17 February 2013, Abuja – Hon Uzoma Nkem-Abonta, a lawyer, represents Abia State in the House of Representatives. He is said to have moved the highest number of motions on the floor of the House. In this interview, he speaks on the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB; Nigeria’s centenary celebrations and other national issues.
The Federal Government is celebrating Nigeria’s centenary. How do you see it?
Well, hundred years is not just hundred days. Anybody who survives or stays alive for hundred years, it is worth celebrating. In Nigeria’s case, I’ll not say that we do not have what to celebrate or why we should be happy but we have more to desire. And I think that we should use the centenary celebration to do a giant leap.
Now we are hundred years since amalgamation; we have no reason to quarrel. It should be celebration of unification. It should be a celebration of advancement. It should be a celebration of achievement. So the necessary roadmap for us to move forward should be laid and integrated in that celebration.
If I understand the Secretary to the Government of the Federation very well, he was saying that it would be fashioned after Singapore, Malaysia and others. I hope we truly do that. Let the Nigerian factor not catch up with the celebrations.
It should be done with the mindset that the people are suffering. It should be done with projection that it will bring revenue, confidence and show maturity. If we are hundred years as a nation, it means we are now mature. In fact, we should no longer be saying that Nigeria is quite young and so on because, at the age of a hundred years as a nation, we should have something to show.
Let this be the real beginning of the road towards development. Not that we budget billions now and treat it like we have seen in other activities, projects in the past. I don’t agree with a situation where in trying to celebrate the centenary, we throw our people into deeper poverty by going to buy 200 BMW cars, etc.
No! we should put in place what will attract investors; what will make people to believe that Nigeria is now a safe haven. So we should copy and copy well. Even India and Sri-Lanka just left a strong civil war but you can see how they’ve grown, what they’ve achieved.
They showcase it. So there is nothing wrong if we also use this opportunity to showcase what we have too. The civil servants should not use that as an opportunity to feed fat on the nation. They should cut the budget very carefully to achieve their target. The concept is good, fair and nice if only and only if we have a focus, what we’re going to achieve and do that effectively, then it’s worth celebrating.
Are you in support of the proposal that government is going to build a centenary city in Abuja that would be purely private- sector driven?
Yes I am. It’s just like when you have free zone. I sponsored a Bill on having trade zones. All over the world, you must have places where you can come in and you know you’re going purely for business. It should not be a mixture of residents and business so that foreigners can come there with a view that they are going to do business.
And the nature of it could be industry, export or manufacturing designated, just like Oneal. If you see what was done there, it is fantastic. Because it is an export free zone, it appears as if you’re not in Nigeria; you’re manufacturing in Nigeria but it is like you’re not working in Nigeria.
So, I quite agree provided only people who can actualize and manage it are sourced and used. And it should not be politicized. It should be properly financed; not when you budget this and you do otherwise. There must be a completion period. For instance, if you start it, you give a time frame that in the next 48 months or three years, it should be completed. But if you take ten years to build it, the purpose is defeated. Ajaokuta is suffering today because of this. So let it not be a white elephant project.
If you get to your constituency and somebody stands up to you saying “Honourable, this whole idea of centenary celebration that you people are introducing, forcing it down our throat, was it part of the agenda for which we voted you? Isn’t it going to be diversionary from the issues which we voted you?” How will you respond?
My response will be that they voted us and our agenda was that we will be there for good governance, development, accountability, sincerity, openness.
The celebration, if it works according to plan, will bring about the realization of the agenda of good governance. If there’s no commerce, how would the constituency survive?
If there’s no exchange of ideas, how would technology be transferred. Let me tell you the open truth, some people abroad are very fearful of Nigeria. But if you create a zone where they can come and do their things at home, they ‘ll come down.
If that happens for instance, we can compel Toyota Japan. We’re not buying your cars again except it’s manufactured in Nigeria. And you tell them go to the centenary camp and set up their factory. You can compel Kia Motors,’ we’re not buying your cars again, go and start here’.
Do you know that Toyota South Africa is among the best? Toyota Dubai, that’s what we use here, not even Japan. South Africa won the best award on BMW better that German the owner. A foreigner comes around to build an industry and he is provided a place where he can operate.
