interests may exist, for this Ad-Hoc

Committee and indeed the House of Representatives, Nigeria’s best

interest is both our desired outcome and guiding principle. It falls

to this Ad-Hoc Committee to engage in a necessary balancing act in the

interests of our beloved nation.”

The Speaker added that “This bill has been long coming as the chairman

said. It has been upcoming in the last 20 years. Because of contending

and vested interests, we have not been able to reach the desired

outcome over the years.

“A lot of work has gone into the preparation of this bill, but it’s

not strait-jacketed. The idea of a public hearing is to have interests

that may have not been accommodated prior to the introduction of the

bill to lend their voices and to understand perhaps the bigger

environment where they are coming from.

“So my charge to everyone that will be participating is not to close

our minds or our ears to the views and the positions that may be

advanced by various interest groups. We are in a world, an economic

world, so there must be interest groups, they will be interest groups

and we cannot deny that.

“But what should guide the outcome of what we do here as we

accommodate more views will be what will be in the best interest of

the people.

“More importantly, we intend to pass this bill by April. That is a

commitment we have made. Some may call it a tall order, but we will do

it, and we will do it with every sense of responsibility without

compromising the thoroughness of the work that will be done,” the

speaker said.