Statistics show that the total number of oil leases granted operators by the Federal Government as at December ending, 2012, stood at 201. While the total number of Oil Mining Leases (OMLs) in operation are 109, Oil Prospecting Leases (OPLs) are 92.
Yet, there is a school of thought that believes that 83 per cent of oil blocks in the country are allocated to Northerners. But more worrisome is the revelation that 88 per cent of the oil blocks are actually owned by multinational oil companies led by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).
Interestingly, no fresh allocation of oil blocks has been made since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office on May 29, 2015. His predecessor, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, also made no fresh allocations. However, fresh allocations may be made by the current administration, with experts saying such is due, as the government is on the verge of revoking operating licences of a number of oil block owners following the expiration of their licences.
It is against this backdrop that the recent pronouncement by renowned and fiery Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), that the practice of allocating oil blocks to individuals and International Oil Companies (IOCs) by the Federal Government is against the Constitution of Nigeria, and should be stopped, comes into focus.
Falana, had in a letter, asked President Buhari, to henceforth allocate oil blocks only to the federal and state governments, contending that those who got oil blocks often got more money than the country.
The erudite lawyer said, the practice violates Section 16 (2) (c) of the Constitution, which he said provides that “the economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of few individuals or of a group”.
While calling on the Federal Government to go ahead with the plan to revoke a number of oil blocks and marginal fields hitherto allocated to a few individuals as well as local and foreign corporate bodies by former military and civilian regimes, Falana said the plan is a courageous decision, but that the government would have to desist from renewing the remaining licences of other oil block owners in the country.
He further posited that the President may not be aware that majority of the owners of the oil blocks allocated to individuals were usually sub-leased to offshore companies because the beneficiaries often lack the fund and technical expertise to develop them, adding that by merely collecting huge rents, the oil block owners become stupendously rich while the federal, state and local governments depend on loans and bail out to pay salaries and carry out basic infrastructural development of the country.
According to Falana, the allocation of oil blocks to a few individuals and corporate bodies by the government constitutes gross violation of the fundamental rights of the Nigerian people to freedom from discrimination, equal right of access to public property and in the equal enjoyment of the common heritage of mankind as well as the right to social, economic and cultural development guaranteed by articles 2, 13, 22 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.
We recall that when in 1956, crude oil, was discovered in commercial quantity in the sleepy town of Oloibiri in today’s Bayelsa State located in the Niger Delta region, the expectation was that the move would bring prosperity, stupendous wealth and, indeed, the good life to the people of the area, nay Nigerians as a whole.
But it is regrettable that the Nigerian people have not benefitted maximally from that giant economic leap so much that it has rather left majority of them worse off, with abject poverty staring them in the face.
Paradoxically, the people have remained poor in the midst of plenty, owing to a number of factors, including the arbitrary allocation of oil blocks and marginal fields by successive administrations in the country. The end result is that the wealth that is buried in the bowels of Oloibiri and in other oil bearing communities in the Niger Delta region is being cornered by a few Nigerians and foreigners.
Again, there is no gainsaying the fact that corruption, which has eaten deep into the fabric of the Nigerian State has remained the greatest bane of the country, as this cankerworm has permeated all sectors of our national life.
There is also no denying the fact that the allocation of oil blocks to individuals in the country is skewed in favour of certain persons from a section of the country at the expense of others. Such allocations, which are grossly lopsided, are intended to serve some political, economic and other primodial interests.
Like Falana, other experts have warned that Nigeria must learn from the pitfalls of the oil block allocations made by previous regimes.
A United States – trained petroleum engineer and former staff of Chevron Nigeria, Alex Neyin, said oil block allocations in the country are hardly transparent as they are done on the basis of ‘man-know-man’.
The Tide agrees no less that the benefits derivable from crude oil production in the country have not trickled down maximally to the ordinary people, and, therefore, suggests that the process of allocating oil blocks should be made public and transparent in such a manner that people with the requisite competence and financial muscle should bid for the oil blocks.
There is also the urgent need to amend the law that arrogates the President of the country the sole right to allocate oil blocks. Vesting such powers in the President is open to abuse and manipulation, as is currently the practice, where some oil blocks were given out to associates, friends and cronies without due process.
