Former Imo governor, Rochas Okorocha, was issued a certificate of return for winning the 23 February senatorial election in Imo West, and sworn in on Thursday, 13 June. The presentation of the COR came hours after the ninth National Assembly was inaugurated without Okorocha. Okorocha, as a result, could not take part in the inauguration or vote on the new Senate leadership. Okorocha was declared the winner of the senatorial election of Imo West zone, but the returning officer, Innocent Ibeabuchi said he was forced to make the declaration. Mr Okorocha applied to the High Court in Abuja for an order compelling INEC to issue him a certificate of return. In response, the commission refused to issue him one, saying it was reviewing the situation. The former governor also accused his estranged party, the APC and INEC of plotting to frustrate his senatorial ambition. Last Friday, Justice Okon Abang upturned the commission’s decision not to acknowledge Mr Okorocha’s victory.

Senator Ahmed Lawan (APC, Yobe North), on Tuesday, emerged as the Senate President. Lawan beat Ali Ndume with by 79 to 28 votes cast to secure leadership of the upper chamber. Lawan, a third-term senator, was Majority Leader in the eighth Senate. Among his legislative achievements, Lawan in August 2009 moved against the proposed Kafin Zaki Dam, arguing that the Tiga Dam and Challawa Gorge Dam had already reduced water flow drastically, causing intense poverty, increased desert encroachment, migration and conflicts between arable farmers and herdsmen. The Senator facilitated the award of a major road project – the Nguru-Gashu’a-Baymari road, the dredging of the Kumadugu Yobe river and a flood control project in Nguru and Gashua. In the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Surulere), became the Speaker.

The Department of Petroleum Resources has revoked six oil block licences due to “legacy debts”, according to a public notice on Thursday. The move by the petroleum regulator was “in furtherance of a presidential directive.” The notice said oil mining lease (OML) 98 was revoked from Pan Ocean Oil, OML 120 and 121 from Allied Energy Resources, OML 108 from Express Petroleum & Gas, and OML 110 from Cavendish Petroleum. Oil prospecting licence (OPL) 206 was also revoked from Summit Oil. The licences withdrawal comes as the country takes a more aggressive approach to collect taxes and royalties it is owed. Oil industry sources said Nigeria has also been increasingly vocal about rescinding licences that are not being actively developed. However, details of the size or value of the blocks are not readily available.

The Nigerian Ports Authority has announced the approval of a 10% discount on harbour dues in all concessioned terminals at ports in the eastern part of the country. The move, according to the NPA’s spokesman, Jatto Adams, is a part of the efforts to increase patronage of the eastern ports, including the two each in Rivers and Delta states, and Calabar. The discount will only apply to harbour dues payable by Container vessels with at least 250 TEUs; General cargo vessels with at least 16,000 tonnes; combo vessels with at least 16,000 tonnes; and RORO vessels with at least 250 units of vehicles. Vessels coming in empty; vessels calling at private jetties; and vessels calling carrying liquid bulk are not included in the discount initiative which takes immediate effect.

Commentary

  • It has been our considered opinion that INEC’s insistence on withholding Okorocha’s certificate using administrative means was illegal under the existing electoral laws – once a candidate is declared the winner by the returning officer, INEC is obliged to issue the certificate and only a court of competent jurisdiction may cause the candidate to lose their seat. We also recognise that Okorocha was alleged to have accomplished the declaration of his victory by holding the returning officer against his will until he did so. This was a security failure and such an act should have been swiftly dealt with. However, INEC cannot remedy an illegal act with another illegality and it has been compelled to comply with the court’s pronouncements. The implication of this is that the incentive for politicians to use violence to effect electoral victory declarations remain as they can occupy an office for a period before a court removes them (there is even the chance that they may never be removed). It is, therefore, pertinent for INEC and other stakeholders to ensure that electoral law reforms aim to block this loophole and others thrown up by the last elections before we go back to the ballot in four years time.
  • Despite the PDP caucus’ attempt to back APC members who dissented with the candidacies of Lawan and Gbajabiamila, the party, and President Buhari, had its way with the victories, averting an internal party crisis similar to the one that followed former Senate President Saraki’s emergence in 2016. For the first time under Buhari, he will have a pliable legislature which looks certain to facilitate his governing agenda. On the plus side, this improves the possibility of a better working relationship between the executive and legislature. Unfortunately, this development means that key reforms that are not high on Buhari’s list – including the various bills on petroleum industry reform and the Electoral Act – are highly unlikely to pass.
  • Our view remains that a discretionary approach to running the Nigerian oil industry is problematic. Implementing a transparent approach, backed by law and regulations, where the kind, magnitude and length of infractions that could possibly lead to a revocation will be to the benefit of all stakeholders and attract the right type of investors to the sector. Ideally, this should have been captured under the purview of a subsisting Petroleum Industry Bill but that bill (now broken down into three separate bills) is flirting with legislative oblivion. Clearly, there is an urgent need for the Petroleum Industry Bill to be signed into law to fast track reform in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry, taking it away from its chequered past and stimulating fresh investments in the sector.
  • This announcement by the NPA appears to be a knee jerk reaction to widespread criticism about the congestion of Lagos’ ports. Those ports – Apapa and Tin Can Island – serve the Lagos-Kano-JIbiya (LAKAJI) Corridor, a 1,225 km transport route that runs from those ports through Kano and ending in Jibiya at the border with Niger. The LAKAJI or Western Economic Corridor encompasses the states of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Kwara, Kogi, Niger, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, and Jigawa – an area with a combined GDP of $119.7 billion in 2010. Compared with total GDP of $369 billion, it implies that the hobbled and hitherto deprioritised eastern ports of the Eastern Economic Corridor (GDP: $249.3 billion in 2010) serve a larger slice of the country’s economy. It is not an accident that until the last four years, almost all of Nigeria’s primary security challenges were concentrated along the EEC. The NPA announcement is problematic for a number of reasons. For one, it does nothing to address the huge infrastructure deficiency faced in those ports. Second, some of the ports – Calabar, in particular – do not have channels deep enough to handle vessels of up to 250 TEUs, rendering the incentive ineffectual by extenuating factors. Third, it is the shippers who determine the destination of the cargo, not vessel operators, so an incentive for the latter further limits the positive impacts of the offer. A more meaningful programme by the NPA has to include dredging and revamp of essential infrastructure. Perhaps, another move the government should apply is to decouple the NPA from its aprons and allow private sector investors to take over and run the smaller ports. In addition, the NPA should consider offering rebates to shippers who determine the destination ports for their goods.