Hon. Peter Akpatason, the current Deputy House Leader at the House of Representatives, in this interview with BODE OLAGOKE, speaks on the controversy trailing the recently passed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), why the host communities lost out on the agitation for 10% and sundry issues
How did the host communities lose out on the agitation for 10% equity?
Whatever we do in the parliament, numbers matter. We actually tried our best to ensure that the Niger Delta people were given a reasonable percentage. Unfortunately that didn’t work out . Initially we got five percent in the House but you know the Senate did something differently. Usually what we do when there is a difference between the bill passed by the House and Senate, we set up a conference committee comprising members of both chambers. before that committee set out to do the job, at the leadership level, it was agreed that we will not come down from 5 percent. But unfortunately, the committee ended up with 5 percent. It was only after they took the decision that we got to know about it. It still remains a big surprise to us. At that point, it was only a few lawmakers who were members of the PIB committee that represented the House. They could not push through the mandate the house gave to them. One would have expected a deadlock at the conference committee so that we can re-strategize, possibly do shuffle diplomacy to sort out things. But that didnt happen and, eventually, we had to go to the plenary to consider the report. Recall that close to the end of the committee, there was a meeting of northern legislators with the leadership of the NNPC where they agreed on a couple of things. I think it was a matter of afterthought that another meeting was arranged for the same leadership of NNPC to meet the southern legislators after the meeting with northern legislators where they tried to explain a few things and all that. It was then possible for our brothers who had properly articulated to push what eventually happened. We tried the best we could but because the committee had already consented, it was no longer possible for us to change the outcome. No matter what you do at that point if you don’t have the number, there is nothing you could do because it is a matter of nays or ayes.
What is your take on the notion held in certain quarters that lawmakers from the Niger Delta abdicated their responsibility on this matter?
Abdicating responsibility, no. Failing to do the needful, yes. We failed actually because we did not achieve what we set out to do. We started from 15%, eventually came.down to 7.5%, then 5% but at the end of the day, we were not able to do it. So its a failure but I don’t think that this amounted to abdicating our responsibility. If you don’t have the number, you have to do extraordinary diplomacy, negotiations and all of that to get anything through. I am not sure that we did enough of that. It’s obvious we don’t have the numbers but I am sure that if we had gone extra mile to reach out to negotiate and also use other platforms outside the parliament like is done in some part of the country, I am sure that would have helped us.
Which of these platforms are you referring to- governors, traditional rulers?
The whole thing is beyond one set of people in the country. It’s an issue that involved a lot of stakeholders even though ultimately the final decision would have been taken in the house but then the build up to it should have involved everybody. I am aware that in some part of the country, governors came together and had interactive sessions with legislators and i think at that point, the bonding and commitment gets stronger and it helps. Even during election of principal officers of the House, some politicians outside parliament show interests and. They do whatever they can to support candidates of their choice. In the same vein, governors and influential members of the society can throw their weights behind things like that. I am not saying it is their responsibility to do it. It is our responsibility to do our job but then there is nothing wrong in others supporting us.
What is the way forward as things stand?
We have got a PIB at least which is an Act of the Parliament and not a constitution. Every Act of Parliament can be altered by the parliament at any point in time. We shall be meeting soon to re-strategize and see how we can begin to reach out to our colleagues and stakeholders with a view to revisiting the issue because it is not a fair deal. Personally, before coming to the parliament, i have been in the Niger Delta in my working life and i know exactly the situation our people contend with. I know how unfavourable the exploration of oil activities is to the host communities, I know the amount of pollution, spillages that happen there. They deserve much more than we were able to get for them. So we have to do everything possible to ensure that something better is done soon. It is not going to be the sort of holistic work we did on the PIB this time around. We could just seek an amendment of a clause to achieve that. A lot can still happen within the next twelve months.
Don’t you think that the rejection of electronic transmission of results is a part of the grand design to rig 2023 poll?
