Hon. Agbedi Fredrick represents Ekeremor/Sagbama federal constituency of Bayelsa state in the House of Representatives. In this interview with RUTH CHOJI, the chairman, House Committee on Gas and Allied Matters, explains why the federal governement should privatise the NNPC, among other issues.
Not a few Nigerians are of the opinion that if the gas sector is fully harnessed, it will generate more revenue than oil. What is your take on this?
Gas is the next direction of the world but Nigeria is not prepared for that.
What do you mean by that?
Because as the chairman of the House Comittee on Gas, even when I see the Nigerian budget and NNPC with Ministry of Petroleum, I don’t see any encouraging project in that sector. Some of us have said that, gas will go the way crude went if we are not careful. If the whole world say gas is the next direction, what are we doing to tap into it? NLNG is the perfect example, we were discussing with the MD of NLNG some time ago and he said, if we have three NLNG in this country, we will successfully run our budget but what is holding us back? We have not treated gas as the next resource destination. It is the next clean energy destination, which is why you will see people building IPP projects without gas supply plant.
What will it take for Nigeria to harness the gas resources?
First of all, we need the right and enabling laws. We must also deregulate the sector, open up the market and allow people to come with their investment plans. Let them come and invest in the sector. That is the only way to open up the sector. Anything other than that will not achieve our purpose.
Nigerians are worried over the current nation’s debt profile. Should the Federal Government continue to borrow?
From everything, there are those for it and those against it. I fall into the group of those against the idea. Not because it is bad to borrow but because we must have very cogent reason why we should borrow. You borrow not for consumption but for infrastructure.
Does its means Nigeria is borrowing for jist consumption?
Of course since we are not seeing any new infrastructure on ground, what did they use the borrowed money for? If you are borrowing money and there are no laid down plans to attract means of generating revenue from monies you borrowed to be able to pay back the loan, then you are in trouble. You will always run into deficit and that is where we find ourselves. We are borrowing and borrowing every day without comensurate results. A lot of people are asking questions because there is no comensurate results to show for the borrowings. That is why sometime IMF and other world bodies are saying it is worrisome that Nigeria continues to borrow.
With the current state of the economy, what is your perception of the Buhari administration?
Whatever I say, particularly when I speak in the negative, they will say it is a PDP man talking, instead of listening to the words. But I know that a greater percentage of Nigerians are saying that, these people have no clue on how to manage the economy. The indices have not shown any positive progress at all. We went into recession because certain things which were not supposed to be done enforced by this administration when they came on board. Take for example the much-talked-about TSA. It was introduced by President Goodluck Jonathan administration and the economic experts advice was that, it should be implemented gradually so that it will not hurt the economy but, the Buhari administration came and wanted to use it to boast and decided to implement it fully. That was what hurt the economy and pushed us into recession. You have to understand the economic policies that were introduced by the previous government to know how to implement them. But of course because they didn’t have an understanding of why these things were introduced, they just went ahead and implement them fully and it brought down the economy and led Nigeria into recession. As we speak, we haven’t seen any economic policy that will drive the economy. Former President Jonathan at that time wanted to remove fuel subsidy, it was the same APC as the opposition party then that opposed it. Now the issue has reared its head again. As a House, we called the Minister of Petroleum some time ago and said we were ready to go along with whatever action they want to take on subsidy. He started using semantics to distort the issues. He started talking about liberation, why they want to liberate half way when the National Assembly was asking for what they can do for them to make their policies effective. If these same people are saying that subsidy is not good for the nation, that the people who are supposed to benefit from it are not the ones benefitting from it, it means it is a scam and something is wrong. Now the ball is in their court, they want to remove subsidy, which they once said does not exist. It means subsidy is nothing but a scam. When it was Jonathan time, and he said we have to remove subsidy, their party said no and even organised dancing and eating to frustrate it. Unfortunately now, Nigerians are not only suffering from subsidy scam, but we are suffering from Dollar scam.
Is the PIGB going to cover some of the germane issues in the oil industry if eventually assented to?
No law can deal with all the problems. PIGB will deal with quite a large propositions of the problem in the industry and that is why the National Assembly took the bull by the horn and say, ‘we are driving the PIGB’. Even as we are driving it, we are getting frustration and hiccups from the Executive arm of government. It got to a point when we were holding a public hearing and the executive said, they are not ready, that we have to give them time to prepare their imputs when they were aware that, there was a public hearing and they have been invited to state their views. So we are running a nation where what you do is based on individual interest, regional interest, religious interest or ethnic interest, and sometime family interest. Such a country cannot grow. Investors cannot come and invest because they will say, Nigeria does not have a law to rely on, and so they cannot come and invest. We said 16 years ago that we are changing the laws of the sector, till date we have not been able to change them. So they are scared to invest their money into our system because a law could come out tomorrow that will not give them the opportunity to recoup their investments. Yet the Executive that should be a lot more concerned and worried is one trying to frustrate the efforts of the National Assembly.
Some experts have advised the Federal Government to privatise NNPC. What is your take on this?
They are right. If the oil companies are running at profit, why can’t our oil company (NNPC) run at profit? If your business is running at a loss, will you continue to run that business? If NNPC is running at a loss while other partners in the industry are making profit, why continue to run it? Privatise it. If Federal Government wants to buy shares, let them do so. So if they make profit, you make your dividends from there. We all know that NNPC get a proportion of the crude oil, but how many refineries are working and what is the quantity they get daily?
Coming back to the National Assembly, what is happening to the 2019 budget?
The budget is being laid and we are sure that in the next number of days, it will be passed into law.
What will you say are the achievements of this current session of the House of Representatives?
So much. In terms of Bills, Motions and individual’s Bills, this Assembly has recorded the highest number of Bills sponsored by members and passed into law. This Assembly has the least Executive Bills. It introduced sectoral debates where we invite various ministers to come and speak on their ministries so that Nigerians will know what is happening. This Assembly has subjected the budgetary process to public hearing where the Appropriation Committee invites Nigerians to come and contribute their own observations and opinions on the annual budget. We have been able to pass the PIGB, which was not assented to but it is our desire to pass the whole PIB before the session will wind up, whether the Executive signs it or not. So this Assembly has done so much.
The jostle for the position of Speaker in the imcoming 9th Assembly is causing tension. What criteria should members focus on in their choice of the next speaker?
The criteria for selection of speaker is that he or she must be a member of the House of Representatives. So, the people contesting must be ranking members. So, you must have been in the House for at least two terms because by then, you must have understood the running of the House. In our country there is this issue of zoning that comes to play. I believe it will be considered in the election of the speaker. Again, your colleagues must have confidence in you.
There were reports that the APC leadership has endorsed some particular persons to lead the 9th National Assembly. Does this bother you?
I heard the chairman of the ruling party said, the opposition has no role to play in deciding the people that will emerge as presiding officers of the National Assembly. So when we get to that bridge, we will cross it. If it is left for the ruling party alone, then we are to know. But then, we will see how it plays out. What they failed to understand is that every member of the House has the right to cast his or her vote to whoever he or she want to preside over them. Sometimes people make certain statements out of ignorance. And if the ruling party and opposition are struggling among themselves on who will be the Senate President and Speaker, then it is democracy.