South South stakeholders have portrayed as suspicious moves by the Federal Government to correct the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) two months after President Muhammadu Buhari enacted it .
President Muhammadu Buhari last Wednesday wrote the National Assembly demanding to make corrections to some sections of the Act.
The president stated that the proposed amendments were on the administrative structure of the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority and the Nigerian Upstream Regulatory Commission.
Hon. Benjamin Kalu, Spokesman of the House of Representatives, on Friday informed Assembly correspondents that the House was ready to listen and reassess whatever proposal Nigerians may bring to them using the opportunity of the amendment being solicited by the President, noting that such proposal would be treated on its merit.
However, The Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) has questioned the rationale behind the ‘sudden’ move to amend the Act questioning why the President hastily signed the bill into law without taking time to assess it.
National Publicity Secretary of the forum, Hon Ken Robinson, in a phone call interview with newsmen depicted the move as suspicious. “Let us first of all query the decision of the President to ask for an amendment in less than two months after signing the bill into law. Why was the hurry in signing it? Why didn’t he ask for the amendment before signing it? What was his intention? It opens up greater suspicion on the intention of the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is clear that there are some interests to satisfy in rushing to sign the bill. We have seen the nominations of board members and regulatory commission members that are created by the Act.”
PANDEF, he said, is cautious whether “this National Assembly will do anything for the interest of Niger Delta people because the proposition for the increase in the allocation to the host community (we asked for 10 percent), was made to both the Senate committee and the House of Reps committee. Of course, the overwhelming powers given to the settlers in terms of appointment of board members, in terms of the incorporation of the trust itself, in terms of what constitutes the host community.
“It reduces the host community to slavehood. All these issues were highlighted and amendments were sought but they were completely disregarded. Those documents are before them. If Nigeria truly loves the Niger Delta and wants true peace and development for the Niger Delta, they should revisit those presentations that were made to them. We would discuss and if need be for the benefit of doubt, we would resubmit those presentations.”
High Chief Benjamin Style Tamara, The National President, Host Communities Producing Oil and Gas ( HOSTCOM) advised the federal legislature to use the occasion to reassess the three per cent host communities’ funds upwards.
He stated that the enlargement of the governing board should not only boost the number per geo-political zone, but also include a representative from HostCom.
He also pleaded that the National Assembly reviews chapter 3 Sections 243, 257 and 11 of the Petroleum Industry Act stating that the grey areas affected the issue of sustainable progress of the region.
He noted that the current PIA only taxed the upstream sector and solicited for a three per cent tax each for the midstream and downstream sectors.
He said: “The current PIA only taxes the upstream sector, but the midstream/ downstream which is most volatile is left untaxed. To see the folly of this is the recent gas leak in Omoku, Rivers State. Hostcom clearly bears the brunt of environmental disasters.
“What about the spewing of soot and dangerous chemicals of the refinery? We want three per cent taxation for the midstream and downstream sectors. The Assembly should look into these grey areas and do the needful.”
Also, an environmental justice activist and Executive Director, Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC), Fyneface Dumnamene, stated that the lawmakers should amend the Act to raise the percentage of host communities’ funds.
He said: “Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC) calls on President Muhammadu Buhari to use this opportunity to consider the demands of the people of the host communities and the Niger Delta region that the three percent host community fund be increased to at least five percent.
“Thus, those areas that have now been identified like the percentage increase of host community funds, reducing the powers of the oil companies in the formation and management of the Trustees among others should be submitted to the National Assembly as well for consideration and joint amendment.”
He noted that the demand for amendment was an implication that despite the over 13 years the bill spent in the National Assembly, the lawmakers ceased to do a thorough job on it.
He said: “This is because despite the over 13years that the bill spent in the National Assembly, thorough job was not done on it by the lawmakers. This was noticed when processes of allowing public input into the bill then were skewed with little time given to experts during public hearings and collating of thousands of memoranda that were never reviewed and their suggestions taken into consideration to improve the law.
“However, although an amendment to the new law was expected, I didn’t see it coming in 35 days after the bill was signed into law on August 16, 2021 and it would remain in history of the country that a law passed by the National Assembly after over 13 years of deliberations was amended within 35 days.
“Although a law is subject to amendments, this is too quick and a sign of poor job and more amendment should be expected as the law’s implementation process progresses and gathers more momentum.”
The Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) Worldwide requested the incorporation of the state governments, local governments, youths and monarchs in the Host Communities Development Trust.
Spokesman for IYC, Ebilade Ekerefe, stated that anything short of including the required stakeholders in the composition of the HCDT would be counterproductive and unacceptable.
He stated that though the IYC had taken a decision to unwillingly accept the three per cent provision in the PIA, it would still not be out of place if it could be increased.
Ekerefe stated: “In the PIA amendment ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari, the IYC is demanding that the composition of the Host Communities Development Trust, the state governments, local governments, youth representatives and traditional rulers should be included.
“These categories of people are critical stakeholders in the Niger Delta project. Any attempt to exclude them in the scheme of things will not bode well with the region. The development will create more confusion and chaos. So, it is appropriate that they should be incorporated to give a sense of belonging to the relevant stakeholders in the region.”