By Davies Iheamnachor
National Coordinator of South-South Elders Forum and member, Board of Trustees, Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, His Royal Highness Anabs Sara-Igbe, in this explosive interview dissects the Niger-Delta problem and proffers radical solutions on way forward. Excerpts:
Are you satisfied with the level of development in the region?
We are far behind. What has been spent in NDDC, I do not think is up to what was spent in Dubai that made it a tourist centre. Dubai is today an international tourist centre where businessmen all over the world assemble for business. I do not think we have done much, rather the funds were looted.
We have heard what transpired between the interim management and National Assembly, the accusations and counter-accusations.
We heard about the lootings in the place, rather than using the money to develop the people, the reverse is the case. And that is why we are trying to observe the PIA.
If the Petroleum Industry Act is well managed, we will ask them to scrap the NDDC Act and send the money to strengthen PIA so that the funds will be directed towards the development of the oil-bearing communities and some impacted communities before we talk about other people who are not producing at all.
A lot of people are not happy with the document called PIA but you are expressing satisfaction with it, why?
Those who are not happy with it do not understand it. Yes, that there are flaws does not mean that there is something better than the PIA we are seeing.
You see, we had our son who was the President for over five years; we had a minister also from the same region when the PIB was sent to National Assembly before our son became president.
Our son was the vice president, he midwifed it and sent it to National Assembly, the former president, late Musa Yar’Adua died and the bill died with him. Our sons and daughters did not make any meaningful effort to pass that law.
The 7th Assembly passed the bill Buhari refused to sign it and today it has been signed.
What is the difference? In the first bill, 10 per cent equity is so complex because if you bring all the oil-bearing communities together and give to them 10 per cent, sharing becomes a problem where you talk of equity.
But today’s Act is based on operational cost, which is how much is being spent in the area of production. If you spend in Delta State, for instance, $10 and in Bayelsa $15, you will apportion according to how you spend the money and the budget will be seen not to talk of equity, we are talking of profit. And how do we share the profit is another kettle of tea.
So, we need to start somewhere, let us see how they will implement this PIA that is already a law.
Most of the problems that we face in the Niger Delta are caused by the Niger-Deltans themselves.
Resource control struggle finally brought 13 per cent derivation. Today, the governors are using the 13 per cent derivation as if it is their money.
The governors are not using it to develop the oil-bearing communities rather all we see is mockery – ‘I have developed my place, if you like develop your own.’ Derivation is specifically meant for the communities, it was not meant for the entire state. But today, are oil-bearing communities benefitting from it? No, they are not. So if PIA is going to deal directly with oil bearing communities, I think it makes more sense and that is why I said let us see how they will manage it because there are few areas that we are watching in the PIA that we are not comfortable with.
For instance, the administrative sector, the various organs to manage it, that is one of the issues.
Number two, spills and the benefit. It is not properly addressed because some of the pipelines are corroded and they could burst and if it burst, you will now say community people should not benefit.
What are the penalties the oil companies pay if they allow their pipeline to corrode or if spill is caused by their negligence? These are salient points in the PIA that need to be addressed.
And again, you are now saying ‘pipeline communities”. If you lay pipelines from here to Kaduna, does that make them oil-bearing communities? How do you also apportion that? Are you going to base it on the budget you have to maintain the pipeline or on production?
It should be defined and spelt out. When they are done, we now know how the funds will be managed. That is what we want to see. If the funds are properly managed and we are satisfied, I think we will say take the 13 per cent and give it to PIA. Take the three per cent as statutory allocation to NDDC and give to PIA, which means PIA will get up to 20 per cent or more.
What we are looking for, we are getting it gradually. To me, we need to look at the PIA and dissolve the NDDC, 13 per cent derivation and bring all of them to a common fund and use it to effectively manage the communities.
PIA is just a law and NDDC is an agency, are you expecting another agency to take charge of the PIA?
The PIA from the way it is written, the funds are disintegrated. They are not concentrated in one place. If you work in one OML, whatever is the operation of that OML, 3 per cent of it will be given to the host community of that company.
So, each OML will set up an implementation committee that will run the management of the host communities’ fund. It will not be a common fund where everybody will come together, it is going to be company by company if I understand the PIA as it is.
PANDEF conducted a study of the PIB before it was passed. I also happen to be one of those who benefitted from that study and that is the reason when we are discussing, we discuss as an insider.
We have two levels. We have the board, that will oversee the entire fund and we have the management committee that will actually manage the entire fund. They will depend on the board for approval.
When members of the management committee do their budget and pass it to the board for approval and the board approves it, they will go back to implement it.
If you have an OML that is not producing, you may not get anything. If you shut down any place and they are not producing money, it means you are not benefitting. So, that to an extent will also free the oil companies because if you shut them down and they are not producing, it means you will not get anything.
The people get nothing in an OML that is not producing, that is what the PIA is all about, but today those who are in OML benefit even more than those who are producing. PIA will encourage production and also reduce blockage of oil facilities, it will also encourage investment because there will be relative peace in the region because of the law, so to a large extent, we will get somewhere.
Yes, the law has been done, but we want to see how it will be managed. When we see how it is managed, if the management is better, then we will insist that all this other agencies should be collapsed into this one.
Are stakeholders the ones managing this?
OML 25 has opened the eyes of the oil companies because a time of reckoning will come when people will ask, show us what you have done.
