Following a critical meeting held last Monday in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, under the aegis of the BRACED Commission, the South-South Governors Forum affirmed to join the Supreme Court suit by the Rivers State Government, insisting that states and not the Federal Government should collect Value-Added Tax (VAT). This is coming on the heels of a similar declaration by five Northern governors to apply for joinder with the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) in the VAT case between Rivers and FIRS pending before the Court of Appeal.
In a communique read by the Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, the region’s governors, among other constraining issues, said they would soon unroll a joint security outfit and called on the Federal Government to put out the report of the forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) recently submitted to the President and quickly appoint a substantive board for the commission.
The governors also called for the relocation of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) headquarters as well as the head offices of International Oil Companies (IOCs) to states in the Niger Delta region. According to them, the request had since been made during a dialogue between stakeholders in the geo-political zone and a Federal Government delegation led by the Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari.
The communique reads, “To unequivocally support states to collect the Value-Added Tax, and resolved to join the suit at the Supreme Court. Council urged the President and the National Assembly to take necessary measures to revisit some unfair aspects of the recently signed Petroleum Industry Bill now Act, to ensure fairness and equity. We urge that the amendment should include a clear definition of host communities and that the trustees should be appointed by the state government.
“Council called on the President and the Federal Government to uphold the law establishing the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by appropriately constituting its board. In addition, we express the hope that the Federal Government will make the forensic audit report public and do justly and fairly with the report to strengthen the capacity of NDDC to meet its obligations to the people of the region.
“Council regretted that the President and the Federal Government entirely failed to give reasonable consideration to requests made by the region during the dialogue with the special delegation led by Professor Ibrahim Gambari, the Chief of Staff to the President. Notable among the requests was the relocation of NNPC subsidiaries and IOCs headquarters to Niger Delta and the completion of a number of projects in the region, notably roads”, Okowa added.
All the region’s governors except Cross River State’s Prof Ben Ayade were in attendance at the meeting presided over by the forum’s chairman, Governor Okowa, with the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, as host and the Director-General, BRACED Commission, Joe Keshi, also present. The BRACED Commission, comprising the six South-South states of Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Delta, is an initiative to advance integration, socio-economic and infrastructural development of the region.
The resoluteness of the governors in holding regular meetings to articulate significant issues affecting the region deserves commendation. They are equally eulogised for the far-reaching resolutions at their meeting. Seen from this angle, they have to make sure that nothing breaks their will to remain united. Those decisions are precarious to the security, safety and well-being of the people of the region. The governors have amply demonstrated that they share the sentiments and aspirations of the people. Similar reciprocity is necessary with other political leaders of the zone, irrespective of party divergence.
Regrettably, Prof Ayade ravishes in putting up recalcitrant or contumacious demeanour towards his colleague-governors in the region by interminably absenting himself from their conclave. The Cross River State governor should not dissimulate and contemplate that all is well when their South-East, South-West and Northern counterparts meet regularly to confer on questions of common concerns, notwithstanding political party disparities. Rather than expressing his dissatisfaction, Ayade should join his viscounts in their renewed efforts to revitalise the once-moribund BRACED Commission to strengthen economic collaboration among the states of the region.
We welcome the governors’ decision to establish a South-South security architecture, like other areas of the country, to complement the nation’s security agencies in the area. The truth is, given the fast regressing security situation in the country, the whole of the Niger Delta region, especially the South-South zone, is under existential threat congruent with other parts of Nigeria. We have a serious security problem. Revelations around the country often emphasise insecurity related to Islamic insurgents in Northern Nigeria, organised armed banditry involving Fulani herdsmen, farmer-herder conflicts, kidnapping and armed robbery.
But insecurity has long been a conundrum in the oil-rich region of the Niger Delta. From the early 2000s, armed militants targeted oil industry infrastructure and made off with expatriates. This perdured until the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua instituted an amnesty programme for militants in 2009. Hostilities petered out but the programme focused predominantly on securing the oil industry. It did not hammer away the overarching insecurity touching on the run-of-the-mill people. Therefore, for the current gambit to succeed, stakeholders in the region must sift through the failures and ascendances of Amotekun, the South West security outfit, to build a similar or better outfit for the South-South.
Again, the South-South governors’ supplemental non-partisan intention to join the VAT lawsuit at the Supreme Court, in solidarity with Rivers State on the position that VAT should be collected by states is creditable as it is estimable. That is nothing short of a demonstration of fraternity. We hail their staunch positions on the Petroleum Industry Act, the NDDC forensic audit report, and their call on the President to uphold the law establishing the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by appropriately re-constituting the board. If heeded, it will certainly chart a new course for the agency.
