His Royal Majesty, Monday Obukowho Whiskey, Udurhie I, is the traditional ruler of Idjerhe (Jesse) kingdom in Ethiope West Local Government Area of Delta State. A Niger Delta activist before he heeded the call of his people to rule to be king over them, he is very passionate about the development of the Niger Delta region as well as the welfare of itd people. He was a chieftain of the Host Communities of Nigeria, oil and gas, HOSCON. He would stop at nothing to offer his royal advice on issues relating to the peace, unity and development of the country. In this exclusive interview, the royal father, among other issues, gave his perpectives on the recent passage of the PIB by the National Assembly, especially the provision for the funding of the Host Communities. He also took a critical look at the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC which, according to him, is dead due to its hijack by some perceived enemies of the Niger Delta in government.
The Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, has just been passed into law by the two chambers of the National Assembly. One of the provisions of the law has to do with the funding of host communities producing oil and gas. While the Senate approved 3% for the host communities, the House of Representatives provided for 5% for same. As a traditional ruler whose kingdom plays host to oil and gas facility, what would be your take on the provisions made for the host communities in the bill?
First and foremost, let me state it very clearly that the position of the Host Communities of Nigeria, HOSCON in the Niger Delta is that 5% is the minimum that they will take as far as PIB is concerned. And that 5% must be structured in such a way that there is no tax on that money and that 5% of the total oil companies’ profit must be remited to the oil producing communities before tax and before any other deductions. You cannot put such money into JIV or any other expenses. It is just like the issue of 13% derivation fund. If you follow what Section 162(2) of the Constitution says, it is 13% of total revenue, and not 13% after any deduction is made.
You see what the Nigerian government is doing. I believe that as a traditional ruler in this area, it is far cheaper to make the people of the oil producing communities comfortable by engaging then as partners in the oil and gas joint venture than using military power and unavailable technology to protect oil installations. I give my Idjerhe kingdom as an example. The huge oil facilities we have here, I made a pronouncement that if you vandalize oil pipeline, you don’t come here to plead, you will go and face the music squarely. So, I have been protecting those installations in my kingdom. But I believe that for whatever good you are doing, there should be reward. As much as we are patriotically protecting the installations for the purpose of national interest, if the reward is coming, it should be commeasurate with the protection and the committment that we are giving.
So, I think that before the President’s assent, there is still a window of opportunity for the two chambers of the National Assembly to take a second look at the grey areas. My kingdom made a presentation in the last public hearing on the PIB. And we are emphatic about 5% that is not taxable and not subjected to any deduction. So, if for instance, an oil company in my kingdom made a billion naira in a month, five percent of that is not even sufficient for the host community. But we are saying let’s start from there. That is my take.
Some persons have interpreted the 3% or 5% to the host communities to mean a percentage of the annual budget of the IOCs and not based on profit they realize. They explained that if it is based on the companies’ profit, there could be a situation where they will declare losses and therefore, nothing goes to the communities. What is your take on that?
The thing is clear. When you say annual budget of a company, it is what you are expecting to produce that you are budgeting for. Idjerhe kingdom has over 30 oil wells and if you know that it will cost you N2 billion to produce from those oil wells in a year, we are saying that 5% of that N2 billion should come to us. It is not from the company’s profit. Afterall, it is not our responsibility to sell the oil you produce. I still can remember vividly that in 2013/2014, I did an exclusive report on the state of the Nigerian oil industry. Then, there was this big issue of stealing of crude oil by the local who operate illegal refineries. The chief campaigner then was Adams Oshiomhole who continued to cry aloud that oil was missing. The allegation was that Niger Delta criminally-minded youths were illegally stealing crude oil in hundreds of barrels for their illegal refinery. And I was wondering that if you go into the creeks and stumble on some of these miscreants engaged in the illegal oil refining process, even if they cook for six months, they will not be able to cook 200,000 barrels of crude oil. Do you know what a barrel is? And I went down to the creeks and did a thorough investigation.
Nigeria is the only country in the world where you bring 10,000 metric tonnes oil tanker to load 2,000 metric tonnes of crude oil. In a normal situation, if you are coming to load 2,000 metric tonnes of crude, you come with a 2,000 metric tonnes capacity tanker. But they were bringing 10,000 metric tonnes tanker, load officially 2,000 metric tonnes and on their way out, top executives in the industry allegedly illegally fill the tankers up to the 10,000 metric tonnes illegally and they sail away. And that was one of the reasons the oil mafias had issue with Tompolo. Tompolo had a company known as Western Coastal Security that had a check point between Nigeria and Benin Republic. So, if you are coming and your papers read 2,000 metric tonnes of crude on board but on inspection, it was discovered your have loaded 10,000 metric tonnes, they will return you back.
