By UCHECHUKWU UGBOAJA
THE Senate committee on Local content have been looking into alleged violations of Nigerian local content extant laws by international oil major Total, as the French company have been fingered in acts that undermine indigenous vessel owners in Nigeria.
This petition was brought to the upper chamber by one vessel owner who accused Total of double standards in its awarding of contracts. According to the counsel Barr. Bassey O. Offiong representing the petitioner, his client one of the indigenous vessel operators in the oil & gas sector who alongside several other Nigerian vessel owners have passed through a very rigorous technical evaluation process which have taken over four years out of the required 5 years are being asked by Total to jettison it and start a new process.
The indigenous vessel owners are accusing Total French oil giants of double standards as they (indigenous vessel owners) were all told by Total that the process had been cancelled to begin a new process which would take another 9 months to be concluded.
The Human Rights lawyer said this action by Total appears to be a deliberate attempt to exclude Nigerian owned vessels from participating in transactions within the oil & gas industry, as most of the companies carrying out activities currently in the sector remains the well established and mostly foreign owned vessels.
The Chairman of the committee Senator Olamilekan Adeola Solomon who is also known as ‘Yayi’ while admitting that the issue before the committee remains a very critical issue to the Senate as it pertains to infractions against the Nigerian Local Content Laws.
The Chairman further stressed that such acts are being frowned at by the current leadership of the Parliament because it affects the local economy of the country and therefore urged Total to reverse its step in that direction to avoid further legislative sanctions, as was its fate in the House of Representatives Committee.
Another action by Total that drew the wrath of most Senators during the investigative hearing was the refusal of the Managing Director to appear before the Senate committee despite being formally invited by the fact-finding committee of the Senate.
Several Senators including Senator Binta and Sen. Uchendu from Rivers state had lashed out at the oil giants apparent disrespect of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
According to the Senator from Adamawa State and one of Nigeria’s vocal gender advocates who lambasted Total for failing to appear before the Senate Committee without a single female executive in the team speaks a lot about the corporate posture of Total an international oil company operating in Nigeria, “We in the Senate have cut short our holidays to attend this investigative hearing, this is to tell you how serious an issue it is,” Sen. Binta lamented.
However, Sen. Albert Bassey from Akwa Ibom State differed, as he believed that regardless of whoever is representing the MD of Total at the investigative hearing, whatever decision taken by the committee should remain binding on all parties in the matter.
The Chairman if the committee while taking a dispassionate inquiry into the petition as presented by the indigenous vessel owners against Total as the contractors and NNPC as the concessionaires, the Ogun State born Sen. asked the indigenous vessel owners to clear the air over allegations that majority of the local vessel owners are simply portfolio/briefcase contractors who do not actually have the prerequisite technical expertise to carryout operations within global best standards.
Barr. B. E Offiong was swift to debunk that position, as it was evident that the said companies had already passed through several stages of verification and there are some already established local practitioners have been providing platform support vessels services for Total and other industry giants.
“Total plans to shortchange the indigenous vessel owners in Nigerian whom I’m representing after nearly 5 years of going through the pre-contractual verification process,” Offiong said.
Mr. Roland Ewubare Group General Manager of National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS) who represented the GMD NNPC Dr. Maikanti Baru at the investigative hearing stated that he had the mandate of the GMD to respond to this issue which had previously been considered by the House of Representatives Committee on Local Content chaired by Hon. Ekong Bassey whose committee dealt with issues regarding expatriate quota violations by international Logistics operator INTELS which led to the resignation of the then Managing Director Andrew Dawes who avoided deportation threatens by the committee.
NNPC as the concessionaire as represented by Mr. Roland Ewubare is concerned with restoring the confidence of the legislature and Nigerians at large as issues around conflict of interest and usurpation of cooperate opportunity by Total appears to shortchange indigenous players in the industry.
The GGM NAPPIMPS who is a Harvard trained Lawyer and former Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) did into fail to leave the needed assurances as he admitted to have inherited a skewed precedence but will do everything possible to correct that order.
In the words of the GGM, “I inherited a lopsided legacy and it is my job to fix it. We have to be mindful of precedence, give me nine months and I will deliver you a brand new sector,” he said.