Similarly, the clarion and persistent calls for the relocation of the headquarters of International Oil Companies (IOCs) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) subsidiaries to the Niger Delta are gratifying. These calls have become one too many. We find it mystifying that the Federal Government has remained impervious to this just demand of the Niger Delta people, thus, withholding from the region conceivable benefits, while the paradoxical realities, arising from the industry, stay put in the region.
Governors from the South-South must be unrelenting in strengthening the BRACED Commission to fast track the economic integration and development of the geo-political zone. Findings showed that what initially glued the governors together was political party affiliation and what wrenched them was individual ambition and party segregation in 2013. This time around, they must rise above those cleavages to give bearing to the revitalised commission.
Still On Soot In Rivers
It was first spotted in parts of Port Harcourt and some neighbouring local government areas like Eleme, Oyigbo, Ikwerre, and Obio/Akpor towards the end of 2016. Residents in these areas complained of ‘black dust’ or soot staining their cloaks or landing on their packed cars overnight. The further the observations gained currency, the more the ‘black dust’ extended to other locations.
Unable to find out the origin, the Rivers State Government, early in 2017, set up a committee headed by the then state Commissioner for Environment, Professor Roseline Konya, to examine the issue. It was the committee that later deciphered the probable cause of the soot, which had continued to advance in magnitude as it spread to other localities.
However, before Konya’s committee revealed its findings, conjectures were prevalent about the possible causes, with some denouncing the Port Harcourt Refinery Company (PHRC) for it. Others indicted a Chinese bitumen manufacturing firm, while many more claimed it was precipitated by the wholesale burning of used tyres by scavengers and the unscrupulous activities of crude oil thieves who employ primitive techniques, notoriously referred to as ‘kpo fire’ in refining the stolen oil.
But following further inquiries or investigations by the state committee, the most likely causes were narrowed down to illegal refining by crude oil thieves and the obscene act of setting ablaze recovered crude and refining facilities of the illegal refinery operators by security agents.
The Konya-led state government committee also revealed as much when she, in another public reaction, affirmed that the state government had been advising security agencies to devise a stronger means of dealing with operators of illegal refineries to curb the escalation of the soot.
In a rather consternating action to find a solution to the obstacle, the Federal Government, through the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, has promised to take a definitive step against the ravaging soot in the state. He pledged while delivering his speech at the 6th National Council on Hydrocarbon held in Port Harcourt that the Federal Government was going to tackle the issue headlong.
Speaking through the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Nasir Gwazor, who represented him at the event, Sylva said he was passionately disturbed about the soot, and assured that his ministry would work with the Federal Ministry of Environment to deal with the issue.
Similarly, the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, represented at the occasion by the state Commissioner for Energy and Natural Resources, Dr Peter Medee, appealed to Rivers people to ward off the temptation of pilfering what naturally is theirs, and in the process destroy oil installations.
He called on the people “to continue to support the efforts of the Federal Government to strengthen the production of crude oil as today, the major chunk of revenue of this country that will drive the sustenance of the economy is from this sector. It is on that note that we call on you to avoid illegal practices and negative tendencies that will affect this noble provision that God has given to us,” said Wike.
To the inhabitants of the oil-rich region, Port Harcourt, and its vicinities, the infiltration of soot has attained an escalation, jeopardising their lives like a Frankenstein monster. Curiously, this dilemma seems to be peculiar to Rivers State among other Niger Delta states where oil bunkering activities take place, indicating that there might be other factors responsible for the peril besides illegal crude refining.
The latest information demonstrates that the country loses an average of 200,000 barrels per day, about 100,000 barrels lost to shut-ins. Unfortunately, government officials, politicians, ex-militants, security forces including the military, are implicated in the oil bunkering business while the Federal Government looks an alternative path. It is believed that oil bunkering unions place security agents on payment to execute their nefarious businesses unhindered. This is a big reproach!
The thriving of illegal refineries in the Niger Delta is to blame for the non-supply of petroleum products by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). The non-availability of petroleum products, chiefly kerosene and fuel, has availed operators of the illegal facilities to saturate the market with these commodities that enjoy the patronage of the public. The refineries have to make the products available to forestall demands for the prohibited items.
The black soot threat calls for immediate and combined efforts to bring it to an immediate end. It is the primary responsibility of both the Rivers State Government and the federal authorities to ensure this. One way to do that is to end illegal refining in the state and confront every group that is involved in the business.
