It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: one of the duties of lawmakers is to serve the people, but not all senators are doing what they were elected to do.
There are however a few who have put themselves on the map as proven legislators; who are not overwhelmed by the sheer scope of tasks on their to-do lists; who seem to have equipped themselves in advance before heeding to the people’s call for service; who make rather colossal projects seem like a piece of cake; and who lead the field via their remarkable legislative manoeuvres.
Lest I knock your sensibilities, let’s get to the heart of the matter.
After more than 80 years since international oil companies (IOCs) came to Nigeria, one would have expected their relationship with host communities to mirror that of a mother and child, husband and wife, or even best friends. By now it would have been a symbiotic union where the IOCs explore, drill and extract oil and gas peacefully, and in turn act in the best interest of host communities by fostering development, offering empowerment, as well as making good the pledge in their Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR).
But eight decades down the line, that union, for the most part, has come unglued owing to several factors including security concerns, community distrust, violence against IOCs, lack of key amenities, just to mention four. And, while it had seemed increasingly uncertain that both parties will find any common ground to coexist, the current outlook however portrays exciting vistas of mutual cooperation, thanks to, among other things, individuals who have set the ball rolling, offering a mechanism for change. And one of such persons is no other than Senator (Obong) Bassey Albert Akpan.
I have neither seen the man one-on-one before nor had any virtual talk with him but practically, his works go before him and that due can’t be denied. The lawmaker works incredibly hard, and it would be unfair and pointless to downplay his impressive strides. Love him or hate him; and, whether critics admit it or not, Senator OBA, as he is fondly called, knows all there is to know about representation – effectively for that matter. Period.
Why am I so forthright about this? The answer is as simple as ABC: Because the 48-year-old’s work rate as a National Assembly member, from 2015 when he was first elected, down to the present moment as he continues his second term legislative voyage, speaks volume of a man who has remained unmoved despite being subjected to vicious campaigns of calumny and mud-smearing schemes by adamant folks who, only God knows why they have chosen that inglorious path. But as usual, Senator OBA’s response has been through his scorecard as demonstrated in his latest move which his constituents in particular, and Nigerians in general, are proud of.
Stay put. If you feel unclear about what that latest move is, and the potential impact it will have on the people he represents, read on.
Over the years, calls have mounted for IOCs to relocate to their operational bases in the Niger Delta region of the country, where they produce oil. The region, comprising nine states: Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers, have lamented that while oil exploration activities have polluted their environment, the IOCs were paying taxes and other benefits to another state. On the other hand, IOCs operating in the region have cited security concerns and lack of infrastructure in the region as their reasons for siting their bases elsewhere.
But leading a debate on September 28, 2021 at the Red Chamber, Senator OBA, representing Akwa Ibom North-East (Uyo) Senatorial District and Chairman, Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream), illuminated the issues at stake when he sponsored a motion on the “Urgent need to encourage all multi-national and Nigerian oil and gas companies to relocate to their operational bases.”
The Ibiono Ibom born politician and former commissioner for finance noted that the Niger Delta region that produces Oil and Gas, has given meaningful weight to the Nigerian economy, but had been devoid of the necessary development as a result of lack of effective presence of the IOCs, largely caused by non-relocation of their offices.
“The senate note with concern that multi-national and Nigeria oil and gas companies have over the years been operating from their respective operational bases until militancy and insecurity in the host communities in the Niger Delta became the order of the day,” said the former ace banker, in his motion.
While noting that the reason cited by the IOCs for not relocating to their host communities has always been due to insecurity and hostilities in the host communities, Senator OBA suggested that operating outside the host communities is “the reason for the high cost of production which has been the bane of the country’s oil and gas industry”.
“This is a big setback to the country’s oil and gas industry and it is militating against maximum revenue from crude oil and gas sales to the federation account,” he added.
It is safe to say, taking into account the various legislative moves by the Senator, alongside his colleagues in the National Assembly, that the IOCs would in no time reassess their stance towards relocating to their host communities, especially in states like Akwa Ibom, where the Governor Udom Emmanuel led administration has toed the line of previous governments in furnishing the oil-rich state with world-class infrastructure. For example, the recently commissioned ‘Intelligent’ 21-storey edifice that has been designed with the latest technology meant to serve as offices to IOCs.
Senator OBA’s entry into politics, into public service, has continued to give him the ability to impact thousands, even millions, of people, although obviously it has not been a walk in the park.
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Don’t get it twisted, though. While OBA is not the only voice that has roared in hopes for a change on the matter, the former ace banker and Leader, Akwa Ibom caucus of the National Assembly – who has sponsored numerous life touching bills including one which proposes stiffer sanctions for any person or corporate entity involved in gas flaring in the country – has shown he didn’t come to stall and putz around on the mandate given to him by electorates.
Needless to force comparison, his relevancy deserves my journalistic ink, a zillion times.
Ita Abia writes from Etinan.