I watched with bemusement on Wednesday night as members of the House of Representatives, once again, put themselves on the line for the assessment of Nigerians. It is no secret that possibly since 1999 when the country returned to civil rule, no set of legislators has courted public opprobrium like Class 2015. And the question has mostly been about whether these people truly hold national interest above personal or class interests. Most often than not, they have shown their hands as men and women after nothing but the feathering of other interests than that which promotes public good. Unfortunately, to make things worse, in this pursuit, they very often act ultra vires.
An example of such situations is Wednesday’s motion which ordered the Attorney General of the Federation and the Nigerian Ports Authority to reverse the termination of its contract with INTELS. In discussing this motion, as shown on Channels Television News at 10, the House was divided along party lines but at the end of the day, those who wanted the termination “reinstated” pending the conclusion of investigations of an ad hoc committee set up to look into the matter carried the day.
What is curious about discussions in the House is that they sounded so much like they were in the court of law. While some of the members actually suggested that INTELS should go to court to protect its interest if it feels shortchanged, one or two members, whose names I did not get, were actually talking about the need to protect the “res”. And I found myself wondering if these people actually imagine that they had the powers of the courts, the powers to protect the res! But even the courts do not exercise the power to issue what would amount to an ex parte order without discretion.
While one cannot fault the House of Representatives for its decision to investigate the circumstances surrounding the termination of the boat pilotage contract, one finds it preposterous that it would order a reversal of a decision that is said to have been taken as a result of infractions on the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended.
I cannot vouch for the process that the AGF and NPA employed in the termination of this contract, not being a party to it, but it is trite that even if the terms of the initial agreement between the parties had been infringed, it is only a court of law that can adjudicate such infringement. Except of course in the case of Arbitration Clauses that may have been part of the contract. For the House of Representatives to suggest that it has the power to “maintain the res” is to say the least, laughable.
But we can even take this argument further. The member of the House who raised this issue of national importance during Plenary on Wednesday, Hon Duoye Diri, from Bayelsa State, and some of the other contributors identified the need to protect about 7000 jobs as one of the reasons for their intervention. And one is forced to ask what this has got to do with conforming to the laws of the land? The argument that the lawmakers seem to be making here is that even if infractions have truly been established against INTELS, Nigeria must condone them because they employ a huge number of our people. I honestly cannot think of a more incredible proposition.
I agree that Nigeria needs all the job opportunities that it can muster at this time, but nothing is more important than the sanctity of our laws as they are the only things that make us a civilised society. The moment investors are unable to vouch for the ability of Nigeria to protect them through the instrumentality of the law, the country would have sacrificed its qualification as a civilised country. We cannot scare investors away with the lack of assurance for a level playing field that the restoration of a contract that is patently illegal would convey.
But are we even losing 7000 jobs with the termination of the boat pilotage contract?
Does INTELS have that number of employees for this single contract or it has summed up its staff strength to include its operation as a terminal operator in three port locations, some of which have the best facilities to receive oil and gas cargoes in the country? These terminals are still receiving virtually all of Nigeria’s oil and gas cargoes at the moment since other operators do not immediately offer the infrastructure to compete with INTELS.
This is another area in which members of the House of Representatives did not demonstrate adequate knowledge. One of the members was speculating that the INTELS concession deal has been terminated, but there is nothing more untrue. As we speak, INTELS still operates terminals for the NPA in Onne, Calabar and Port Harcourt. We need to get informed about these things before we speak about them, please!
As someone who has practiced in the maritime sector for well over one decade, I think the noise about the loss of 7000 jobs is cheap blackmail. I am aware that INTELS employs thousands of Nigerians but that cannot be related to this contract only. That the company also makes it sound like it has lost out completely in its business with the NPA is also a dishonest strategy that Nigerians must see through.
Even as we speak, INTELS receives the greater number of oil and gas cargoes in Nigeria because of the capacity and infrastructure that it has built in the years that it had monopoly in that sector. So playing the cheated victim in the public space is deceptive.
In any case, even if INTELS had 7000 people employed for its boat pilotage service, wouldn’t the expertise of these people be needed by whoever is taking over the agency?
It is in the same way that one cannot fathom the company’s threat that the termination of this contract will jeopardise its plan to invest in Badagry. Again, this is blackmail. If INTELS runs away from this investment, it does not take the opportunity away and some other investors would soon get to exploit the opportunity, ultimately the losers would be no one but INTELS.
Having said all that, I will tell INTELS that rather than run helter skelter blackmailing government and playing on the emotions of Nigeria, it should look for opportunities to settle this amicably with the NPA and if that does not work, it should review its business process and ensure that it conforms to all Nigerian laws. The company cannot continue to give the impression that only Nigeria has benefitted from its investments in the country. The truth is INTELS has become an enormously big entity on the bill of Nigeria. It has been a mutually beneficial relationship and the company will lose too much by making it sound otherwise.
Asuquo, a marine engineer, wrote in from Port Harcourt, Rivers State