Though the state government has been tackling the hazard single-handedly from inception through several verifiable strategies and initiatives, we believe that with the Federal Government resolve to address the menace, the stage is set for a holistic approach to eliminating the devastation. We, therefore, urge the Federal Government to partner the Rivers State Government and the 23 LG councils in concert with the military and relevant security agencies as a way of complementing the efforts of the state government in ameliorating the sufferings of the people of the state.
We also expect that after 60 years of oil exploration, there should be an environmental audit in the Niger Delta region, particularly in Rivers, following the enormous oil businesses going on in the state. The time to act is now!
Checking Fire Outbreaks In Rivers
Fires caused by tanker accidents, faulty electrical cables or poor wiring, pipeline explosions and malicious activities by illegal crude oil refiners stink to high heavens. Experts are examining the possible fundamental causes of these disasters, hoping to stifle them. Unfortunately, they are in the upsurge, often with recurrences at specific locations.
Recently, fire razed to the ground properties worth tons of Naira at three specific locations in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Last weekend, residential houses at Isiokpo Street, D/Line, in Port Harcourt City Local Government Area and Zenith Bank Plc, situated at Rumuokoro, Obio/Akpor Council, were taken down by inferno.
The third fire incident occurred last Monday at the Bonny/Bille Jetty and burnt several boats, consuming goods and property. It was gathered that the three fire scenes were precipitated by adulterated fuel and kerosene, popularly called “kpofire”. An unconfirmed number of fatalities was reported in the Bonny/Bille incident. Some observers said about 10 persons had lost their lives to the fire, prompting a violent backlash by the mob on sighting the fire service.
The fire outbreak at the Bonny/Bille Jetty occurred following the shipment of food components and illegally refined fuel stocks in the boat with passengers on board. The Rivers State Commissioner for Special Duties, Emeka Onowu, who spoke at the D/Line, where the initial fire event transpired, lamented about the incidents and grimaced at the activities of illegal crude oil vendors.
Recall that in February this year, a fire outbreak destroyed property worth millions of Naira at the Marine Base Timber Market in the old Port Harcourt Township. The cause of the fire could not be directly determined. The incident happened almost five days after a comparable fire occurrence razed property worth millions of Naira at the famous Mile 3 Market.
In October this year, about 20 persons were scorched to death in a fire explosion that cropped up at a forest in Rumuekpe community in Emohua Local Government Area following an illegal artisanal oil refining (Kpofire). It was learnt that one of the cooking pots caused the fire at the site of the oil refining activities whose pipe they interconnected to other pipes which exploded.
There is the probability that it is petroleum products that are responsible for most of the fire escapades. This does not portray the state in a positive light. Hence, the government should take harsh measures against those who participate in the illegal refining of petroleum products, since their operations have moved so many innocent people to their premature graves.
Likewise, gas stations, fuel depots and public and private buildings should ensure that they have fire extinguishers handy as first aid in event of any fire accident. All electrical devices not in usage should be turned off and pulled out from the sockets to suppress electrical sparks from an energy surge. Media outfits have a considerable role to play in informing and enlightening.
Security agents should intensify their endeavours to restrain criminals from gaining access to the outlawed product. Anyone caught in the act should be sanctioned according to law to ward off other felons from attacking government resources that were established for the good of the public. Specifically, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), whose responsibility is to secure the nation’s assets, must be up and running.
Similarly, the state-owned fire service station should be appropriately endowed with contemporary amenities to rescue the situation whenever there is a fire surge. The service has to live up to its statutory mandate of forestalling and mitigating fire emergencies. Firefighters must be proactive by showing up at fire scenes early, combating it and cutting back its spread. They can accomplish this if the state complements their efforts by promoting constant training of the work force.
Government officials and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) should carry out sensitisation campaigns to inform the youths on the need to safeguard public resources in their sphere. Law-abiding citizens should be attentive and declare illegal refining enterprises in their neighbourhoods to law enforcement agents. More fire preventive procedures have to be taken, chiefly as the harmattan season is fast approaching, which is associated with drought and wind.
Unfortunately, ‘the black soot’ wrecking the state’s environment is mainly attributed to the actions of illegal refiners of crude oil in the state. That is why there is a compelling demand for partnership between the Rivers State Government and the federal authorities to end the menace that is mainly answerable for the serial fire eruptions in the state.
A broad-scale investigation should be conducted by the state government to untangle the actual sources of the rattling fire incidents. Recent government pronouncements to set up a panel of inquiry are laudable. This will not only reveal the origins of the fires, but provide a remedy to them. Forestalling fire incidents is a collective obligation. Precaution and alertness are required.