All of a sudden, tanks farms started growing every where in the country and you have security operatives who were not doing their job of checking illegal bunkering. Those building these tank farms, where do they get their products from? These were issues. So, the cartel involved saw Tompolo as a threat to their illegal bunkering. The young man knows what his people want and knows how to protect the interest of his people. And the government at that time awarded him that project because he is the only one who had the capacity to do it.
The report I did that time was that oil tankers were loading above the documents they had and paid for. And it was that story that pitched Shell and some other oil companies against government some of which are still in court till today. The funny thing about it is that the Nigerian government does not even know how much of crude oil the country is producing on a daily basis. It is the oil companies that give their unverified reports to the government on the quantity of oil they claim to have produced. Today, it is believed that Nigerian produces about 1.9 million barrels per day. I’m very sure, the IOCs produce more than 3 million barrels per day. These are international criminals. So, the Nigerian government should go back to the drawing board. I advice that nobody who is a staff of the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, should be allowed to work in the high sea for two months. They should be changing them every two weeks. These are the issues. The Nigerian economy is bleeding, but some individuals are smiling to the bank. The government has to sit up. As you are pursuing the issue of insecurity, also pursue more sources of your economic survival.
What are the likely benefits from the involvement of the host communities as parnters in the exploration and exploitation process of oil and gas as derivable from the PIB?
The involvement of host communities will guaranttee two things – security and peace. This is because the communities become partners in a joint venture. All over the world, oil business is done with the collaboration between oil companies and the locals. But if you want to do it alone, whatever problem that comes your way, you will also face it alone. I have a case in point. Seplat oil company operates in my area.
Before I became the king, there was an operational arrangement that does not recognize the royal institution. Their operational arrangement recognized the Community Development Committee, CDC. But the CDC is responsible to somebody. And we, the three traditional rulers of Idjerhe, Okpe and Oben came together and said, young men, as good as your ideas are, trouble bigger than what you are seeing now might come. So, we need to know what is in the offing.
You cannot be signing GMoUs to benefit my kingdom without me seeing a copy of it. We are not in the Nigeria of 1920s when it was believed that royal fathers cannot read. We now have royal fathers who are professors, academic doctors, lawyers and retired generals in the army. Whatever document you are signing in my kingdom, I should have a copy. I should be studying that document like a bible for me to know what you are doing at any time particular.
So, I think the involvement of a critical stakeholders such as the host communities in oil and gas operation will guarantee peace, it will guarantee security. And the federal government does not need to spend any money to protect oil installations if the people are involved. Those you are presently getting involved in protecting the oil are the ones even creating problems to the installations. The greatest number of illegal bunkerers are the security people. Those who do the selling are the security people. They are the people who have contacts with people in other countries to whom they do illegal bunkering with. I think the government should be more proactive now. Go back to your security architecture and give security power to the host communities. I don’t know how Idjerhe community will have a budget of N50 million for pipeline security and one undesirable element will go near the installation with evil intent. Where are you going to go through? Are you going to go spiritual or physical? So, I think the involvement of the people is better for the government.
To manage the percentage of funding allocated to the host communities in the PIB, we learnt a Commission of Host Communities will be set up for that purpose. Looking critically at what is presently happening to the NDDC in terms of its dismal performance to deliver, what would you recommend to be put in place for the expected Community Commission from the PIB?
NDDC started failing when politics started coming in. DESOPADEC failing when politics started coming in. I take the case of the NDDC for instance. I was the first media consultant to the Senate Committee on Niger Delta in 2000. The concept then, was for the oil producing communities to identify projects of interest based on what they have and what they needed. And when the late Senator Fred Brume lost the Senate Committee chairmanship on NDDC, I became a media consultant to the first NDDC Commissioner for Delta State, Prof. Victor Peretomode.
Our year 2000 budget was based on the request from the communities on the projects they wanted. We weren’t duplicating projects then. Samething happened in DESOPADEC. When we started in DESOPADEC, projects were being identifed by locals. There is a community in Gbaramatu where we built a church and the House of Assembly were trying to question why the Commission built a church. This is a major oil producing community and they said that they don’t have a place to worship their God and that they did not get the oil in their land by their own power but from God. And they wrote to the Commission that they wanted a church to be built for them from where they can worship their God. So, we built a church for them.
Another community also wrote that they wanted a health centre and we built an hospital for them. My take is this: whatever agency or Commission you are putting in place from the PIB to take care of the host communities, with the active participation of the communities’ recommendation, the federal government or the oil companies cannot take over. So, let the people have a say and actual participation.
