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SOLID MINERALS FUND: SENATE OVER ALLEGED MISUSE OF N873B

AN alleged misappropriation of N873 billion meant for the development of natural resources in the country drew the ire of senators Tuesday.

The chamber faulted the procedure for processing the fund, disclosing that the money was not with the Solid Minerals Ministry and had been diverted to other sources outside solid minerals development.

Also at the Senate Tuesday, the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, said the use of kerosene for domestic purpose could be replaced within three years if the new Petroleum Industry Bill is signed into law.

Giving highlights of the Petroleum Industry Bill before the Senate, the minister said the PIB would bring out the gas master-plan. According to her, the new regime would facilitate investment in gas, especially in domestic supply.

And in total solidarity with the Senate, the House of Representatives has concurred with the upper legislative chamber’s resolution that the Chairman of Presidential Task Team on Pensions Reform, Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina, be dismissed from the nation’s public service immediately and be disengaged from all acts relating to public duty.

The motion was sponsored by the Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Sam Tsokwa and seconded by the Chairman of the House Committee on Pensions, Ibrahim Kamba.

In a motion titled “Development of Solid Minerals Sector as a Panacea to the Bankruptcy of States of the Federation and Creation of Jobs in Nigeria”, the sponsor, Abu Ibrahim (Katsina South), supported by 62 other senators, expressed the need to diversify the nation’s revenue base by exploiting mineral resources that abound in the country.

Recalling its earlier resolution last year which insisted that new sources of revenue be worked out for the states and Federal Government, the chamber stressed that solid minerals survey

indicates the presence of over 32 strategic mineral resources in commercial quantities across the country.

In his lead debate, Ibrahim, who expressed the fear that the country’s oil reserve may not exceed 40 years, said diversification of revenue sources remained the key to the nation’s economic growth.

He decried the neglect of the agricultural sector and poor funding of the solid mineral sector. “For example, capital budgetary allocations for the 2011, 2012 and proposed allocation for 2013 are N2.9 billion, N3.2 billion and N1 billion respectively. These provisions are highly inadequate”, Ibrahim said.

The lawmaker also observed the absence of solid minerals development fund as provided under the Nigeria Minerals and Mining Act 2007 and pointed out that the development would hamper generation of competitive geo-sciences data needed to attract investors.

He urged the Senate to mandate its committee on solid minerals to carry out a holistic investigation into the sector and funding process.

Senators, who contributed to the debate, blamed successive governments for paying lip service to the development of alternative revenue sources for the country.

Senator Ayogu Eze (Enugu North) blamed those in charge of economic planning for the situation.

“Those who have been managing the affairs of our economy are not sincere in advising their principals because the issue of budget is under someone’s portfolio. There is a lot of mischief on the part of those working with the Federal Government. Solid mineral is more enduring than the oil. If we develop the sector, it will help in the stability of the country and contentions will go down.

“This should be a wake-up call for the leaders who are receiving allocations to do something on behalf of the Nigerian people. The minerals we have in Enugu are enough to sustain that state. This is a very important motion and we should do something as a National Assembly so that we can gradually open the economic basket”, he said.

Senator Ahmed Lawan (Yobe North) disclosed that an investigation conducted by the Senate Committee on Public Account, which he chairs, showed that N873 billion voted for development of the solid minerals sector in the last 10 years had been diverted to other sources.

“The Federal Government has paid lip service to alternative sources of revenue. In a country where every state has solid minerals, the sector ought to have contributed greatly to the Gross Domestic Product. Between 2002 and 2012, a total sum of N873 billion meant for development of the solid mineral sector has been diverted to other sources and even used to build houses for foreign missions”, he said.

He said though the Executive had not found it easy to implement motions passed by the National Assembly, this one on solid minerals should be pursued to a logical conclusion.

For Senator Ita Enang (Akwa Ibom North East), time has come for individual states to develop their resources and be self-sustaining. He also urged Federal Government to apply funds set aside for development of the solid mineral sector  judiciously while some business men who freely extract mineral resources as raw materials should be held accountable.

Senator Abdulahi Adamu (Nasarawa West), noted that so much had been said over the years with regard to finding an alternative revenue source without necessary actions. “I have listened for the second time to President Goodluck Jonathan, when budget proposals were presented before us and each of the stages, the President emphasised the need for us to find alternative means of revenue for the federation and gave commitment and pledges to that effect but each time the details of the provisions are made known, only about 0.016 per cent of the budget is allotted to the development of solid minerals sector”, he lamented.

Senator Victor Lar (Plateau South) noted that the yearly budget since 2010 indicated that provisions for entertainment far exceeded amount allotted to the development of natural resources.

