From Ndubuisi Orji and Kemi Yesufu, Abuja
There was a rowdy session at the House of Representatives yesterday as members rejected a motion seeking to compel oil companies to relocate their operational and administrative offices to the Niger Delta region.
The motion entitled: “Calling oil companies to establish operational/administrative offices in the Niger Delta area where they engage in exploration and exploitation” was sponsored by Goodluck Opiah (PDP, Imo).
In the motion, Opiah had prayed the House to mandate its Committee on Petroleum Resources to liaise with the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the Ministries of Niger Delta Affairs and Petroleum Resources to review policies and guidelines of oil companies regarding location of their administrative and operational offices.
The legislator stated that there was need for all the oil companies to open offices in the communities where they are engaged in exploration.
He contended that the practice of the companies siting their offices outside their areas of operation is responsible for decisions that are “inconsiderate of the real effects of their exploratory and exploitative activities in those communities, such as pollution, environmental hazards, degradation and under development.”
According to him, “this policy is depriving the indigenes of those communities access to the companies in the event of complaints on their operational activities and is also not making the oil companies to be truly alive to their corporate social responsibilities to those communities.”
Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers), while supporting the motion, dismissed the argument that the Niger Delta was insecure hence the relocation of oil companies to other states outside the region as untenable.
He said, “no part of Nigeria is unsafe”, adding, however, that trouble started when Aminu Shehu Shagari (APC, Sokoto), in his contribution, described the motion as “ill-conceived and inconsiderate.”
According to him, “I think this motion is inconsiderate; it is ill-conceived and should be thrown out. I think the PIB should be allowed to take care of these oil companies.”
The Majority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos) threw his weight behind Shagari, warning that the House will be setting a bad precedence if it allows the motion to sail through.
Gbajabiamila said, “we will be setting a dangerous precedence by compelling oil companies to relocate offices to the Niger Delta region. In business, people have the right to decide based on their entrepreneurial needs.
“We have to note that a business is a corporate entity and you can’t force me to operate here. You can’t change the goal post in the middle of the game. The PIB will take care of all these concerns.”
As the the Majority Leader spoke, he was intermittently interrupted by the Minority Leader, Leo Ogor (PDP, Delta) with several points of order.
The Minority Leader later argued that it is not good for the offices of the oil companies to be sited outside the Niger Delta where they do business.
Ogor said: “I find it totally unacceptable that the Majority Leader is standing in this chamber and saying we do not have the right to tell these companies to relocate operational offices to the Niger Delta. These companies pay taxes to other states while they operate in the Niger Delta.”
As members become very emotional and sentimental about the motion, the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, cautioned that, “there is no need for tempers to flay. I am looking at it from the point of business. I’m not joining the debate but can you tell me as a businessman where to locate my office?”
When the motion was eventually put to vote, those against it carried the day.