Anabs Sara-Igbe is a prominent Niger Delta activist and immediate past spokesman for the Pan Niger Delta Forum. He is currently a member, Board of Trustees of PANDEF and the National Coordinator of the South-South Elders Forum. In this interview with DENNIS NAKU, he says the PIB passed by the National Assembly is a rape on the people of the region
What is your reaction to the Petroleum Industry Bill recently passed by the National Assembly?
Well, it is quite unfortunate that the PIB, as it was passed, is another rape on the people of the Niger Delta. It is a rape in the sense that you take everything we have and give it to somebody else, who dosen’t produce. You give us three per cent and give somebody else 30 per cent. It is a total rape again in the way they define host communities. What it shows is that there is a gang-up against the Niger Delta. But I believe that the God that saved the Israelites from Egypt will save the Niger Deltans from their oppressors.
That is the reason why we need to restructure this country. And until this country is restructured, all of us cannot have peace. All of us will not be happy. All of us will not see ourselves as one. We need to restructure to reflect the true situation of things in the country. You cannot mine gold, sell and collect the money. But, when it comes to oil, you say it belongs to the Federal Government. We are talking of compensation for host communities and you now share it into host pipelines and host communities.
If you look at it critically, the host or oil bearing communities today are still living in squalor. They are living in excruciating poverty. Many oil bearing communities are living like destitute. About 80 or 90 per cent of them today are without electricity and without water and no good hospitals too, yet the environment is polluted and degraded.
The oil companies have been deceiving and cheating us with Environmental Impact Assessment projects, which they never implement and nobody cares. And this is how they have been oppressing us. And they think they can continue to oppress us. It is quite unfortunate that what is happening today is still happening in Nigeria that communities that are bearing oil are not benefitting from the oil they produce, while those who don’t bear the oil are the ones benefitting. So, it is unacceptable. We totally condemn it. And I don’t think any part of Niger Delta is happy with the bill.
What will be your definition of the term ‘host communities’?
Host communities normally are those that are hosting the oil companies. Somebody, who is housing another person. You cannot call a guest the host. It is the owner of the house that is the host. The owner of the oil field is the host. The environment where oil is produced is the host. It is a simple English language. You don’t need to open the dictionary to know what the host is. So, host communities are those communities that are producing oil and gas. That is, the communities.
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How do you feel about the 30 per cent approved for frontier exploration in the PIB?
That is what I am saying. You are giving those who are already producing, those you have degraded, those whose environment you have polluted and those you have impoverished three per cent. And you are giving 30 per cent to the North. Is it fair? It is not fair and it is unjust. It is inequitable. We need to live in an egalitarian society where we see ourselves as equals, brothers and sisters. But the situation today in the country is such that a particular group of people, because the military has made a constitution that favours them, they use the constitution to oppress the rest parts of the country. God will liberate us one day.
During the public hearings, some stakeholders advocated 10 per cent. Would it have been okay if that was approved?
The original recommendation was 10 per cent. Even if you look at the 10 per cent that was recommended in the original bill, it is not going to those communities. But that would have been fairer than the three per cent they gave to us now.
The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, allegedly said recently that whatever was approved in the PIB for the Niger Delta people would be accepted. How will you react to that?
Well, I have told you that the Niger Delta leaders have spoken at different forums and at different levels. And I don’t think Akpabio is speaking for the Niger Delta.
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There is some controversy around the 13 per cent derivation of oil revenue, which seems not to be trickling down to the people. How can the people begin to enjoy it directly?
These are some of the things I have been advocating all this while. The problem of the Niger Delta is the Niger Delta itself. We have advocated 13 per cent. But as I speak to you, the governors are using the 13 per cent as their personal money. They don’t use it to develop oil bearing communities. That is why the oil bearing communities are still living in squalor. And that is why I call on my fellow leaders to hold the government accountable. Is it only the 13 per cent derivation? What of the Niger Delta Development Commission? The NDDC too has not been able to address the problems of the communities. So, we are in trouble. But I believe that one day, something will happen.
Do you think the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd,) should give assent to the PIB?
I don’t think it (bill) has got to the President. The National Assembly’s joint committee needs to sit on it because the House of Representative recommended five per cent and the Senate recommended three per cent. So, they have to harmonise. We are waiting for them to harmonise their positions before it can go to the Presidency. So, we have called on the nation and we have called on everybody that wants to listen that we are not happy with the recommendations. So, if Mr President wants to assent to it, he is on his own. But I believe that one day we will be liberated.
Do you think members of the National Assembly from the Niger Delta region have further roles to play in this whole scenario playing out concerning the PIB?
Well, whatever role they have to play, they have tried their best. You see the constitution is a fraud. The constitution has tilted towards a particular region. So, whatever you do, when it comes to voting, those that are benefitting from the fraudulent constitution will outvote them, including the entire Southern Nigeria. The South-South and especially Southern Nigeria alone cannot solve the problem, because this is not a party affair. It is a regional matter. So, we need God’s intervention. That is all I can say.
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You are a strong advocate of restructuring. Do you think it will address some of the imbalances in the Nigerian federation?
Of course, restructuring will address them. How can you say Bayelsa State that is producing so much oil has only eight local governments and its share of the national revenue is for only the eight LGAs, while Kano State is having 44 local governments and also sharing from the revenue for the 44 LGAs when they are not producing as much as what Bayelsa is producing? Restructuring will be able to look at the constitution and make it in such a manner that everybody will be able to say yes, we are one Nigeria now. We are all happy. And the only way we can do it is through fiscal federalism as well as balancing the imbalances in our constitution.