“In the 2010, 2011 and 2012 budget that was passed to the National Assembly, we saw that the cost of entertainment exceeded the amount for the development of solid minerals. Our

hearts are in developing the sector but our hands are not there.

“If we pass this motion, let it be that as a Senate, we have resolved that nothing less than five per cent of the national budget should be allotted to the development of solid minerals. I am sure if we want to solve the problem of unemployment, we should insist on the development of solid minerals in each of the states of the federation.”

Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the day’s sitting, said that in emphasising the need for the development of natural resources, mention should be made of environmental impact. He recalled that at a time, Nigeria survived on coal derived from Enugu State but upon discovery of oil, the state was abandoned and is currently being devastated by erosion.

“Some scientists from Italy said that Niger Delta is sinking at   eight millimetres yearly and because the figure is little, we think it does not have impact. So, before we mine these solid minerals, we have to do impact analysis”, he said.

He, however, stated that the nation should devise ways of exploring its natural resources. According to him, such would reverse the current trend where state governments depend largely on the centre for allocation.

Ekweremadu put the question and the prayer was adopted.   Although Senator Ibrahim had urged the chamber to investigate the resources injected into the sector, it was resolved that the Committee on Public Account had submitted a report on that aspect and it would be taken up by the chamber very soon.

Alison-Madueke told the Senate: “Right now, Nigeria is already well entrenched in terms of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Our LNG exports go all over the world and they are very profitable. But in terms of domestic gas market, it has remained quite immature, which is the reason you see a vast majority of Nigerians particularly in the hinterland still using firewood and kerosene, which is not sustainable.

“Our rain forests will not last forever at this rate. So, it is against the environment as it is actually degrading the environment. Kerosene is not an environmentally-friendly fuel to use for either cooking, heating or for light. So, we must ensure that domestic gas is propelled forward in the next three years so that even in the hinterland, Nigeria will begin to use gas.

“We have surplus gas. We have over 187 trillion cubic feet of gas that is already discovered potential and over 600 trillion cubic feet undiscovered potential. So, we must get that gas into proper usage. We must get fabrication plants here to set up the actual capsules that we will use for the gas and ensure that the logistics for distribution are put in place in the next three years so that at least in the next three years, most households in this country will be functioning on domestic gas which will be a major step forward for Nigerians both in terms of cooking and for lighting.”

On lawmakers’ apprehension that the new bill bestows enormous power on the Petroleum Minister, Alison-Madueke debunked the claim, stressing that the operating Act empowers the minister more than the new PIB.

“In terms of the controls, I think I can safely say and you can check the law, there is no bill that gives the Minister of Petroleum as much power as the current Petroleum Act. No bill. The current Petroleum Act gives the Minister of Petroleum who at this point in time is myself, more powers than any other bill can possibly give.

“The PIB, because I was fully involved in trashing it out, I spent sleepless nights with the review team after the technical team finished their work and we ensured that for the first time in history, control was actually diverted away from the minister and from Federal Government. If you take an entity such as NNPC and you unbundle it, you take away a National Oil Company which right now will be Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC) and some of the production sharing contracts and some of the other assets of infrastructure and you push them away and say this is now an independently managed company; government will have its shares but equity share holding, private shareholders will also come in and it will be run by an independent managing director, which means the minister cannot control directly the affairs of that company.

“That is already removing a vast portion of the ministerial power. We have taken away DPR and PPPRA, right now they report directly to the ministry. That is why it is called Directorate of Petroleum Resources. It is under the Minister of Petroleum Resources so is Petroleum Products Price Regulation Agency. In the PIB, we created two pseudo independent regulatory agencies, upstream and downstream. And those two have just a dotted line reporting relationship to the minister because somebody has to oversight them.

“So I think there is no time in history that government has actually divested its control and its interest. As a minister, I represent the President’s delegated powers. There is no time government has allowed this much control over our national oil and gas sector to be devolved and I think that we should actually congratulate him on that.”

In his remarks, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who chaired the meeting, said the Senate was passionate about the bill as it is linked to the nation’s economy.

Ekweremadu added that the country required a new petroleum regime that would correct earlier agreements signed on behalf of the country in the oil sector. “The bill is very important to us because it is linked to our economy. Many years ago, when most of the agreements in the oil sector were signed, we were very ignorant, the agreements were against Nigeria.

“Now, we need a legal regime that will be relevant to the present day situation. Every senator is enthusiastic to consider the bill after which we will send it to the relevant committee”, Ekweremadu said.

 

 

GUARDIAN 

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