NASS’ Attempt To Trivialise NDDC
This followed a debate on a Bill for an Act to amend the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) for the inclusion of new oil-producing areas and states (into NDDC) and other matters connected therewith sponsored by Senator Adeola Olamilekan (Lagos West). The bill, seeking to domicile states that have realised the status of oil-producing states into the NDDC, was first read in the Red Chamber on 17th December, 2019.
Arguing for the bill, Olamilekan said following the discovery of crude oil in Alkaleri Local Government Area of Bauchi; Badagry in Lagos; and Ipokia in Ogun States, they should officially join the consortium of oil-producing states in Nigeria. The senator claimed that they were entitled to the 13per cent derivation due to oil-producing states in line with Section 162 Sub-Section 2 of the Nigerian Constitution.
The Lagos senator also said the inclusion of the new oil-producing states in the Act was cost-effective and followed precedence. “In conclusion, this amendment is to accord the same provisions of the law amongst other benefits accrued to oil-producing states in Nigeria to the new oil-producing states and future oil-producing states,” Olamilekan said.
Expectedly, senators from the Niger Delta region characterised the Bill as parsimonious and dead on arrival. The Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, depicted Senator Olamilekan as a meddlesome interloper while rejecting his filibuster. Omo-Agege said dealing with the 13per cent derivation was not an issue.
“To us, that is not an issue. The issue is whether or not just because they are oil-producing states they should come under NDDC. The commission is a regional development commission. We must draw a distinction between the NDDC and the oil and mineral producing commission,” said Omo-Agege.
Similarly, Senator George Sekibo (PDP-Rivers East) said: “I congratulate these states where my friend said they have discovered oil. What I don’t know is whether the oil is in commercial quantity and they are drilling them out for sales and the money going to Nigerian coffers. That one, he has not expatiated on that one. Are they exploring oil; are they refining oil in these places and has the oil caused any devastation in that environment?”
Also, Senator Matthew Urhoghide (PDP–Edo South) submitted: “I’m not particularly against the sponsor of this bill. I just believe that the bill should be properly posited. The area that constitutes Niger Delta is very clear. The nine states of the Niger Delta region are very clear. Today, what each state gets from the 13% derivation is a function of production. Gombe is fast becoming a host community; Bauchi and some other states. But to say these states belong to the Niger Delta region is not possible.”
Each time the minority stand to benefit from a policy or law in the country, it will be blubbered and invalidated. Such is the case here. We are in support of the senators from the South-South region for their unmitigated rejection of the bill to include Bauchi, Lagos, Ogun and other states in the NDDC Act. The bill is provocative, subversive and a premeditated undertaking to smuggle into the NDDC Act some non-contiguous states that defy the definition of the Niger Delta as a geographical entity.
This development is a bid to all the leaders and well-meaning indigenes of the Niger Delta to advance and speak against the systematised move by the Federal Government to extirpate the region. While we commend Omo-Agege, Sekibo, Urhoghide and other members of the Senate for their stand on the bill, we specifically urge the youths to back them on their audacious and commendable rejection.
The position of the opposing senators indicates that in the National Assembly, there are still men of honour from the Niger Delta region, unlike others who have kept on treating their region with disdain despite the transient positions they are holding. The bill for the inclusion of these strange bedfellows in the NDDC confirms the age-old view that the region has indeed become a toy to be played with by some Abuja politicians and the Federal Government.
This bill is obnoxious and reprehensible. Our opinion is that such states should be merely described as oil-producing and made to enjoy just 13per cent derivation and not be included in the interventionist agency because it is meant to serve the development expectations of the Niger Delta based on the deprivation and environmental degradation of the area, which is part of the recommendations of the 1958 Willinks Commission Report.
If oil is found in Anambra, Kogi, Bauchi and Lagos States, there is an extant law that states 13percent should be given to them but that should not qualify them as Niger Delta states. If crude oil is found in Kano, it should relish the 13per cent but the NDDC should remain to address the intrinsic challenges of the people. If, for instance, all the states become oil-producing, will they be known as members of NDDC?
That is why we think that the ongoing amendment of the NDDC Act to include non-Niger Delta oil states amounts to bastardisation and is offensive. If allowed to stand, it means the very essence of recognising the region as having its peculiar challenges and needs to be addressed so that it can catch up with the rest of the country in terms of infrastructure, amenities, capacity development, among others, will be defeated.
Rather than embark on a gratuitous amendment of the NDDC Act, our Distinguished Senators should mount pressure on the Federal Government to inaugurate a substantive board for the commission, publish the forensic audit report on the agency to demonstrate its commitment to openness to underscore the integrity of the entire process and bring to completion the means for the recovery of funds from contractors, firms, politicians, and staff indicted by the forensic audit report. That is the way to go.
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