The passage of a bill amending Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Act, primarily to ensure the company remits three per cent funding to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), by the House of Representatives has been met with varying reactions, with some oil and gas sector stakeholders describing the proposed law as more harmful than useful. This is despite being applauded by majority of people from the Niger-Delta. Sponsor of the bill and Minority Leader of the House, Hon. Leo Ogor in this interview with KEMI YESUFU and NDUBUISI ORJI speaks on why he insists amendment of the law is the thing to do. He also spoke on the seemingly unending crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and why working with Senator Ali Modu-Sheriff is not an option for him.
Your bill to amend the NLNG law, which passed third reading in the House, has been described by some industry watchers as more detrimental than it is advantageous to the country. Don’t you think the worry expressed by these stakeholders is valid?
I think it is important that the Nigeria people hear the other side of the story. Here is a company that commenced operations almost 29 or 30 years ago and they have been enjoying this (Fiscal incentives, Guarantees and Assurances) incentive for the past 27 years. There is no place in the world where you will have unlimited period of enjoying incentives. Incentives some are for five years, maximum ten years. The NLNG has enjoyed these incentives for 27 years. And it is so sad that a lot of Nigerians don’t know that the Federal Government owns 49 per cent stake in this company, which makes it the largest shareholder. It is one of those joint ventures with the International Oil Companies (IOCs), while the IOCs have 51 per cent. How can you enjoy incentives for 27 years in a country where people are suffering and dying on a continuous basis? What we said is that: NLNG, there is need for you, knowing too well that the Niger Delta zone where you are operating from has a development commission. And in line with laws of that commission, you are supposed to as a gas processing company, contribute three per cent of your turnover to the commission and even this three percent is tax deductible. It is also important that Nigerians know that some of these contracts signed by the NLNG in respect to the gas that they are buying and exporting are ridiculous. They are getting this gas at the price of one-dollar per-cubit feet. When even those that are buying the same gas that they are exporting, buy it $2.5, plus the cost of transportation of 80 cents, which brings it to $3.30. And they are buying this product for just one dollar, yet they are the ones complaining.
But some argue that the NLNG has really invested in the region, through plenty of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects. In fact, the company recently mentioned that it is willing to partly fund the Bonny-Bodo Road with N60billion. People have even asked how well NDDC has done with what it has been getting?
That is not the issue. The issue now is that there is a law of the land. There is an enactment of the National Assembly, which requires them (NLNG) to contribute three per cent. They have no right, no business to refuse paying that three per cent, because it is expected that those that have suffered this oil degradation, this whole crisis of pollution, should have some succour. How do they do this? It isfrom these interventions that are coming from the NDDC and these interventions from the commission have helped state governments.
But the NLNG is pointing to Fiscal Incentives, Guarantees and Assurances aspect of its law, which covers…
(Cuts in), The law does not give them any open-ended exemption. Be mindful of the fact that the law itself came as a decree. It is not an open-ended law. These tax exemption cannot be for 20 years, 30 years. Tax exemption is not an open-ended situation. If there is an exemption, it must be qualified for a period. And even the law that they are quoting says 10 years for tax exemptions. Why won’t they respect the laws of the land? Our take is that this whole unacceptable blackmail should stop. Let NLNG come out and tell us which country in the world has such an open-ended policy, where you enjoy tax incentives forever. The bill is even to their advantage, as far as I am concerned, because the development of the place will bring in enough security.
You are sounding very confident that your bill will get concurrence from the Senate and it will be signed into law by the president?
Sure. It will be signed.
Even with the largely negative reaction to it?
The reactions you talk about are nothing but the negative publications coming from no other place than the NLNG because they do not want to pay that three per cent contribution.
Could it be because lawmakers from the Niger Delta dominate the leadership of the Petroleum and Gas Committees in National Assembly, that you see the passage of your bill as a fait accompli?
No. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. What we are saying is: should a company enjoy open- ended tax incentives or any form of incentives? The answer is capital no.
Aren’t you concerned with the opinion of some legal practitioners, that this bill if signed into law, might result to international litigation, which government will spend scarce resources defending?
This is all cheap blackmail. Look at the one they wrote in the paper last week, that we are going to be losing $25 billion investment. They forgot that these investments are where we (Nigeria) are also stakeholders. I find it so difficult that people don’t want to contribute to the development of where their product, your raw materials is coming from. I call it wickedness.
With the collapse of the proposed political solution to the crisis in the PDP, is there any end in sight to the dispute?
I don’t see any end. The issue is already before the Supreme Court. I have never doubted what the Court will do. But I am convinced that whatever position taken by the Supreme Court, we will abide by it. As far as I am concerned, whatever political solution people hoped on, I knew we were not going to get it because of the calibre of people we were dealing with. People who are not very sincere, who have their own ulterior motives and what they wanted. I am not too bothered, because even going into that meeting, we knew their game plan. For us, we wait on the Supreme Court. And like I have always said, justice delayed is justice denied. The Supreme Court will do us a major favour by coming out with a clear position as soon as possible, because various elections are taking place at the moment.
Many supporters of your party have expressed fears that this crisis may lead to the demise of PDP, do you share that fear?
Sure. It is a major mistake that we made, a very regrettable one. Sometimes it is too late to cry when the head is off. We are already in it.
You talk about making a major mistake. What exactly are you talking about?
Bringing the person of (Ali-Modu) Sheriff into our system, I regret it immensely. It is a very regrettable mistake. We wouldn’t have found ourselves in this predicament. It is sad. Because this is somebody that was driven away from the APC and because of our open mindedness, we accepted him. Unfortunately, he has come to do what he knows how to do best.
Sheriff has said he is ready to quit after a convention. As part of the arrangement for the convention, going by the report of Governor Seriake Dickson Reconciliation Committee, the House caucus is expected to nominate some persons to serve in the Convention Committee. Are you going to send nominations?
We don’t trust him. It is as simple as that. We don’t trust him. First, they said the convention is illegal. With all the due respect to Governor Dickson, he was a product of that convention. Let me put it this way to you, the NEC of the party actually formed that committee. It also formed the convention organising committee. So, if you say the convention was illegal, then automatically, that Reconciliation Committee is illegal. I really don’t want to bother myself. Let me wait, because I am convinced beyond reasonable doubt that we didn’t get fair judgment from the Court of Appeal, that is why we have ran to the Supreme Court. Whatever decision comes out from the Supreme Court, we will take our next step from there. Really, I don’t want to bother myself about this Sheriff issue. Because already, the damage has been done. The destruction has taken place. There is no way we can solve this problem, the way it is.
Some of us have made up our minds that under no circumstances, will we work with Sheriff. We just want to be patient and observe the event that is playing out.
What will you do if the Supreme Court affirms the judgment of the Appeal Court?
Wait for my actions. I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. Let that decision be taken. But may God forbid. If it doesn’t come out the way I hope, you will see what steps I will take.