Petroleum industry bill is dead: Interview with Senator Enang
Senator Ita Enang, PDP Akwa Ibom North East Senatorial District, is the chairman, Senate committee on Rules and Business, a portfolio he held for most of his 12 years in the House of Representatives. In this interview in Abuja he responded to issues concerning the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, his role in the N48 billion loan scandal involving the former House leadership among others. Excerpts:
What has happened to the PIB?
There is no Petroleum Industry Bill in the National Assembly and in particular in the Senate. There is none.
How do you mean?
That bill was introduced in the sixth assembly and it lapse with the Sixth Assembly. There is this rule 111 of the Senate which says that bills can continue from session to session. That is unconstitutional. Number two, you may have heard one of the days when they said the bill should continue I drew attention to rule 163, the interpretation of the standing order. The Senate is inaugurated for a period of four years.
At the end of the four years, the Senate stands dissolved and every bill that is pending stand dead unless reintroduced. That is why you will notice that when we were inaugurated, the next matter was message. We send messages to ECOWAS Parliament, the President, governors of the state and the United Nations to inform them that the Seventh Assembly has been constituted.
They do this because the notice of proclamation by the President dissolving the National Assembly takes effect day before, so there is no assembly at that time, when there is another proclamation convening, then that proclamation convenes, but it cannot not convene until it is inaugurated. That is when we can start having those bills to come on again.
Now when it is inaugurated, any bill we receive, we will give it a number and the year, that is why you have SB 1 2011. That is Senate bill number one that came in for that session. Therefore, it is a misunderstanding in the eyes of the public that anything that was introduced can be introduced again. About a month ago, I introduced the University of Uyo bill.
In the course of discussion with distinguished senators, we say look this is an executive bill which was introduced on the floor and reintroduced again. Some members say we should start where it stopped, I said it cannot be restarted.
Now after starting, I still have to write a letter to the President to re-present that bill. Yesterday the President wrote a letter reintroducing the bill on the University of Uyo. So he is now reintroducing it as a fresh matter.
What happened to Rule 111?
Rule 111 is correct. It is your interpretation of Rule 111 and the interpretation of certain people that is not correct. I stood up and corrected it on the floor and they now agreed with me.
Rule 111 says; the legislative business of the Senate which remain undecided at the close of the session of the Senate shall resume and proceed with in the same manner as if no adjournment of the Senate has taken place and all papers referred to committees and not reported upon at the close of session of Senate shall be return to the office of the Clerk of the Senate and retain until the next session of the Senate when they shall be returned to the Service Committee to which they had been previously referred.
Now what is a session?
Is session is a period between June 6th 2011 and June 5th 2012. That is one legislative session. It does not refer to a term. You just adjourn and go on break. You go on break after the end of a session, then you come and resume. Let me read the definition of session for you.
Session means one legislative year. It does appear that those who drafted it thought that a session covers the term. Therefore the petroleum industry bill, if the President wants it, he has to send a letter reintroducing it.
Is he going to send a fresh bill or a covering letter?
A covering letter and he will attach the bill he wants because the bill that was pending here may have some defaults, after all they did some public hearing, they would have known the way the public is thinking, they would have known which area will not fly, they would have known areas which are unconstitutional, and of course there may have been a clean copy of what it should be. He could choose one of them and bring in so that we know that this is what he wants considered.
I recollect that you were at a public hearing where the NNPC said they budgeted N7 billion for the PIB, does that mean the money is gone?
We did not pass the law for you to restructure the petroleum industry. PIB means petroleum industry bill. Did they say that the money was to sponsor the bill?
No, to sponsor the bill?
Then that was to have been an anticipatory provision which they made anticipating that the law will be passed. If the law is not passed, then you cannot use the money. And if you cannot use the money, you have to return it to the treasury where it came from.
It was alleged that N400 million has been drawn down from the budget?
Somebody will have to explain that because there was no petroleum industry reorganization for us to do. Each body in the sector has its own budget, so you have no business touching any money that was meant to set up another.
When you were in the House, some of your colleagues felt you went too far in the defense of some of the actions of the House?
I don’t think that I went too far in defending the action of the House because when you are a part of an institution, you must defend and preserve that institution. And I do not believe in ostriching, I do not believe that when somebody is in trouble, you have to abandon him.
I do not believe that you only be a friend or relation of somebody when it is going well. I do not believe that you are faithful to the institution when it is going well.
If that institution has problem, you have to stand up and defend that institution. I worked with and defended honourable Etteh and I stood by her to the end. I was part of the drafting of her resignation letter and so many people thought that I should have been killed by the incoming administration. I would not have had a role to play in the government of Bankole.
