FRESH indications of the sleaze in the nation’s oil sector may soon emerge as the Senate investigates the sale of N175 billion OPL 245 oil block to Malabu Oil and Gas Limited in alleged controversial circumstances.
A rash of allegations of corruption over the oil deal was kept on the front burner as the Senate resolved to commence investigation into the matter shortly before it adjourned sitting yesterday.
The Senate also confirmed two Supreme Court justices and received the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) forwarded by President Goodluck Jonathan. Kumai Bayang Akaahs and Stanley Shinko Alagoe were confirmed as Justices of the Supreme Court. The Senate begins its 2012 annual recess today. The chamber will reconvene on September 17.
Delta State Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan has pleaded with members of the National Assembly to accelerate the passage of the PIB.
The decision to investigate the oil deal followed a motion moved by Senator Abdul Ningi (Bauchi Central) and 46 others.
In the lead debate, the Senate noted that Nigeria signed up to the global Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in 2003, began implementation in 2004 and later supported the policy with the Nigerian Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI) Act 2007. The objective of the Act as encapsulated in Section 2(a and c) of the Act, included ensuring due process and transparency in payments made by all extractive industry companies to the Federal Government and statutory recipients.
The Act also sought to eliminate all forms of corrupt practices in the determination, payment, receipts and posting of revenue accruing to the Federal Government from the extractive industry companies.
The Senate , however, expressed worry over recent clamour for a review of “circumstances surrounding a tripartite transaction involving the Federal Governemnt, Shell/Agip as well as Malabu Oil and Gas Limited in respect of Oil Bloc referred to as OPL 245.”
Concerned that reports emanating from various quarters had raised legal and ethical issues surrounding the transaction and pattern of distribution of proceeds to beneficiaries, lawmakers stressed that if all the weighty allegations were ignored, Nigeria may be sanctioned by EITI for violating a global initiative to which it is a signatory and accordingly resolved to investigate the sale.
But the resolution attracted opposition from Senator Heineken Lokpobri (Bayelsa West), who argued that as the highest making body, the chamber should not wade into an issue it knew little or nothing about.
“I rise to oppose this motion in its root, stem and branches. The Senate as the highest law-making body should not be made to go on a voyage of this nature. There must be sufficient fact to make Senate decide whether there would be investigation or not.
“The first issue is whether you can sell what you do not have because the bloc does not belong to the Federal Government and it cannot sell what it does not have,” he said.
According to him, the controversial oil bloc was allotted to certain individuals by the late Gen. Sani Abacha during his administration and was later revoked by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
“When Chief Olusegun Obasanjo came into power, he purportedly revoked those licences and these companies went to court and the court declared the revocation null and void and as such, the oil blocs were restored to the companies including Malabu Oil and Gas. The truth was that when Obasanjo revoked this, he gave it to Shell in 2002,” he said.
The President of the Senate, David Mark, who claimed to know nothing about oil, ruled that there was no crime in the Senate investigating the entire situation with a view to putting the controversy to rest.
“I know close to nothing about oil bloc and what I want to ask is whether there is anything wrong with a Senate committee investigating these facts and bringing them to us,” he said.
In a letter read by Mark, President Jonathan said: “I hereby present for your kind consideration and enactment into law by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).”
The upper chamber also received a budget proposal of N250 billion being the 2012 appropriation for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) from President Jonathan.
In his letter, the President stated that the commission had submitted a budget proposal of N250, 857,930,000 only for 2012. It was also noted that the budget aimed at consolidating the ongoing efforts to effectively impact on the region.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Ita Enang, who briefed journalists after the plenary, assured that the PIB, reintroduced by the President would not suffer unnecessary delay.
“I want to urge Nigerians to exercise patience. We have just received this bill and I know it is in our character that pressure will be mounted and press campaigns mounted that the National Assembly has just taken the bill and has gone on recess and that they do not take it seriously.
“We will be very reasonable in our consideration of the bill knowing the importance that it has in investment in the petroleum sector. But please let there be reasonable reactions and comments”, he prayed.
On the circulation of several versions of the bill, Enang assured that the Senate would pass the very version that was sent by Jonathan.
According to him, “The version of the bill that is being considered by the legislature is the same version that was circulated on the floor of the Senate today and would immediately be published in the journal. This version would be published in the next few days because we would want everybody to be on the same page to avoid mischief.”
Enang also expressed worry that the NDDC spending proposal was coming rather very late to the Senate.
“We have just received the NDDC budget today, July 19 and this is the budget for 2012 coming on the last day of the Senate’s sitting. We will take the bill when we return in September.”
Uduaghan, who spoke when the National President of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff (PENGASSAN) visited him in Asaba yesterday, said the passage of the PIB bill would help sanitize the petroleum industry and enhance the development of the oil producing areas.
He explained that the Delta State government believed in the bill and would support its passage to help solve the developmental issues in the Niger Delta region and ensure lasting peace in the region.
He said: “For us in Delta State, we believe that there must be sanity in the petroleum industry. We have resolved that once the details of the bill are made public, we will look at it and ensure that it be implemented.”
The National President of PENGASSAN Babatunde Ogun, promised that his union would continue to partner the Delta State government because of the labour-friendly environment created in the state.
He commended the governor for ensuring that there was less Labour crisis in the state stressing that his administration had done much in the development of the state.
He appealed to the governor and his colleagues in the Niger Delta to help the union canvass the speedy passage of the PIB and its implementation to enhance transparency in governance for the development of the region.
The Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, said the new PIB was radically different from the version in the social media.
The minister made the clarifications while receiving a delegation of the United States of American government led by Mr. Michael Froman, a Deputy Assistant to the President of the United States and Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economic Affairs.
Alison-Madueke said besides the watermarks bearing her own handwriting on every page, the draft bill was locked in with a code such that no one could add to or remove anything from it without the code, explaining that she took the pain to secure the document to avoid the type of duplication that led to the emergence of fake versions of the old PIB which created confusion in the National Assembly.
Meanwhile, some civil society groups (CSOs) have called on President Jonathan to summon the necessary political courage to sign the bill into law upon passage by the National Assembly.
A roundtable organized by the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) in Abuja yesterday, provided an opportunity for CSOs, Labour movement, media and rights groups to get a de-briefing from the CSO-labour representative on the PIB special taskforce and as well analyse the outcome of the committee’s work toward initiating strategies to get the National Assembly to pass the bill into law with minimal rancour as was the case in the last legislative sessions.
The President of the Trade Union Congress, Peter Esele, who represented the civil society groups and Labour unions on the task-force said the overall interests of the Nigerian people guided the draft.