I have two waterworks in Idjerhe today and if you are bringing another waterworks for the same place, you are not helping me. But if you ask me what I want, I would tell you that I want a University. This is because with over 77 communities in Idjerhe kingdom, being the second largest kingdom in Urhobo land, the highest educational institution we have is college. We have 9 government secondary schools in Idjerhe kingdom and 29 primary schools in Idjerhe kingdom, the highest institution we have is a college.
The products from these secondary schools every year, not all can get admission from the outside Universities. So a University in Idjerhe kingdom will offer our children admission opportunities. I think that with the involvement of the people, there will be better understanding between the grassroots and the government.
It took nearly twenty years for this PIB to emerge from the mill of the National Assembly. What is the assurance that the President will give his assent on time to allow for the implementation of this Bill, considering the fact that with recent global development where the rest of the world are shifting emphasis to alternative enery the lifespan of crude oil is numbered. Do you look forward to a speedy assent and implementation of the bill?
Let me shock you that the passage of the PIB is not entirely dependent on the effort of the National Assembly. The oil producing communities on the platform of the Host Communities of Nigeria, HOSCOM, met with the President on two or three occasions. And one of our cardinal demands then was the passage of the PIB. And I know that the President is waiting for the Bill to assent to it. This is because he knows what that means to our people; he knows the kind of security measures that can bring to oil installations. So, I’m confident that it will not take a long time before the President will assent to it. What some of us are emphasizing on now is for the two chambers of the National Assembly to meet and harmonize the difference between 3% and 5% and come up with an acceptable percentage.
Against the continuous public outcry, the Minister of the Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio continues to sit on the progress of the NDDC. When he visited Tompolo in Oproza, he promised to fast-track and inaugurate the substantive board of the Commission by June ending. We are in July now, and he has come up with the excuse of the completion of the forensic audit, which the President seems to have agreed with him. Do we see the end in sight for the inauguration of the board as long as Akpabio remains in charge?
First and foremost, if you go down memory lane, I think, in 2019 when the issue of forensic audit came up, the Host Communities of Nigeria, HOSCOM, issued a very strongly-worded statement where we welcome the idea; where we suggested that the forensic auditors must be daring, must be bold and courageous, and we went down to say that the forensic audit will attract more projects. We were aware that there were a lot of contracts awarded in NDDC in the past but they were not executed. We appreciated the very bad situation in NDDC before the issue of forensic audit came in.
But let nobody hide under the forensic audit for two years to deprive the region of its development; to deprive the region of the statutory board of a developmental agency; to hand over the destiny of a region to an individual who is an interested party of the subject matter of forensic audit. Godswill Obot Akpabio, from all available investigation, is an interested party on NDDC forensic audit. He is a contractor, he was a governor, he nominated people into that agency which he is probing now. In my last interview on the NDDC, I said that Akpabio cannot be trusted. I have my facts about Akpabio just like I know my pants. I know Akpabio very well, I know he is a man of many colours. Give Akpabio the opportunity, he will run NDDC the way he likes till the end of Buhari administration.
Akpabio will come up with enough gimmicks. I have said it before that the forensic audit is a scam. As soon as that publication came up in This Day, the so-called sole administrator started visiting the states. But as at today, they are yet to visit my kingdom to verify NDDC projects that were abandoned. Akpabio no longer functions as the Minister of the Niger Delta. He now functions as the Minister of NDDC.
And it is constitutionally and legally wrong for the President to have nominated people to the National Assembly for the Board, and for the nominees to have been screened and confirmed and you now say you are waiting for the forensic audit before you will inaugurate them. The forensic audit would have been better done under a substantive board.
I’m saying emphatically that Mr. President should do two things – withdraw NDDC from the control of the Ministry of the Niger Delta just as you have the North East Development Commission which is still domiciled in the office of the SGF, to also bring the NDDC to the office of the SGF to avoid the day-to-day interference like Akpabio is doing now. Then two, put your car in the reverse to where the board you personally nominated which was screened and confirmed, and inaugurate them. You do not need an IMC or sole-administrator to carry out forensic audit is and order the inauguration immediately. And while the forensic audit goes on, anybody found wanting should be sent to the anti-graft agency. I welcome the idea of forensic audit, but Akpabio should not use it to deprive the rest of the Niger Delta people their right to needed development. Alright, where is the budget of the NDDC for 2020 and 2021? Who executed them? Where are the projects awarded?
