Ajumogobia: PIGB Could Sail Through Despite 2019 Elections

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A former Minister of State for Petroleum cum Chairman, Expert Advisory Panel of the Nigeria Natural Resource Charter, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia, spoke to Chineme Okafor on the interactions pertaining to the passage of the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill. Excerpts:

After about 18 years, the National Assembly sort of found a way around the PIB – breaking it into component parts and passing its first component – the PIGB. But recent developments make the whereabouts of the PIGB suspicious, what really could be wrong, do you have an idea?

I have no more information than any member of the public. According to the Senate President’s tweet on April 28, 2018, the 8th National Assembly had sent on that day, a harmonised copy of the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) to President Buhari for assent. Therefore the PIGB is with the President.

Since then, there have been indications that the President is in consultations involving experts and stakeholders aimed at ensuring that the PIGB is error free and acceptable to all stakeholders before signing it into law.

Reliable sources have hinted that the president may not be disposed to signing the PIGB. They allege he’s being advised against it on the basis that he’ll lose his discretionary powers in the country’s oil sector, what do you make of this?

It is certainly true that the petroleum minister will lose a degree of discretionary power under the PIGB. That indeed was part of its purpose: to provide an efficient, effective and transparent governance and institutional framework for the Nigerian petroleum industry and create clear separation between, policy, regulatory and commercial institutions that will in a transparent and accountable manner ensure value creation and addition and internationalisation of the petroleum industry.

While it would not surprise me that some of the President’s advisers may see certain aspects of the bill as curtailing the President’s powers, it must be remembered that these are powers that the President is to exercise as minister and not as president.

Given President Buhari’s antecedents, I believe that he would be committed to signing the PIGB or as may be amended, into law considering the potential benefits to the economy and the nation as a whole. The delay as alluded to earlier, may stem from on-going consultations being carried out by the President. It is my hope that these consultations are concluded quickly and the PIGB is signed into law.

We’ve talked severally about what the country loses from the lack of reforms in her oil industry. Do you think this is genuinely felt or known by the political class, how much longer do you think we have on this ‘ostrich’ path?

It is indeed true that the oil and gas industry is in dire need for reforms. The passage of the PIGB by the National Assembly after about 18 years, now awaiting presidential assent is proof that the ‘political class’ understands or recognises the urgent need for reforms in the industry.

It must be noted however, that the extent to which the proposed changes contained in the bill will be made manifest, will certainly depend on a variety of factors which include attitudinal changes and integrity. Without these, the industry’s road to recovery, rediscovery and redevelopment as a catalyst for economic and national development, will remain rhetorical at best.

From your standpoint, what could go wrong with the passage of the PIGB into law, especially with the 2019 elections at hand?

If we stay focused, it is unlikely that the PIGB would be impacted by the 2019 elections. The PIGB has undergone vigorous review and analysis at the National Assembly. What is left is for the President to sign it into law.

Of course, the President is not expected to rubber-stamp it but consider its merits. There are eminently qualified personnel in the executive branch of government to advise him in that regard. Therefore, I do not see why the 2019 elections should affect the passage of the PIGB.

But, do you think there’s still a whiff of chance at getting the PIGB become a law with just about 9 months or thereabout to the elections, will the politicians have the time to commit to it. What does its failure mean to the president’s re-contest?

The benefits of the PIGB which in itself is only a segment of the original Petroleum Industry Bill, cannot be overemphasised. Amongst other things, it is expected to usher in efficient management, transparency and accountability in the oil and gas industry.

There is however an obvious tension between the timely passage of the PIGB and preparation for the 2019 general elections. It is thus a matter of garnering the political will to do what will be beneficial to the industry and to the lives and future of the citizens of this country.
I do not however see how its non-passage into law will affect the 2019 elections. Such discussions or predictions should be left after the elections.

If we miss this opportunity – that is, having the PIGB crossed over now, what chances do we have, are we going to have it go through another legislative process, and on what circumstances can the NASS veto the president if he fails to assent the bill?

If the PIGB is not signed into law before 29 May 2019, then we have to start afresh by re-presenting it before the 9th National Assembly that will resume sitting after 29 May 2019.
Constitutionally, the National Assembly can veto the President where he fails to sign the PIGB into law. Section 58 (5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides that where the President withholds assent to a bill, the National Assembly is empowered by the Constitution to override the President’s veto and to pass the bill into law directly where the bill is passed by two-thirds majority of each house of the National Assembly.