The Senate and House of Representatives have another opportunity to reclaim, reorder, and reposition the oil and gas industry for optimal national benefits. Vincent Obia writes

The Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, said last week that the Senate and the House of Representatives will restart debate on the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, popularly called PIB, this week. Saraki promised a seamless consideration of the bill for the much-expected petroleum industry law.

“The National Assembly – both Senate and House of Representatives – is working very closely together in the eighth National Assembly and as such some of these processes would not be bogged down in any of the chambers,” the senate president stated on Monday in Abuja at a Business Environment Roundtable on the economy hosted by the National Assembly. “We are both committed.

We have both come out with our agenda and as part of this commitment, you will all see next week, when we lay the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill. You will see that the bill we are going to lay in the House is the same bill we are going to lay in the Senate because for the first time, we are committed to work together as one to achieve results.”

Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara, too, had consistently expressed optimism about the future of the all-important bill.

The reintroduction of the PIB in the National Assembly presents another opportunity for people of goodwill within the legislature and around the country to gather a fresh resolve to reposition the oil and gas industry for the good of all Nigerians. The presentation of the bill in the eighth National Assembly is the latest in a series of efforts since the inception of the Fourth Republic to enact a comprehensive law to regulate the Nigerian oil and gas industry.

The PIB was first initiated in 2007 as part of the recommendations of a presidential committee on reform of the oil and gas sector. It followed recognition of the fact that to realise the country’s aspiration of becoming one of the most industrialised economies in the world by 2020 the oil industry, which is the mainstay of the economy, needed serious reform. The PIB was envisaged as the fulcrum of the whole reform initiative meant to reposition the oil and gas industry for greater efficiency, local participation, openness, and competitiveness, as well as optimal revenues for the government and people of Nigeria.

But the PIB became contentious, as diverse interests in the oil and gas sector collided. The fiscal regime proposed in the bill pitted the oil producing areas against many of the oil multinationals. And certain elements, especially from the non-oil producing parts of the country, presented a fear of the PIB as one that conceded a lot to the oil-rich Niger Delta to the detriment of other regions. This fear, of course, does not stand up to close scrutiny. Yet it was part of the hiccups that got stakeholders bogged down in trifling details, and the oil and gas industry hamstrung by a virtual lack of direction. The PIB was, thus, consigned to the dustbins of the sixth and seventh sessions of the National Assembly.

The hitches on the way of the PIB struck hard at the economic heart of the country. But the import of the bill still wouldn’t go away.

Now that the eighth National Assembly has decided to return to the PIB, as an absolute minimum, Nigerians expect a dispassionate, sincere, and patriotic discourse on the bill that would ultimately lead to its passage. It is hard to determine how the two chambers of the federal legislature arrived at the seemingly harmonised version of the bill, which Saraki promised would be simultaneously debated at the lower and upper chambers.

But what is important is the need for the legislators not to fail the country in terms of the investment of effort and passion for national progress that the PIB demands from them. Having sworn to perform their duties honestly and “always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, wellbeing and prosperity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” the lawmakers must eschew bitterness and resist the temptation to see the PIB debate as an opportunity to pursue a course of personal or group aggrandisement.

In considering the PIB, the need to optimise government revenues from oil and gas, boost incentive for investment in the industry, and address the lingering sense of exploitation in the oil producing areas should be uppermost in the minds of the lawmakers.