However, beyond allocating the oil blocks only to the federal and state governments as suggested by Falana, there is the need for government at all levels to be alive to its constitutional responsibilities of catering for the welfare of the Nigerian people. We agree that allocating the oil blocks to government would leave much more money in the pockets of government, but the multi-million naira question is: will this change anything?
It is sad that the country is still grappling with the problem of epileptic power supply and the general failure of basic infrastructure in virtually all sectors of the country. Poverty is still deep-seated and pervasive. Corruption in high places is still rife. While the poor gets poorer, the rich gets richer.
Unemployment is at its peak. Nothing seems to be working. This is in spite of the fact that the wealth emanating from crude oil is capable of transforming the country and improving the general wellbeing of the people.
In all, in the spirit of equity and social justice, oil producing areas and communities must be accorded priority in the allocation of oil blocks and marginal fields in the country. We strongly believe that this would go a long way in assuaging the deep-seated feelings of marginalization among the Niger Delta people in particular.
Reps’ Alarm On Ebola
Obviously agitated by the havoc perpetrated by the 2014 Ebola virus crisis, the Federal House of Representatives last week issued a fresh alarm and directive to relevant authorities and stakeholders to enforce checks at the nation’s entry points – airports, seaports and land borders so as to avert another round of disaster by the deadly virus.
Arising from its plenary, the lawmakers unanimously passed two separate resolutions on Ebola, the first being a motion by Paschal Obi entitled: “Looming Reoccurrence of Ebola Crisis In Nigeria” in which the Green Chamber directed the Federal Ministry of Health to deploy all necessary materials and personnel to immediately embark on screening of all passengers at the airports, seaports and land borders as well as for the Federal Government to set aside funds for the management of Ebola virus in the event of its re-occurrence in Nigeria.
Rep Obi, in his motion, explained that considering the proximity of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Nigeria and other West African countries, the need to put in place adequate mechanism to prevent the resurgence of the pandemic in a densely populated country like Nigeria has become imperative.
Similarly, the House called for the immortalisation of Late Dr. Stella Ameyo Adadevoh for sacrificing her life towards preventing the spread of Ebola virus from Lagos State to other parts of Nigeria in 2014 by naming a public health institution after the medic for her heroic act of patriotism and nationalism.
Well said, The Tide agrees no less with the position of the lawmakers. It is, indeed, apt, timely and commendable that the House could speak out in what is clearly a matter of public interest and urgency which constitutes a clear and present danger to the wellbeing of the citizenry.
Since the Liberian-American diplomat, Patrick Sawyer, brought the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) into Nigeria in 2014, there have been conscious efforts by all stakeholders at governmental and non-governmental levels on preventive and protective measures. Perhaps, that informed the reason why the lawmakers resolved to alert the nation on EVD before we could find ourselves in a messy situation.
Thankfully, Nigerian borders, particularly land entry points remain closed for now and we expect the nation’s security community, especially the Immigration and Customs personnel to be more vigilant and thorough in their screening following reports of Ebola scare in the DRC.
The death of Adadevoh and a nurse that treated Sawyer, still looms large in our psyche and, therefore, no effort should be spared in preventing and containing any outbreak in Nigeria again.
We recall that on October 9, 2014, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) specially acknowledged Nigeria’s positive role in controlling and containing the Ebola epidemic, “Nigeria’s quick responses, including intense rapid contact tracing, tracking, surveillance of potential contacts and isolation of all contacts were of particular importance in controlling and limiting the outbreak,” the ECDC declared, describing Nigeria’s feat as a piece of world-class epidemiological detective work and a spectacular success story.
It is against this backdrop that we think that all critical stakeholders should not relent on the achievements recorded in 2014 in the event of the current EVD scare.
Ebola is widely considered to be worse than HIV/AIDS not because it has no known cure or vaccine. Infected persons face painful death in a matter of days. Regrettably, it has claimed many lives, including heathcare providers who in the discharge of their professional duties paid the supreme price.
Infected persons exhibit symptoms ranging from diarrhea, bleeding, high temperature, haemorrhagic fever, sore throat, among others. This is why we need sensitisation of the populace to track patients that exhibit such symptoms for early treatment and isolation.
