Leading members of the House of Representatives at the weekend unveiled plans over plans to further amend the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas (NLNG) Act, with the view to provide for punitive measures for breach of the legislative framework.
The lawmakers who spoke separately in a chat with BusinessDay and select Legislative Correspondents at the National Assembly complex, Abuja, also warned the operators to desist from all forms of campaign of calumny over the recently passed amendment bill which seeks to ensure payment of three percent of the annual budget of NLNG Limited into the coffer of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
On his part, Uzoma Nkem-Abonta, chairman, House Committee on Public Petitions disclosed
“The issue of NLNG is a long standing one but I think they are arguing and talking and blackmailing from the point of greed and ignorance. As parliament, it is for us to make the law and the other executive will implement it.
“What are we saying, they were asked to pay certain percentage of their budget, profit for the development of the host host community which is the Niger Delta. Of course , I must tell you that the Niger Delta Act is a discriminatory law done to reduce the suffering of the Niger Delta to create peace.
“If I may ask, if there is violence in Bonny, will the NLNG be able to operate? If there is insecurity and insurgency in Bonny, will they be able to operate? If you look at the NLNG, they were given tax incentives and holiday for 10 years within which they should be able to pay other tax applicable to other such sister companies, others are complying, why will the NLNG say they will not do it? Why are they blackmailing the National Assembly as if we did something that is not applicable in this part of the country.
“For crying aloud, other IOCs pay three percent of the budget towards the development of areas they operate where they draw their materials and I think and know why they are canvassing that argument.
“I want to tell the world that they are insensitive to the plight of the Bonny community. If you ever go to Bonny, you will see the sufferings. In fact, I make bold to tell them that workers of NLNG have access to specialised clinic which is not accessible to the host community who are suffering the effect of the gas emission and the gas flaring.
“It is hazardous peculiar to the community while they are always going abroad to get healed. Have seen the amount spent by the MDs and managers in those areas, have you seen the insurers of the personnel of this NLNG? If you look at their medical cost it is on a very high side, but the poor people who live there, who suffer from the hazards are not catered for.
“They are insensitive to the people of Niger Delate because they are not from there. Is the NLGN above the law? If the law makers in their wisdom said this holiday you have enjoyed it, now pay three percent, who are they to even say they will not.
“In fact, I think there is omission, something that did not occur to us, we should have put a penalty clause for non payment of that money so that if they do not pay it, they suffer the penalty and should be jailed for non remittance of that three percent.
While reacting to the concerns raised by some of the operators, Leo Ogor (PDP-Delta) who sponsored the NLNG amendment bill, argued that the recently passed amendment will not in any way affect $25 million investment as alleged by those who opposed to the amendment.
“Let me totally disagree with the lies that are being peddled in the media by NLNG over the loss of probably $25 million worth of investment. I find it very very sad that some people would embark on some kind of negative campaign in achieving their own objectives.
Let me first analyse the equity profile of NLNG. NLNG is not a privately owned company but a limited liability owned by the federal government who owns 49 percent, and say it again, 49 percent of the share capital of the company with Shell and other IOCs with 15 percent, some, 10 percent all in the order.
“Now the NLNG company has some fiscal incentives, and be mindful of the fact that these incentives came by a decree where there are some level of tax exemption that this company was given as incentive. This company has enjoyed this incentive for 27 years without any tax being charged in line with some of the enactment of the National Assembly. Now the National Assembly in its own wisdom passed the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Act.
“That law was passed specifically for the development of the region where gas is being explored on a continuous basis. The Federal Government under president Olusegun Obasanjo refused to sign the law and the National Assembly in their wisdom overrode the president. That has been the only in existence upon which the National Assembly did override the President. Why did they do that?
“They did that specifically for the development of the geopolitical zone, because they saw the environmental hazard, the level of destruction that oil exploration was causing to the zone, so they needed to intervene by using what we call.. a kind of a bridging fund to support this specific project.
“May I therefore state that realising this, the Niger Delta project became the National Assembly project. Now that companies have been enjoying this incentives, but the NNDC Act stipulates clearly that every oil producing and marketing company should contribute three percent of their annual budget for the development of the region. But NLNG since the Act was passed has refused to contribute a dime.
“And this is where they are operating, this is a company that does so much in the geo-political zone, where the raw material you are exporting comes from. Unfortunately, they have turned it into a blackmail that the train 7 and train 8 would be lost because of an amendment to Act that seeks to develop where they are getting their raw materials from. And I think it’s so unfair for a company to use unnecessary blackmail to achieve their own purpose. What we are saying si that NLNG, pls contribute your own three percent to the development of the region, you have enjoyed this incentive for over 27 years.
“The Act upon which you are relying gives you only a 10-year grace. You have exceeded that 10 years and yet you don’t want to contribute to the development of the zone. Some of the managers are carrying on as if it’s their private business, and I said no, it’s not their private business. This is a business in which the federal government has 49 percent interest, and this money is not going to any other place but for the development of where your raw materials are coming from. So if they feel the lack the capacity to manage our interest, then they should probably leave the place and allow other people who have the enabling experience to manage this interest. And the most unfortunate thing is that some of this deductions are tax deduction, so I really don’t know what they are whining about.
Ogor (Minority Leader) who described the agitation as “a very cheap blackmail” warned that the Legislature will not succumb to pressure from any quarters, adding that “the money you pay to the federal government, it is part of the dividend in line with the provision of section 162 (10) of our constitution. So if we have an investment in NLNG and you pay dividends to the federal government, why are you complaining?”
KEHINDE AKINTOLA, Abuja