So when people begin to ask questions and you have not done well, in fact, the oil company will supervise the implementation the disbursement of the fund, so if they are to supervise the implementation and the disbursement of the fund and things are not done and they share the money, the restiveness will still continue.
But I think this time the community can hold people who are responsible because there is no point asking people from afar and nobody will be on the board forever. It will be tenured and when one’s tenure is over, another person will come, so it will become closer to the community.
The issue of community going to ask NDDC will not be there because it now has access to their fund. Though like we said, communities do not have control because they are not the people appointing. It is the oil companies that are appointing, so the oil companies are still liable.
If things are not done, the community will still say we have not seen, it is the oil company that will actually appoint those who will manage the resources.
With PIA how do you think companies can improve MoU?
There will be no MoU anymore. We are now talking about PIA, which means it is as you produce, you are giving us our money. Take for instance, if your budget is like $10 million, you give us three per cent of the money, let us use the three per cent of $10 million to run our own operation.
Three per cent of $10 million is about $300,000. It is a lot of money. So, this issue of come and give us N100 million, N200 million is gone. It is no longer relevant again. What is relevant now is what the operational budget of the company is?
How much did they spend to operate, how much did they spend to do one intervention or the other, how much did they spend to pay their salaries, maintain their facilities, aggregate of all what is spent, is the operational cost.
And oil companies spend so much money running into billions of dollars.
So, you can see, at the end of the day, some OML can spend up to $500 million or more. Whatever they spend, three per cent of it goes to the communities that own the facility.
It is no longer about states sharing it. It is not going to the state anymore. It is not also going to the local government. It is going to the people who own the facility. So if an oil company refuses to release it, the community can go to court, and ask the court for the implementation.
How would you know the budget of the company?
Their budget is with NAPIMS. NAPIMS approves budget for them. So NAPIMS will know how much they are spending. I agree they can hide some of their budgets, but again, NAPIMS will come and claim these monies from NNPC and at the point of reconciling with NNPC, the figures will be out.
So if they are even inflating their prices they, the operation they had host communities will still take 3 per cent.
The company will have audited reports every year which they will give to NAPIMS. They must get annual returns to NAPIMS and before then, they cannot spend money without NAPIMS approval.
The DPR will also know how much they are spending in their operations, so we will know. The Ministry of Petroleum will also know how much they are spending. Unfortunately, we would have done these years ago. If Jonathan and his group had done these years ago, we would have made so much money than what is going to NDDC.
Are we sure that this Act will give Niger Deltans the needed satisfaction?
A law is a law. A law has been set up as now we can go to court because there is a law. We must call for the implementation of the law.
When there was no law you can say all these, but now there is law so we hope. All we need to do is PANDEF needs to restructure and set up various organs and committees that need to be set up to monitor.
This is where PANDEF will play a role because they have powers across the board and this is where we need PANDEF to do what it is supposed to do by setting up institutions. Even if PANDEF does not do, various communities have the right to go to court. We can shout, we can also stop them from production. We have a lot of options available.
We have not heard the governors of South-South speak with one voice on this development, what is going on?
Yes, we do not even want the governors to speak because they are a total disappointment to the people of Niger Delta.
We do not know how they are expecting 13 per cent derivation fund. They have not been able to give a good account of how they spend the 13 per cent, so what is their business with this three per cent.
We do not want them to hijack it. So we do not even need them. We do not need their advice, we do not need their contribution.
We do not need their input because the 13 per cent they are getting is more than enough for them to tell us what they are doing with it.
No oil-bearing community is happy. Today, oil bearing communities are still living in squalor.
No electricity, no water, no school, no hospital. Our rivers are polluted, our farm lands are polluted and hunger is everywhere, what are the governors of Niger Delta doing? What are they doing to assist the communities where the oil activities they are collecting 13 per cent take place.
The 13 per cent is like free money to them and so we do not want them to be part of this. We do not want the state or the local government to be part of the 3 per cent because it is purely a community affair.
Do you want to stop them from collecting 13 per cent?
We want to stop them from collecting the 13 per cent. If this three per cent works, we will agitate that the 13 per cent should stop.
It is the next line of agitation and advocacy. We will call on the National Assembly to amend the law so that when they go for FAAC, they will not give them 13 per cent from statutory allocation.
They will now be sent to PIA so that various oil companies will now use that money to be able to develop the communities.
The oil companies are contributing to all these funds, what we are saying is that all these funds: 13 per cent and the ones going to NDDC should all come over and that is where the EFCC will also work.
If a company fails to remit, we can petition them to the EFCC to do so.
But Governor Nyesom Wike regretted that governors were excluded from PIA?
I am talking as a man from oil -bearing community and as an activist, we do not want governors to be part of it. Nyesom Wike is a governor; his community Rumuepirikom is not producing oil.
He is using the money from oil produced and mockery of us. It is not governors’ business, governors have no role to play.
Did they support it? What role did they play in PIA? They do not know how we got 13 per cent for them.
We went to the creeks, we went to fight and we did everything for them to get 13 per cent.
Did they even appreciate those who fought for them to get 13 per cent? We are totally opposed to the governors coming into it. If the governors come into it, it will cause another round of crisis in the Niger Delta. If the governors are allowed to come into PIA, we will revolt.
It is like this is one policy of government you are very much comfortable with?
They have not started implementing but from the direction we are seeing, we want to see how it will go, whether it will be different from the ones we are seeing.
But the governors, we do not want to hear their names in relation to the management of this fund because they have not managed 13 per cent derivation to our satisfaction.