By Okon Bassey
The federal government and members of the National Assembly have been urged to handle the grey areas in the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) without politicising the issues.
Former Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Chief Nduese Essien who made the call recently, while speaking with journalists in Uyo, stressed that the interests of oil producing states in the Niger Delta region should be highly protected in the bill.
He identified major grey areas in the bill to be addressed to include the review of oil bloc allocation, payment of gas flare penalty and the strict definition of the status of host communities among others.
He insisted that without the federal government and National Assembly addressing the areas, the essence of the PIB would be defeated.
According to him, the bill if not properly handled might create confusion and hamper its implementation.
Essien, decried a situation where most of the oil blocs are owned by persons from non-oil producing states whereas those from oil bearing communities have not benefited.
The former House of Representatives member from Akwa Ibom State regretted that there’s no issue about the bill vesting the ownership and management of petroleum resources on the federal government.
He noted that such provision to vest ownership and management on the federal government came into being at the peak of the civil war as a stop gap measures.
Essien regretted that successive governments after the war bestowed the ownership and management of petroleum resources almost exclusively on people from non-oil producing communities and top military brass as well as their cronies.
“I have taken a look at the PIB, the first thing that caught my attention was the very first sentence which states the property and ownership of petroleum within Nigeria and its territorial waters, continental shelves and exclusive economic zones is vested in the government of the federal republic of Nigeria
“There is no problem with this as the intention was to spread the resources to all parts of Nigeria. This provision actually came into being at the peak of the Nigeria civil war, to pull resources at the time for the execution of the civil war.
“But by the end of the civil war successive military governments bestowed the ownership and management of petroleum resources almost exclusively on people from non-oil producing areas through the allocation of oil blocs.”
He added: “The oil blocs went to top people in military and civilians who were connected with the military.
“The people so bestowed did not have the technical nor financial competence as it was a technical knockout attained through the possession of political authority.
“These people invited technical partners with financial resources to exploit the petroleum and cart away the benefits without consideration for the host communities,” Essien lamented
He observed that such ownership which had existed for a long time had misled people into believing that they are the real owners of petroleum, positing that the PIB would not make any meaning if it does not address the ownership issue and get the people who bear the brunt of environmental hazards involved in petroleum exploitation process.
On the issue of the host community status Essien said the bill should clearly state whether a host Community is a village, a community, local government or state
This, he said becomes necessary because some state governors have usurped the benefits of the host communities and appropriated those benefits for the entire state thereby worsening the status of such communities.
“The PIB should come out with a clear definition of host community. Failure to specify who the host community is, will merely create confusion and hamper the implementation of the bill,” Essien further advised.
He further stated that the bill should also address the issue of gas flaring penalty payment, saying it’s an absurd that the payment was not specifically targeted at the host communities who bear the brunt of years of environmental hazards and pollutions on daily basis.
“You can imagine that the oil companies that are exploiting the petroleum resources do so with gas flaring occurring in the area of production, then the companies are penalised to pay for gas flaring and such penalty is shared to everybody in Nigeria. This is the most absurd situation.
“What’s the justification for making it to be shared to all parts? So PIB should look into such areas and be able to address the inconveniences and the causes of disaffection that has always let to disruptions and the rest of it.” Essien declared.