The Senate's debate on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) yesterday sparked a rift between northern senators and their counterparts from the Niger Delta region.
The second reading of the bill witnessed a technical hitch as all the senators in the chamber first observed that copies of the lead debate given to them were different from what Senate Leader Ndoma-Egba was reading. Senate President David Mark quickly asked Ndoma-Egba to hold on for 10 minutes for the errors to be corrected.
After the lead debate was finally read, Mark asked if there was any senator from Borno and Yobe states that would like to contribute to the debate.
Senator Alkali Jajare (PDP, Yobe South) rose up to say a lot of issues in the bill ought to be streamlined. He specifically faulted the provisions seeking additional 10 percent revenue for oil-producing communities and the "wild and excessive" powers proposed for the petroleum minister.
Senator Ahmed Lawan (ANPP, Yobe North) said he supported the bill with "massive reservation" because Section 9 of the bill, rather than addresses the needs of Nigerians, merely makes oil-producing states to see other states as parasitic states.
"We must search for oil wherever we can find it. Oil should be explored across the nation. Development should be targeted at people. How can certain states, after taking about N11 trillion in the name of derivation for 10 years tell us they haven't got enough? So far, the NNDC has got N2.8trn, amnesty programme in the Niger Delta has just gulped N250bn enough; while the north has got nothing. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. There should be no provision for the Host Community Fund in this bill. Those of us from non-oil producing states are tired. Nigeria belongs to us all and the oil belongs to Nigerians," Lawan said.
Senator Lawan drew the ire of Niger Delta senators when he cited an editorial from ThisDay newspapers which linked the lack of development in the region to the failure of the state governments there.
Senator James Manager (PDP, Delta South) cut in, saying "Senator Lawan should be careful and conscious of his utterances. How can he say governors in the oil producing states are a failure? Our standing order forbids senators from using insulting language."
Mark quickly waded in, saying "Lawan just quoted a newspaper to say that monies meant for the oil producing communities have been misappropriated and that if this is the case, those governors should be regarded as a failure. Manager, I therefore ruled you out of order."
Senator Heineken Lokpobiri (PDP, Bayelsa) tackled Mark by quoting Order 56 of the Senate Standing Rules which, according to him, forbids senators from reading newspapers on the floor of the Senate. "The Order 53 (2), which Lawan cited, only allows a senator to read extracts from books, not newspapers," Lokpobiri said.
But Mark warned thus "we should allow this debate to flow freely. Lawan can make reference to newspapers as he has done."
Senator Ifeanyi Okowa (PDP, Delta North) argued that some senators were dwelling on the perceived defects of the bill and disregarding its strengths because they were ill-informed. According to him, the 10 percent host community fund will not short-change any state as it is just the net profit of the oil companies emphasised in the bill.
Senator Isa Galaudu (PDP, Kebbi North) out opposed the bill, saying "I disagree that the Host Community Fund won't affect what goes into the Revenue Consolidated Fund. I disagree because it is tax deductable which means that portions of it will short-charge the beneficiaries of the Revenue Consolidated Fund."
Senator Benedict Anyade (PDP, Cross River North), who described the criticisms trailing the bill as both genuine and "icono-political," expressed concern over the perceived failure of oil producing states' governors to justify the spending of the N11trn spent in Niger Delta in the last 10 years.
Anyade however asked his colleagues to rise above emotions and sentiments and allow the 10 percent revenue proposed for the host communities which, according to him, are in deplorable conditions.
Also against the bill on account of the proposed Host Community Fund and the "excessive powers for petroleum minister" are Senators Ibrahim Gobir (PDP, Sokoto East), Danladi Sankara (PDP, Jigawa North-West) and Abubakar Bagudu (PDP, Kebbi Central).
Senator Nkechi Nwaogwu (PDP, Abia) warned that the crisis in the Niger Delta would be escalated if the host communities are denied the proposed 10 percent oil revenue; while Senator Elen Esuene (PDP, Akwa Ibom) simply said that the host communities should not be allowed to suffer.
Senator Bukola Saraki (PDP, Kwara Central) warned against focusing on issues dividing the Senate on the bill, saying though "the bill cannot stand the test of time; we should work on it to make it better. Let's move away from all the controversial issues in the bill."