With the report of the virus and breakout in the above-named Central African country, Nigerians more than any other time need to be very cautious as conditions that predispose the populace to the virus appear to be everywhere, even as medical experts warn against consumption of ‘bush meat,’ physical contact with infected persons by way of handshake, sexual intercourse and exposure to wild animals and birds. It is worrisome that we cherish the bush meat delicacy as well as live in slum settlements which make our people more vulnerable in case of the virus outbreak.
Our consolation, however, is that the World Health Organisation (WHO), the European Union (EU), the Federal Ministry of Health and other critical stakeholders have been striving hard to put in place strategies to combat the scourge.
The time for the media and all stakeholders to synergise towards providing the much-needed sensitisation is now or never. In the main, the least any Nigerian could do, for now, is to remain vigilant and prayerful.
Let Votes Count In Bayelsa, Kogi
On Saturday, November 16, 2019, the people of Bayelsa and Kogi States, would troop out in their numbers, to vote for candidates of their choice in the governorship elections which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) fixed on that day for the two States.
Expectedly, preparations for the elections have reached an advance stage, as the electoral umpire has put everything in place for a smooth and hitch-free exercise. This time around, expectations are really high for INEC to acquit itself creditably, by ensuring that the elections are not only peaceful but also credible, free and fair.
On this score, feelers indicate that INEC has already distributed over 2.4 million permanent voters cards (PVCs) to the electorate in both states, to ensure that they participate maximally in the electoral process.
INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, while dropping this hint during a quarterly meeting with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Abuja, said a total of 889,308 PVCs were collected in Bayelsa State while 1,485,828 PVCs were collected in Kogi State as at September 30.
Yakubu equally disclosed that the commission had accredited 135 domestic observer groups and 16 foreign observer groups for the polls in both states, hinting that the commission was desirous of deepening transparency and accountability in the conduct of the polls.
There is no doubt that political tension has reached fever pitch in the two states, considering the volatility of these areas, particularly when it comes to matters of politics and elections. To say that the political atmosphere in both states today is fully charged is to state the obvious.
Speculations that violence may characterise and mar the elections are rife. It is even alleged that the various political gladiators in the states are warming up for a serious political showdown come November 16; and are ready to throw everything at their disposal to the ring to ensure that they clinch victory at the polls. The political indices on the ground are frightening.
Just recently, stakeholders from Bayelsa and Kogi States listed violence, vote buying and manipulation of the youths as some of the issues that would determine the outcome of the elections in the two states.
According to one of the stakeholders, apart from violence orchestrated by the Army and other security agencies, the electorate see INEC officials and security agencies as agents of fraud rather than arbiters of fair play.
It is, however, heart-warming that INEC has indicated its willingness and determination to correct the mistakes of the 2019 General Election with the November 16 polls in the two states, stressing that the two elections would correct the mistakes in the general election and set a new standard for future elections.
The chairman of the Board of INEC’s Electoral Institute, Prince Solomon Soyebi, who gave this assurance said, “the elections will provide the commission with yet another opportunity to test-run its policies, process and new initiatives”.
According to the INEC National Commissioner, “Athough the conduct of the 2019 general election and the commission’s performance had some challenges, we can use the 2019 general election as a barometer for comparison with subsequent elections, including the Bayelsa and Kogi governorship elections. Clearly, the commission is not under any illusion about the many issues and challenges posed by the electoral process”.
There is no gain saying the fact that INEC’s performance in the 2019 General Election was not too encouraging, as it fell short of the expectations of most Nigerians. One obvious area where the electoral umpire performed abysmally was the manual recording and transmission of results instead of the electronic transmission from the polling units. It is mind-boggling and shocking that INEC, going by attestation at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, had no server. This, indeed, leaves a sour taste in the month, as it offers and provides room for easy manipulation of results.
The Tide believes that the governorship elections in the two states, this time around, offer INEC another opportunity to redeem its battered image. The polls are, indeed, another litmus test for the electoral body, as all lapses and mistakes of the past must be corrected, through them.
The truth is that we are not yet satisfied with what is on the ground in both states in terms of preparations for the elections. INEC must be thorough. It must do all within its capacity to restore the confidence of Nigerians in the electoral process. This, it can do by being truly neutral and independent.