So if that’s what they’re planning, fine. But if they are planning to get some money and buy estates here and there, then there is a big problem. And there should be a rider that nobody in government should own an estate there directly or indirectly.
What is happening to the Petroleum Industry Bill? We are hearing that it may not be passed into law by the National Assembly at the end of the day.
Anybody who wants to kill PIB wants to foment trouble in Nigeria. I’m from Abia State, an oil producing area. Oil shouldn’t be a curse. If you know the effect of oil exploitation and exploration, you’ll weep for the people from the oil producing states.. Until people are opportune to go to these regions and see the level of impoverishment, suffering occasioned by exploration, you’ll not understand the problem.
Do you know that we must change our roofs every 3-5years. Gas flaring, whether you use long span or iron, you must change it because of the immense corrosion. Do you know the level of blindness caused by that emission. Those who live in the riverine areas, their aquatic life is completely gone. You see, when you bring a typical Bayelsa man to Abuja, the first thing is that he wants to kill anybody who comes his way. 90% of Abuja is oil money? And then he lives in rubbish down there.
If we’ll not pass PIB, then you must give us resource control to pay government tax. But anybody who is frustrating it is planning for war, he is trying to cause trouble.
What is annoying some people is that the affected communities are going to be given some money. What is wrong in that? If you do not want that, okay let us go back to the regional basis where we have derivatives of 50% or so. We remember the days of cocoa, groundnut and oil palm etc; so why would the formular change now?
The best part of Ibadan came from cocoa money, the tallest building came from it as well; how about the groundnut pyramid? The east survived on palm oil money. Oil is still oil. Of course palm oil is still expensive than crude oil because a bottle of palm oil is how much? It is about N200. A litre of crude oil is about 9 dollars.
But what i am saying is that those who suffer this deprivation should be able to enjoy some compensation. Let’s copy the American or Dutch formular. In a region where oil is found, they have a way of making the people not to suffer so much. They are partakers in the system.
PIB is there to address and regulate oil sector, make the people who are suffering to also benefit. If you are close to where they do oil exploration, you will not be happy. They cage you. They restrict your movement.
Just like what is happening in Abuja today, the Gwari or Gbagi people, tomorrow, they will wake up and find that there is no land again to call their own. Look at what government is doing with them in the name of settlement. A man is living in a hut with his cattle and farm land.
You go and and build a modern house(2- bedroom) for him. He has seven children. Now he’s going there with the seven children. In the next few years, his children will be 18 and married. Where will they go to? No land, no farm and no school. After few years, you catch up with them there again.
You make them relocate and become permanent wanderers. The day he’ll wake up he’ll be more violent than the Niger Deltan. So why not get a way now and settle them permanently? In America and the UK, they give displaced people where they can live for 50 years and also their children can build. It is not so here. You took a people away from Maitama to Bwari ( all in Abuja) without farmlands. The only farmlands left, you gave it out to people to build shops. So they’re now restricted to those modern huts.
So it’s the same thing with oil. I think that we must look for a common course to address PIB. If they are not satisfied with the clause that seeks compensation for oil communities, they should suggest a figure not to say it will die. But to say that the community should not partake therein because the whole thing belongs to Nigeria, it is unfair.
What is wrong to say give us 10% out of 15 so that we can also manage the problem in our area? If you don’t like that figure, mention your own figure. But they are not doing so. Otherwise give the man the oil to sell it himself and pay you tax like it’s done in other areas.
Then the man will not have cause to complain. So I will suggest that the PIB should be done and very fast too. It is give and take. They’ve drafted it. You see, when we think of it, we’re in problem. For instance, Bayelsa has eight local govts. They’ve oil. Rivers has. And Akwa Ibom. And then this oil is shared on the basis of local government first.
Kano got 44 local governments. So, while Bayelsa is taking eight portions, Kano that has no oil is taking 44. Who has complained? So what we are going to do is that it should not be on the basis of local governments only but on the basis of states also because states have three senatorial districts each. So when sharing the money, you share based on local government, state and federal governments.
If you retain the old formula, some states will get more money because they have more local governments while those that produce oil will get less. Bayelsa will take eight portions, Rivers about 12, Akwa Ibom about 15 while Kano will take 44, Kebbi about 44 portions and you say the PIB won’t survive? I wish them luck.
*Okey Ndiribe and Emman Ovuakporie, Vanguard