Sanitising Oil and Gas Industry Will Require Buhari’s Strong Commitment, Says Ex-NUPENG Leader Hon. Akpatason

Hon. Peters Akpatason represents Akoko-Edo Federal constituency on the platform of the All Progressives Congress in the House of Representatives. He was re-elected to represent his people again during the March 28 election. Akpatason was at one time the president of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG). WESTERN POST’S AGENE AKHERE recently caught up with him in Benin where he spoke on issues in the polity and in the petroleum industry. He says President-elect Muhammadu Buhari needs to beam his searchlight on the oil and gas industry while also putting machineries in place to ensure the execution of our existing laws to deal with some of the problems among other sundry issues…

What are we expecting from the new National Assembly?

We expect a National Assembly that has the character of APC as the dominant party because if you look at the out-going dispensation, you will see that the states where we had APC governments, the level of development is higher than many other states. You see what is happening in Edo State, in Imo State, in Rivers State, in Lagos State and several other states under the APC. You will discover that despite the fact that some of these states don’t have as much revenue as some other states; they are still able to bring about serious infrastructural development and very remarkable human capital development. For me that is an indication that there are more progressives in APC than any other party and now that APC has got the opportunity to replicate what they have done at state levels, at the federal level, Nigeria stands a better chance. So when it comes to the National Assembly, we are looking at a more transparent dispensation, we are looking at lawmaking that places the ordinary Nigerians interest as the central focus, we are looking at a more inclusive approach to lawmaking and we are looking at coming out with legislations that directly address the challenges of our people; legislations that are relevant to national development.

There seems to be so much mess in the oil industry, what is your suggestion on the way forward?

Over the years, efforts have been made to sanitise the oil industry. What my personal experience has shown is that sanitising the oil and gas industry will require strong commitment of the number one citizen of this country. When you say there is mess in the oil industry, it is not just NNPC GMD or the MD of one subsidiary or another, it is political mess, the mess is in Aso Rock, the thieves are actually in Aso Rock because NNPC management cannot steal and divert money un-noticed. Some people give them cover so until we have a government that is ready to free NNPC to operate and ready to sanction anybody in NNPC that misbehaves, it will be difficult for us to clean the oil and gas industry. But the first major step that we can take as a group is the passage of the PIB bill that we are already working on that is why you see that there so much politics about the PIB. I asked this question sometimes ago- who actually wants PIB? It is the ordinary Nigerians; the government has not demonstrated much interest in PIB. You start PIB and along the line, you get frustration from left, right and centre because a whole lot of leakages will be blocked. When you have an oil and gas industry like we have in a lot of advanced countries, where the industry is completely de-politicised, where there is an NOC (National Oil Company) that is professionally run whose role in the industry is almost the same as a multi-national or a local company  or private-run company that cannot superintend over other companies in such a way that they will have undue economic advantage over others, where we gave an NOC that cannot transfer their money for political purposes, an NOC that must account for every naira that they spend, that is the only time that we can have sanity in the oil and gas industry. What we have currently is complete confusion, a situation where you have an NOC that is both a competitor and a regulator in the industry. You cannot regulate an industry where you are a competitor and you are not supposed to compete in an industry where you are a regulator; that is the confusion and then politics will come where decisions cannot be taken by the NNPC without going to the Federal Executive Council.

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There is public outcry over the cost of governance in Nigeria, what is your take?

I agree with that, that the cost of governance is high. First and foremost we have a big government, there are too many political appointments all over country, beginning from local government to state government to the federal level, there is need to trim the size of our government. In terms of operation, there is need to think of how to cut the cost of operation and every other cost that is associated with governance. We must play by the rule in this country. But the way to go about it is to look at it professionally and not to base it on speculations.

What will you say about sharing positions at the National Assembly, a seeming crisis already rocking the APC?

I don’t think that what is happening can be described as a crisis. What is playing out is a normal occurrence in a party, there is this saying that the battle to win elections sometimes may not be as strong as the battle to share positions after victory. The reason is that in politics, everybody has an interest, groups have their interest, regions have their interest and in an attempt to balance these interests, you have to be extra- careful in allocating positions and this case is particularly very critical because the party is just metamorphosing from the position of an opposition to that of a leading party at the national level. We have not in the time past had the opportunity to produce the Speaker of the House of Representatives, to produce the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Chief Whjp of the House of Representatives and similarly, APC has not had the opportunity to produce the Senate President, the Deputy Senate President or the other majority positions in the Senate. It is the first time this is happening, so it is a huge responsibility that has fallen on the shoulders of the leaders of APC. A lot of people have indicated interests but up till now no in-fighting anywhere, that is why I believe that there is no crisis yet. It is the scheming, which is normal in politics for people to represent their constituencies very well. For instance, we in the South-South, we believe that we made serious contributions to the emergence of APC, we may not have produced the numbers that other regions were able to bring together, but the people need to realise that the outgoing president is from South-South, the implication of that is that the pressure here in the South-South was much higher than the pressure in any other geo-political zone because the outgoing president wanted to get the whole of his own zone en block so they did everything possible to get that, from Akwa-Ibom down to Edo State, they wanted everything, they did everything humanly possible to get that. The amount of money that entered the South-South during that election is unprecedented in the history of elections in this geo-political zone. The physical presence of very powerful members of PDP, the power brokers of PDP, as well as professionals like media house owners and some other people who had enough power and resources were deployed to make sure they deliver the South-South, yet in the face of those daunting challenges, we were still able to produce some reasonable results. Like in Edo State, ordinarily, it would have been difficult if not for the exceptional contributions of the Comrade Governor and the APC members in this state for us to get even 25 per cent for Mr. President-elect. Yet we did more than that so we expect that our colleagues in the House, in the Senate as well the leaders of our party should consider the peculiar situation of Edo people and people of South-South during that election. The fact that we managed to produce what we have produced so far is an indication that we are seriously committed and we have made input into the growth of APC that eventually led to where we are today as the leading party in this country. The same way, the North eastern people will say they have been badly marginalised under the leadership of the outgoing president because of their commitment to opposition right from time and they equally want to be represented when it comes to sharing of the national offices. Even in the South-east where you have only one member, they equally want to be considered, it is the whole of these activities that many think it is crisis, it is not a crisis at all; it is normal. It is what we should expect but my happiness again is that the leadership of our party has clearly shown that there is a departure from what it used to be, they are not ready to dictate to the House but that is not say, however, that the idea of zoning has been jettisoned. We believe that with proper zoning, we are going to have some sense of balance and that the best candidates in such locations will be given the opportunity to serve.