Above all, all the institutions, including the Police and other security agencies must be up and doing. They must all provide the enabling environment for violence-free, peaceful, free, fair and credible elections to take place in the two states.
There is the need for politics to develop in the country to the point that the people can have confidence in the electoral system in such a way that the electorate, irrespective of political part affiliations, should be allowed to vote for candidates of their choice.
Again, all stakeholders including political parties must realise that what is at stake is the interest of the two states, as it relates to development and good governance. Elections are only vehicles in actualising the yearnings and aspirations of the people in this regard. Elections are never a do or die affair.
Only the best should be allowed to emerge at the end of the day.
Thus, there should be no room for desperation and manipulations. The people must be allowed to vote with their conscience.
It is also high time INEC gave the electronic voting system a shot. It can experiment this with the governorship elections in the two states. There should be no manual thing, as we experienced in the 2019 General Election. The world is still watching. The most important thing is, let the votes count in Bayelsa and Kogi States.
No To Nationwide OPI
Last week, while deliberating on matters of urgent national importance, the Federal House of Representatives passed a motion suspending a proposed exercise by the Nigerian Army tagged, Operation Positive Identification, OPI.
The exercise which was billed to last between November 1 to December 23, 2019 would require Nigerians to move about with means of identification. According to the Army, the operation would enable them profile Nigerians and identify genuine citizens from aliens, bandits, insurgents, kidnappers and other criminals.
But the Reps members, while unanimously voting against the operation said that the planned exercise was unconstitutional and against the natural rights of Nigerians to free movement.
Also, on Tuesday, Justice Rilwanu Aikawa of Federal High Court, Lagos ordered the Nigerian Army and its Chief of Army Staff (COAS) to suspend the operation, which had already commenced on the first day of the month.
According to Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), who brought the matter before the court, the operation violates his right and that of other Nigerian citizens to liberty, “as encapsulated in Section 35 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended and Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, (Cap A10) Laws of Federation of Nigeria, 2004”.
The Tide cannot agree more with the Federal House of Representatives, Justice Aikawa, Mr Falana and indeed many other concerned but silent Nigerians, who would be put through untold hardship if the operation was allowed to live through its schedule.
No matter what may have informed the exercise or the objectives the propounders had hoped to achieve, allowing OPI to be carried out nationwide by the Army would have wrought more agony, tears and complaints on Nigerians.
We think that, apart from being unconstitutional, the Army by their training and operations are not equipped for this kind of operation that is supposed to be civil in nature. It is really undemocratic to over expose the Army to the civilian populace, especially, when there is no war.
It is worrisome that the Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari appears to be over-labouring the military with extra responsibilities, most of which are civil in nature, when there are other agencies of government, that should naturally be saddled with such responsibilities. The Army has its roles and responsibilities clearly stated in the Constitution of the country, which mandates them to protect and defend the territorial sovereignty of the nation from external threats and insurrection.
While we are not against the military adopting any measure or tactic, including OPI to check and quell banditry, insurrection and Boko Haram menace, particularly in the North-East and North-West of the country, extending it to all parts of the nation at this time is uncalled for.
Infact, we see OPI as mooted by its sponsors as a high level scam, a kite flown by some highly placed individuals in the corridors of power to rip off the nation, even as it groans under the weight of scarce resources. Therefore, no effort should be spared to discourage and nip the illegality in the bud.
If we must embark on an exercise to profile and identify Nigerians and residents, we believe that the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, the Nigerian Police Force, NPF, the Department of State Services DSS and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC are better equipped for the job. The military, we think, should be left to concern themselves with their constitutional duties, particularly, that of checking external aggression against Nigeria.
Apart from being unconstitutional and uncalled for, OPI across the country at this time will not only exacerbate the existing tension and frustrations in Nigeria, the citizens would be downgraded. The country will be militarised while the international community will also view us as an unsecured nation that is not worthy for investment.
That most Nigerians have either rejected or spoken against OPI at the scale that was put forward by the Army shows that it is not in the interest of the people. Moreso, the fact that sources within the military a few days ago recanted on the OPI and denied ownership of the operation suggests that the operation should be treated with suspicion.
That is why we expect the Presidency to pull the plug on the operation, while the Federal High Court and the National Assembly go beyond suspension of the exercise and cancel it outrightly.
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