Let me also tell you the flip side of that. A lot of people also think that the reason why some people are pushing for electronic transmission of results is because they are planning to rig 2023 elections though I don’t totally believe that but I know it is possible. It is also possible some people want to rig the 2023 elections through the manual system. Rigging of election is something that we all know, it’s something that happens massively in this country which is something we are all fighting to address. The issue is let us look at the fact of the case. I supported electronic transmission of results . But after we were briefed by the Nigeria communication commission ( NCC), I became indifferent because if card readers can be giving us headaches, it means that that electronic transmission of results is also susceptible to manipulation. It also means that the infrastructure required to power this electronic medium is not strong to serve us now. And so it could be a problem if it becomes the only option available. Imagine you wake up 12 midnight 31st of December to send new year messages. You know the kind of things that happens. Imagine what will happen on the day of election when there is massive traffic and then the system breaks down or slows down if that is the only means to transmit results. So at that point i was now disposed to having more than one option in which case you allow both the electronic medium and the manual one just like in the case of card reader. In the case of card reader, if it fails electronically and you have incidence form, you can still vote. In that case failure of the electronic medium will not translate to the disenfranchisement of the voters. But in the event that the other option is not available, what it means is that, automatically, it disenfranchises some people. I must also add that we have to then begin to deliberately develop the necessary infrastructures required to strengthen the electronic medium of transmission of results so that within the shortest possible time, we will have that confidence that we can do it.
So how can we get it right with the electoral process often marred by rigging and manipulation of results?
I don’t know whether transmission of results electronically would have solved the problem. For now, i don’t believe it would happen until it is experimented. Americans still believe that the Russians influenced the outcome of the election that ushered Donald Trump to power. Was the election not mainly electronically conducted? Is our system more fortified than the American system? So manual transmission of results is not the only reason why there is rigging in Nigeria. The problem is that Nigerians are so disposed to rigging elections. That is the fact of the matter. Whichever system you introduce, people would always find ways to circumvent the rules. But I know that at some point if properly established, there could be measures that would be put in place to curtail the menace. We will get there some day but we are not there for now, at all. So any option adopted today is susceptible to rigging.
Is the gale of defections to the APC by opposition politicians healthy for democracy?
(Laughs). In the first place, I honestly feel that a democracy without a strong opposition is not healthy for the country. So an attempt to decimate the opposition parties is not healthy for the country. But, however, politics is a game of number. My party needs the numbers. So we are doing what we can do to remain in power through positive means. So what I will advise the opposition parties is that they should also be struggling to attract our members if they can. If they are attractive, people would embrace them. People are flocking to the APC because it is the most attractive party in Nigeria notwithstanding the fact that there are challenges in the party.
Don’t you think people are moving in droves to the APC because it has the capacity to rig the 2023 poll…?
(Cut in). I don’t understand. Was APC able to rig the elections in Edo state? As popular as the APC is in Edo state, did the APC not lose the election in Edo state? If the APC is so disposed to rigging elections, what happened in Edo state wouldn’t have happened . APC is popular now because the PDP had enough time to impress Nigerians but they did not do so. And so Nigerians have not recovered from the pains and trauma that the PDP made them to pass through. APC might not have all the answers to Nigeria’s problems but on the average, the APC is doing far better than the PDP. It still remains the most attractive platform.
What is your take on the controversy surrounding the issue of power shift?
For me the presidency should go to a very competent person. We need somebody that understands what it takes to manage a huge economy like ours; an economy that is nosediving because it is not everybody that can do it. It shouldn’t be just anybody. We have to look at the antecedents of those interested in the plum job. Nigerians can even go abroad and source for a competent person from Nigeria. This is because we can’t continue in this trajectory. We have had recession, marginal growth and today it is something different. We need rapid growth. We need infrastructure. If we have good roads, railways, power, airports everywhere, crime would reduce. But these things are not happening as rapid as we expected. We need somebody that will come up with a plan that would take Nigeria completely out of the doldrum. Now with respect to power going either south or north, that is something that has worked and is still working. If we want peace and development in this country, the ideal thing to do is to maintain rotational presidency. Whether it is written or not written, we should be sensible people. People talk as if they are seeing tomorrow. Nobody owns this world. Most of these noise makers in the north and south don’t have stake in this business. They are ready to run out of this country when crisis starts. People should just ignore them and focus on things that would bring peace, development and sustainable growth to Nigeria. Even at sub-national levels -states, local government levels, there is rotation and people respect it. We won’t be fair to the country and the South if anybody talks about power remaining in the North after the expiration of President Muhammadu Buhari tenure in 2023.