I do not believe that you benefit or are protected by how much you live off somebody on the way. You must stand by somebody even if it is good or bad to the end. And of course when Bankole came, they agreed that if Ita could stand that way with Etteh even when everybody has left, perhaps for Dino and two other persons, it must have been about the institution and about his principles, he will also stand by the incoming administration.
If that were the purpose for what I was known for even if Bankole had a problem, I owe a duty which I thought I did to stand by him and defend him because you are part of that institution. You are part of that establishment, you are bound to be protected, and it could be you.
When the government of Etteh collapsed, a few things happened to many persons that worked against the government. Even in the composition of the new government, many of them did not become chairmen because you do not bring down another person for the purposes of going up. God gives you an office and decide on what He wants to use you for and I did not do it to become the chairman of any committee. I would have lost.
When you are chairman of Rules and Business, Appropriation, a leader, you are bound to stand by the leadership. The Rules and Business is like the soul of the leadership. And so they do not depart. Rather if anything is wrong, stay around and defend it or you resign, you do not stay there to sabotage or say I do not join you again.
I owe no apology for standing by and defending Bankole, Nafada and the entire leadership of the House of Representatives to the end. After all it is not how much that I let them down that has lifted me up here; it is the grace of God.
Those who have abandoned them on the way may not have won one nomination, may not have even returned to the House or the Senate. Even God expects you to stand by leaders even when they are in trouble. I still visit Bankole, I exchange calls with him, I call Nafada and visit him in the house, and they are my friends.
Even if they are said to be in trouble today, none of them took the money to go and buy okporoko (stock fish). It was a corporate thing to serve the institution which has made them do that. The question they are answering today, they are answering for the leadership. And I stand again to say, none of the decision they took, none of the things they did, that they did in person, it was collective decision of the House of Representatives.
Therefore, I owe a duty to defend that decision, even if I have to go in for it, it was what the House decided at that time and so I did not go too far in defending them. I went to the extent that the leadership expects of a faithful follower.
We have seen the collapse of many autocratic governments especially in the Arab speaking region of Africa, what is your advice to government?
The security agencies in Nigeria should be very alert because the arms that have been fully spent and no more needed in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia and other countries that have collapsed, are now being recycled and are capable of finding their ways into the Nigeria market and therefore those arms could endanger the security of Nigeria more.
Therefore we should be very alert and take proactive measures to prevent those arms from coming in and again I will urge the President of Nigeria to please work with ECOWAS and the AU to work with the succeeding governments of these countries to mop up those arms for the purpose of it being kept or destroyed by those countries.
It should not be allowed to float. The President should take the initiative because if they allow the arms to float, Nigeria may be worst hit.
It has been alleged that some people are operating illegal refineries in the Niger Delta region of the country, what should government do about this?
I want to say that Nigeria have the capacity to refine all the products it needs in this country.
We have the refineries, even without the Eleme, Kaduna and Warri refineries because what I seem to hear in the Niger Delta and in the creeks is that there so many refineries that are refining petroleum products that can feed 50 percent of the local consumption of petroleum in this country.
I understand that those bunkering ships that comes from the high sea, some time they do not pay cash for the oil they steal. I am not saying that the stealing of oil is legal, but some of these people bring in miniature refinery packages to exchange for this oil.
I want the security agencies and NNPC to find out. I want the government to come and legalize what they now call illegal refineries. Because what we call illegal refineries in Nigeria are the same used in those countries where we import oil from. I want the joint task force not to go again and destroy these illegal refineries. Let them go in examine the integrity, the quality and give them license to refine the quantity they can produce, officially assign crude to them, monitor the process to see what they are producing. I understand they produce engine oil, kerosene, petrol and diesel. I understand in Abuja they called it company one and no car has knocked. I understand it is the best and last longer.
So if Nigeria has this, why going in to destroy them? If we bring them into the mainstream, we would have created employment; we would have reduced the question of fuel subsidy. In fact of you do that I will not worry about fuel subsidy because what causes subsidy is the cost of taking the crude from here to the ship, sending it abroad, you pay export duty, it arrives in that country you pay import duty, transport to the refineries finish and brought back to the ship, you pay export duty, loading then when it shipped to port in Lagos or wherever, you pay import duty and clear it. And the cost of all that is what Nigeria government is subsidizing.
If you refine locally, the entire cost element will be no more there. Nigeria should come and solve it own problem locally. We should not depend only on imported things.