By Cosmas Omegoh (Lagos), Gyang Bere (Jos), Femi Folaranmi (Yenagoa), and Sylvanus Viashima (Jalingo)
The National Assembly is currently on the spot for sundry reasons.
These border on the controversial Petroleum Industry Bill, Nigerian Press Council (NPC) Act Cap N128 Act Amendment Bill, Electoral Act Amendment Bill, and the Anti-Mob Action Bill.
Constitutionally, the primary responsibility of the legislature is to make law for the good governance of the country. But when in the performance of this onerous duty, the actions of the lawmakers are being called to question, then something fundamental is amassing. For all they care, there is a perceptible feeling of sinister motive for the adoption of these bills, hence the deluge of criticisms by the relevant stakeholders.
Outrage over PIB
In retrospect, the PIB had been initiated almost two decades ago to reform NNPC’s governance structure and address particular environmental and social concerns of the oil-bearing communities in the Niger Delta. But from the outrage that has continued to trail the three per cent allocation to the host communities vis-a-vis 30 per cent operational cost assigned for frontier oil exploration in the River Basin, the bill appears to be another missed opportunity for the oil-rich region to get justice for years of environmental neglect and deprivation the host communities had suffered.
A former House of Representatives member, Edward Pwajok, while speaking with Sunday Sun, argued that concerns of the host communities and other stakeholders had not been adequately taken care of by the bill.
“I do not support the huge allocation for further exploration. Oil is a finite resource and the increasing use of alternative sources of energy may very soon make nonsense of any investment in the oil sector,” he said.
Senator Joel Ikenya, who represented Southern Taraba senatorial district in the 7th National Assembly and a former minister in the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, said he would rather adopt the position of the House of Representatives on the PIB that gave five per cent to host communities as against the Senate’s three per cent.
His words: “Since the oil producing states already enjoy 13 per cent derivation funds and have the Ministry of Niger Delta as well as the Niger Delta Development Commission, the agitation of the people of the area for 15 per cent to host communities should rather be channeled towards ensuring that all the derived funds are prudently utilised to bring development to the area.”
But an Ohanaeze Ndigbo chieftain, Chief Goody Uwazuruike, disagreed with the submission, saying: “I’m aware that PIB is supposed to be a well thought out bill partly for the benefit of oil-producing communities. They are the ones most affected by oil spillage.
“Now, they included those communities where pipelines passed through donkey years ago and areas where oil is being explored as beneficiaries.
“I can say without fear of contradiction that those who proposed that bill in its present form are actually wandering in the doldrums. When you are in the doldrums there is no direction.
“They really didn’t want the PIB to see the light of the day to the satisfaction of those concerned, hence they are trying to muddle it up in such a way that all the oil communities will be angry with them and they are actually up in arms.
“For the people who did this – who are enemies of Nigeria – allocating three per cent, five per cent to the oil communities, I say God may you not bless us with such people again. They are agents of distabilisation.
“The purpose of compensation for the oil-producing areas is that the man who owns the farm where the oil is found automatically losses his land, and his means of livelihood. That is what the PIB is supposed to take care of.
“Two, those who owned the land where the pipelines passed were compensated years ago after the Federal Government acquired such land.
“Three, those who are busy looking for oil where there is none, are wasting money. Oil is a commodity that is declining in utility to the world. That is why oil firms are selling off their assets and moving away. And now you want to allocate more money to continue to do what had been done in the past 40 years without any result?
“It is not in the interest of Nigeria that the PIB Bill promulgators are working. And now the oil communities have said it: ‘if you want oil to flow, it is 15 per cent or nothing.’”
Distrust for exclusion of electronic transmission of results
Although the Senate has modified its earlier position by approving electronic transmission of results as part of the amendment of the Electoral Act, most Nigerians have accused the lawmakers of acting a script written by outsiders for attempting to jettison the idea in the first place. The amended version adopted by the Senate after voice votes and votes counted during division states that “INEC may consider electronic transmission of results provided the National Network coverage is adjudged to be adequate and secure by the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC).”
A former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Attahiru Jega, voicing his opposition against the Electoral Bill, said: “You can’t permit INEC on one hand to use electronic voting and not use electronic transmission of results because usually, they go as a package.
“Once there is robust software and hardware for doing so, it now brings efficiency, transparency and real-time ability to see the result as they are transmitted from the polling unit to a National Collation Centre.”
He, however, expressed fear that poor infrastructure might come in the way of its full realisation.
