Teddy Nwanunobi, Abuja
Plans by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, to ‘restructure’ the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) on Thursday received the blessings of the Senate.
But the Minister did not, however, escape the irate senators, who sternly reprimanded him for not consulting with the National Assembly before carrying out the plan.
The probe panel on the exercise was co-chaired by the Chairman, Committee on Gas Resources, Senator Bassey Albert Akpan; Chairman, Petroleum Upstream, Senator Tayo Alasoadura; and Vice Chairman, Petroleum Downstream, Senator Jibrin Barau.
Citing Part 1(6) of the NNPC Act, the Majority Whip of the Senate, Senator Olusola Adeyeye, who led the question-and-answer session on the exercise, backed the Minister before hurriedly leaving the hearing room.
Speaking after Adeyeye, Senator Stella Oduah, who maintained that everything Kachikwu said connoted the Corporation’s unbundling, expressed concerns on the gaps in the nation’s oil and gas sector.
“You have aged pipeline that lacks maintenance. Indeed there is no maintenance culture on NNPC pipeline whether its crude or product pipeline. You don’t have cash cow process. In fact, we are talking to LPDC not too long ago, it is too rigorous from the commencement of cash call from when the cash call itself is accomplished. If you look at this structure, it is even far longer than this now.
“On the assets all over, NNPC and its subsidiary have idle assets – whether they would say they don’t have funds to process them or to produce, but there are many of them and the last we counted with the LPDC was about 49 in number, and these are huge assets,” she said.
She particularly queried why the Red Chamber would not be aware of such plans to unbundle of restructure the Corporation.
“It is totally unacceptable. The Senate is not a rubber stamp (of any executive),” she added.
In his submission, Senator Chukwuka Utazi, who moved away from the legal and illegal aspects of the issue, gave a firm and resounding support for the Minister.
He urged his colleagues and other Nigerians to back the decision of the government to restructure the NNPC.
“I can also say you are desirous to move the industry from where the comatose position it used to be. We have idea about how to get this done here. You know from the debt you have told us over N3 billion now coming down to N3 million monthly. We understand it.
“Well, I said I don’t disagree with colleagues, who have raised the issue about the legal aspect of it; but you must carry us along because we are the last line of defence.
“I want to say that from this side that some of us understand what you are doing. We understand it very well, and we know that there are so many interests in this country of so many people, who are involved either openly or covertly. Interestingly, this industry has kept us where we are, and we understand that you have to do it.
“I have said it that, if we do not do so much in this industry under your watch, we are going nowhere. I want to tell you from this point, while we take the legal aspect of all these issues that we will encourage you in what you are doing.
“Don’t be deterred in this job. Anybody, who is moving to get this country moved. We believe in you that you are going to be doing much and I want to tell you never to get tired. We want this industry to be free from the stranglehold of interest that has kept it not moving,” Utazi urged the Minister.
Other senators also took turns to back the reform, but however faulted the Minister’s failure to “adequately consult before taking the decision, before the lawmakers finally shut out the press and went into a closed session with the Minister at the time of filing this report.
Earlier, Kachikwu reiterated to the senators that what his Ministry is doing is not unbundling, but restructuring.
He also refuted claims by a senator that the exercise is effected without the approval of a board and the Federal Executive Council (FEC), as stated elsewhere in the Act.
The NNPC Act Part 1, states in part that:
“It shall be the duty of the Corporation, from time to time, when the National Council of Ministers so requires or the Corporation considers it appropriate to undertake a general review of the affairs of the Corporation and of any subsidiaries thereof for the purpose of determining how the management of the activities of the Corporation or any subsidiary thereof can most efficiently be organised and, where appropriate, to make a report to the National Council of Ministers upon the Corporation’s conclusions arising from the review.
6.(1)The Corporation shall have powers to do anything which in its opinion is calculated to facilitate the carrying out of its duties under this Act including, without limiting the generality of the following, the power –
(a)to hold, manage and alienate movable and immovable property;
(b)to purchase or otherwise acquire or take over all or any of the assets, businesses, properties, privileges, contracts, rights, obligations and liabilities of any other company, firm or person in furtherance of any business engaged in by the Corporation;
(c) to enter into contracts or partnerships with any company, firm or person which in the opinion of the Corporation will facilitate the discharge of the said duties under this Act;
(d) to establish and maintain subsidiaries for the discharge of such functions as the Corporation may determine; and
(e) to train managerial, technical and such other staff for the purpose of the running of its operations and for the petroleum industry in general.(2) Notwithstanding subsection (1) of this section, any contract relating to any project of a value of more than N5,000,000 (or such higher limit as may be directed from time to time by the National Council of Ministers) shall be referred by the Corporation to the National Council of Ministers for approval before the award of any such contract is made by the Corporation.