What is your take on the current defection of some prominent politicians from PDP to APC; do you think it is good for our democracy?

It is not completely new neither is it strange that people are cross carpeting, it happens but not in this manner and magnitude we are seeing and not for this reason that they are moving. What is happening in Nigeria today is that politicians believe in their personal interest and the moment your interest is no longer being comprehensively protected, you move or when you sense that you are a contractor at the national level and the party has lost at the national level, you want to quickly dash down to the new platform where you can protect your business for me, that is selfishness, that is myopic, and completely unacceptable. Moving from one party to another should n’t be for selfish consideration. I don’t think it is the best for us even though my party is the beneficiary of that I don’t think that it is the best. I want to urge my people that we should equally watch these people who are coming because some of them believe that they must be at the top all the time. They believe that they are the masters of the game now that their former party can longer provide them the opportunities; they have to come and grab them from the APC. We fought and won the battle without them, so they should stay where they are.

What agenda will you have for the new government in the area of electoral reforms, power and anti-corruption?

In terms of electoral reforms, I don’t think that the laws we have are bad, the problem is with execution, so we should rather look for policies and programmes for execution of the laws that we have to ensure compliance for existing laws. Yes, when there is need for review we will review based on our past experience but the review is not the major thing now as far as I am concerned because I was involved in the last process, which is still on-going. To some extent, we have the laws but to what extent were they complied with and what is being done to address that non-compliance, this is the area I think we should focus our energy and attention. For instance, there was a huge debate whether the military should be part of the election, I held an opinion that was not very popular in my party because I thought that yes, without the military, a lot of politicians had acquired  a lot of force, they have acquired their own army of boys and whatever they equip them with, with which they have been committing havoc in this country, such people can just oppress innocent politicians who don’t believe in those tendencies, so to avoid violence that will arise from that, I thought that the army should allowed to come but clearly, in order not to run foul of the law, they must stay away from polling units. But in the past election, that wasn’t what we saw, so it is not as if the law is not there, but in terms of practice, in terms of implementation, these laws were violated and abused to the extent that army officers went to polling units where they would chase people out and even supervised election manipulation in some places; these are the things we should focus on. Jega has brought some innovations into the electoral process and I think in the course of reviewing our laws, we should now put some of those innovations into the law. For instance, I don’t think electronic voting is wrong, we all can see how the card reader has added a lot of value to our electoral process. It might not be perfect just now, but it can be improved upon.

On power, I think the President-elect is going to have a lot of work to do; the outgoing government attempted very feebly to privatise the power sector but honestly that privatisation is standing on shaky legs. It must be properly re-visited and reviewed because I have not seen anywhere in the world where you privatised state-owned enterprises and after that you raised funds for the private owners. Mr President-elect must look at who those buyers are because a situation where a seller is a buyer, that is no trade, it is only transfer, you don’t call that trade at all where the people who are buying are the same people who are selling, a seller buying through proxy is not proper selling and those things should be revisited. The funds raised for them is an aberration, they did not do due diligence on these companies to know whether they are capable or not.

On corruption, one of the reasons many of us supported Buhari even against a South-South president is that we believed that the corruption in the system is getting too much and so we needed somebody who has a track record of transparency, somebody who has character and reputation and we saw all that in Buhari and that was why we defied every pressure and concern and we went ahead to support his emergence and thank God that our efforts were supported and General Buhari emerged winner and he is our president today. I personally trust him and I am convinced that he is going to fight the battle but I know it is not going to be an easy battle but the good thing in it is that a whole lot of Nigerians are ready and I believe that he can sanitise Nigeria. We believe that addressing corruption alone would have addressed must of our problems.

Your re-election is being challenged by your opponent in the PDP, what will you say about this?

I participated in the same election in 2011 with a strong advantage of having been with the people for a very long time. I am very acceptable to the people of Akoko-Edo Federal Constituency and as a result of that, they supported me en mass. I know that there is a culture of being a bad loser among our people particularly in our opponent’s party. A lot of them believe that good or bad, they must challenge it and I think that is what’s going on. I am quite comfortable with what is going on and I think that I did whatever was necessary to get my people to support me and they supported me.

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