I want to repeat this, the federal government should not encourage illegality and corruption by giving money meant for development to individuals to control. A day is coming when they will give account of any money they illegally collected and illegally spent in the name of NDDC. I think I should also say that if Akpabio wants to run the NDDC, whatever money that comes to the Commission, remove the workers salaries and safely keep the balance because he will account for it someday. When Akpabio came to Oproza and he was sweet-talking to the people, I told them that Akpabio will fail again. What has happened? He has failed again. By the end of July, if you don’t remove the hands of Akpabio from the control of NDDC, nothing will still happen. He will shift the goal post again to November, if not December. And there is this annoying phrase, “if the forensic audit is accepted”, accepted by who? You do investigation to prosecute. We don’t want to know if people have embezzled money or not. They should be prosecuted if found wanting. So, that is my take. NDDC is dead and the only way to wake it up is for a statutory board board to be in place.
So, I want to encourage Mr. President to do the right thing as somebody who believes in due process, take NDDC back from the stranglehold of Akpabio and let it function to the overall benefit of the people of the Niger Delta.
It is public knowledge that Mr. President sent a list of nominees to the Senate for screening and confirmation, which the Senate did accordingly. What then is this new list of nominees which Akpabio is talking about that he will send to the National Assembly?
Akpabio does not have any justification to be talking of another list because nobody is a coward. We know ourselves. Whatever interest that Akpabio represents that is bigger than the overall interest of the Niger Delta, that interest will definitely go down. So, we are insisting that the board of the NDDC which has been screened and confirmed under the chairmanship of His Excellency, Dr. Pius Egberhavbe Odubu and Managing Directorship of Olorogun Bernard Okumagba and other commissioners and executive directors, should be urgently inaugurated. We should not wait for those enemies of this government to come into this matter. This is because, you have pushed the people to the world. Perchance any thing happens, do not summon royal fathers to meetings to facilitate peace because it is going to be a self-inflicted injuries.
Nobody is putting Mr. President under pressure. The cabals around him are the ones misleading this government. The President as a person means very well for the people of the Niger Delta and indeed, the entire Nigeria. If you have the chance to meet him one on one, you will see how patriotic he is towards regional integration and national development. But as soon as you leave him, all those smart guys around him will be doing a different thing. Are you wiser than a man of about 80 years? As a retired military general, he has seen a lot and he has a wealth of experience. My take is that they should go back to that board and inaugurate it; they should not wait for trouble to come.
Akpabio ran to the Niger Delta to look for peace, but I think what will happen next time, he will not be able to run there because he has personally made himself the enemy of everybody. So, I don’t think Akpabio is helping the government. I think he is just out to bring down the APC in the South South.
A few weeks ago, the leadership of the Ijaw National Congress led by Prof. Benjamin Okaba paid a courtesy visit on President Buhari at the Presidential Villa. After the meeting, it was reported that it was agreed between them and the President that the people of the Niger Delta should wait for the completion and submission and acceptance of the forensic audit. A section of the Niger Delta people have criticized the INC for the claim that it visited the President on behalf of the Niger Delta region. The Niger Delta Avengers also criticized the INC for purportedly representing the Niger Delta people, warning that it would strike any moment from now. Do you foresee a situation where the NDDC issue will get out of hand and give way to violence?
But for the intervention of spiritual leaders and royal fathers in the Niger Delta, the situation would have been out of hand by now. However, some of us still believe in the Nigerian State; we still believe strongly that what is right is right; we believe that dialogue still remains the best option of resolving crisis, but that notwithstanding, the visit of the INC National President, Prof. Benjamin Okaba is a visit of an ethnic leader and it ended at that. It is not the visit of leaders of the Niger Delta. If he must speak, then he must speak for the Ijaw ethnic tribe.
There are about 28 ethnic nationalities in the South South of Nigeria. Each of the ethnic nationality has an umbrella body. The Urhobo has UPU, the Isokos, IDU, Itsekiri have their own, the Ijaw have their own, Ikwerre have their own, the Ibibio have their own and so on and so forth. You cannot speak for other ethnic nationality. But if you are speaking for your ethnic body, you are welcome, but you cannot speak on behalf of the entire Niger Delta. And I take it as such.
I want to advice that as a retired military general, President, the President should be courageous enough to face the situation as it is today. The situation is bad already, but through appeals and consultations, we are trying to mend fences and you should not allow those mending fences to break down. So, I want to reiterate that Mr. President should live up to his constitutional responsibility. He should not allow his appointee to set the region on fire for personal interest because, certainly, Akpabio has his personal interest. He has a personal agenda that he is pursuing that is not known to the President. Akpabio should be taking instructions, appointeess take instructions.