Hon. Emmanuel Ekon is the Chairman, Nigerian House of Representative’s Committee on Local Content, at the recently held Nigerian Oil and Gas Opportunities’ Fair in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, he spoke extensively on the need to review the existing Local Content Act as enacted in 2010 for the oil and gas industry with a vow to replicate same laws in other areas of government functionaries; while blamed the arbitrary abuse of the Nigerian Content laws on Nigerians nonchalant disposition at switchboard, negligence and lackadaisical approach to due-diligence, Ekon promised better deal in days ahead. He spoke with MARGARET NONGO-OKOJOKWU in Uyo. Excerpt:
What’s your view on the Nigerian Content Act?
Let me start by saying, Local Content law was enacted by President Goodluck Jonathan. One of the cardinal reasons why that law was enacted in 2010 was to build indigenous capacity in the oil and gas industry in Nigeria and looking back on the road map between 2010 and today; you will agree with me that Nigeria has done well in the oil and gas industry. Prior to the enactment of this law, a lot of things were going wrong; a lot of Nigerians did not have opportunity of being supplied water even food like have being consumed by expatriate in the oil and gas industry, but since the enactment of the law, quiet a lot of people have been gainfully employed, couple of fabricated job has been won by Nigerians in the oil and gas industry. So, for me I think it is a good law as churn out by the legislative arms of the Nigerian National Assembly. For me as the Chairman, I believe that if we can diversify this law to other sectors like Power, Aviation, Construction considering the gains we had in the oil and gas industry, Nigeria would be better for all of us.
Can you throw more light on the opportunities in the oil and gas sector?
The opportunity fare essentially is to gather the oil majors, the international oil companies operating within the shore of Nigeria to come in here and tell the indigenous local contractors, what are the opportunities that are coming up in the next couple of years, so that the Nigerian indigenous companies can also brace up to key into those opportunities if it means to undergo trainings, it can be done now if it means to build capacity, they can do it now; if it is in terms of funding, they can also look for funding now, so it is a kind of giving us an expo on what is going to happen so they can get prepare for the exams, so that is why we gathered these people here today to come and tell our indigenous contractors what is being expected, what is going to happen, what kind of projects and which way are they looking at in the oil and gas industry, which way is it going in the next couple of years, so that we can also brace up and follow them.
Nigeria is marking seven years since the enactment of the Local Content Act, what do you have to say about the journey so far?
Prior to seven years ago, a lot of services were being outsourced, including the supply of water that expatriates would drink within the oil and gas facilities, even food that we consumed were outsourced, little things like bolts, shafts were outsourced, even labour; talk of little artisan jobs were also outsourced, but with the existence of this law today, some of those things are now being carried out by Nigerians, so for me in the last seven years, I would say we have attained a little mileage in terms of local capacity development.
I understand that there is a planned review of the Local Content Act by PETAN, as a NASS member, what is the role of the Senate in this and how far has this gone?
Well, I don’t know which one they have pushed, but I know that if in the process of trying to implement this law, we observe that there are some deficiencies and difficulties that needs to be addressed, a lot can be tinkered with, that is why we have the room for amendment, so if there are issues in the law that have existed or arisen which we did not notice when the law was being passed, we can amend it. However, I have not seen anything from PETAN yet, but I know an amendment was done by me last year, but then like I said, we are ready at any time that Nigerian people needs a law to be tinkered with, but what I am working on right now is to diversify the law to other sectors like construction, telecoms, aviation, etc so that we can replicate the gain we have in the oil and gas sector, that is what we are working on now.
Recently, NCDMB inaugurated local content committee in ICT, as a member of the House Committee, in what areas are you diversifying?
I don’t know how the NCDMB inaugurated its committee on local content on ICT, but I do know that Nigerian Communication Commission, NCC has local content in their organization; yes, the local content department is there, but there has never been an existing legislature to back it up, but what we are trying to do now, as at last week is to sit down, write a letter and look at things holistically, and send these letters to some of these organizations like NCC and Niger Delta Power Holdings, let them come and brief the committee on what they are doing about Local content in the IJC, in that way we would know where to start by trying to draft the implementation on those policies that have been put in place. We need to diversify the Local Content provisions into other sectors, that way, perhaps, other agencies of government like what we have in Balyelsa state; we can have a directorate that will also monitor infractions in those areas as well.
Do you think we have the capacity to handle this in those areas at the moment?
Nigeria has the capacity to handle anything, even the international community has proffered in several forums that Nigeria has capacity to go about anything, all we just need to do is to change our attitude, there is nothing that is impossible for Nigerians to do, the capacity is there, we only need to open the platform for other people to manage.
How would you go about monitoring of the IOCs which you mentioned on flouting the provisions in the Local Content law?
I have shared it in different fora, the problem we have in Nigeria is that Nigerians are the architect of their own problems. For example, a situation where we have an agency that is supposed to oversee a scheme; for instance, infractions in the expatriate quota, agencies that are supposed to monitor the number of expatriates that come into the country are not doing what they are supposed to do, until we sit down as a body and say let’s do what we are supposed to do. The enabling law is there for us to follow, the thing is that we are not following it. The law is very emphatic, it is very explicit that when you want to bring in an expatriate, there are processes you have to follow, but in a situation where those processes are not being followed and the regulatory body that are supposed to check whether these processes are being followed ignore it, there is a problem, so it is not the expats that are giving us the issues, it is us Nigerians, and when we sit down and say enough is enough, I think we would able to correct our mistakes.
What future do you see for Local Content in Nigeria?
Great future of course, we are driving it; I have been in the saddle for one and a half year, though I can’t rate myself but I think the industry have seen the kind of leadership, I believe the industry has confidence on the Local Content Committee, we are going to build on that, the future is bright, future is great if only the people can understand that this law is actually made for us not the IOCs, and if they know that and partner with the National Assembly, I think we will get there.