Speaking in the same vein, Pwajok lambasted lawmakers for rejecting the transmission of election results electronically and called for the conduct of 2023 election in line with modern trends.
“It is necessary at this stage of our development to expose those who want to retard our progress or undermine our democracy,” he said.
Chief Uwazuruike, on his part, argued that “the Electoral Bill is like someone saying I have a touch, it is working. But I will not flash its light. You light a lamp and put a bucket to cover its light.
“In this country today, if I want to transfer money to my children, I do it electronically. In this country today, any time we have COVID-19 issues, all our transaction is done electronically. In this country today, when the children take examinations, the results are transmitted to them electronically. In this country today, there is nothing we can do now without electronic transmission.
“It is, therefore, bewildering that grown men and women sat down to say ‘yes, we will do electronic voting, but no electronic transfer of results. In other words, they have really set the stage for the rigging of 2023 elections.”
The spokesperson of the National Consultative Front, Dr. Tanko Yunusa, maintains that the final copy of the Electoral Amendment Bill does not represent the interests of the Nigerian people.
“We, therefore, consider it a forged document that must not be substituted for our legitimate demands. The National Assembly should give us an electoral law that will stand the test of time in promoting credible elections,” he was quoted as saying.
Also, a group of 42 Civil Society Organisation (CSO), Alliance of Civil Society Organisations for Expansion of Electoral and Democratic Space, expressed disappointment at the National Assembly for the way they handled the Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
Speaking on behalf of the group, former Chairman of Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), Mr Sam Amadi, said: “The worst thing that anyone can do for the government and people of this country is to deliberately implant an electoral process that is not credible.
“If it is passed, we would perceive it as an elite conspiracy to ensure Nigeria fails as a country.”
Other prominent Nigerians, including the former Speaker of House of Representatives, Umar Ghali Na’Abba, and Prof Pat Utomi have rejected some of the provisions of the bill, describing them as an invitation to anarchy.
Anti-Mob Action Bill draconian
Responding to the proposed Anti-Mob Action Bill, Chief Uwazuruike noted that “the truth is that it is one of those draconian laws the world has been running away from
“Soviet Union practised draconian laws and when the opportunity came for a break away, they did.
“So, let’s not go back to emulate iron-fisted rulers. Let’s go to emulate modern rulers. Liberalisation is a process; modernisation is a process; to say because there is mob action you start talking about life imprisonment is actually not correct.”
Controversial NPC amendment bill
Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Information, National Orientation Ethics and Values, Hon Segun Odebunmi, assumed a damaged reputation for sponsoring the bill for an amendment of the Nigeria Press Council.
In a sharp reaction to the bill, Pwajok described the move as “unfortunate,” adding that it’s pathetic that in the 21st Century, some leaders were still contemplating tinkering with the fundamental rights of citizens.
“This should be resisted. We are supposedly in a democratic country and not a fascist or totalitarian state. If those who are saddled with the responsibility of governance cannot operate within the checks and balances which the media (including social media) represent, then they should resign and allow those who can work within the system which guarantees freedom of expression and the right to impact knowledge and receive the same come on board,” he said.
A similar sentiment had earlier been echoed by Speaker Gbajabiamila who rejected the move to gag the press, saying: “I will not be part of any bill that will seek to gag the press; no bill will come to the floor of the House that seeks to gag the press because the press is supposed to be the voice of the people.”
He added: “There is press freedom and there is freedom of expression; it is important for Nigerians to listen to one another and understand one another so that we can make progress as a nation.
“There is nowhere in the world where freedom of expression is absolute, freedom of expression is limited to the extent that it does not affect another person’s freedom.”
Uwazuruike said “Everything about the NPC control is a reincarnation of Decree 4 of 1984. And you remember that the greatest beneficiary of a free press is Lai Mohammed followed by Buhari.
“Lai Mohammed and the rest insulted Goodluck Jonathan so much so that he said of himself: ‘I’m the most abused president’ and no one arrested Lai Mohammed for one day.
“Even Buhari then said a lot, insisting that petrol subsidy was a fraud, and nobody gagged the press for publishing that.
“Now, for a group of people to sit down and say they want to reduce our freedom of information, to gag us, they are enemies of Nigeria and I so proclaim. They should retire from politics.”
Already, the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and Newspaper Publishers Association of Nigerian (NPAN) in their sponsored advertorial, have vehemently opposed the NASS move, insisting that “information blackout – this is what the Federal Government wants to achieve with the NPC and NBC (Media) Act amendment bills.”