• Says it will empower technocrats
  • Gives more details today
  • To act on amended electoral law

Deji Elumoye in Abuja

President Muhammadu Buhari has declined to assent to the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, PIGB, sent to him by the National Assembly last month.

Sources told Thisday that the president hinged his assent refusal to the fact that the bill would whittle down his power as the Minister of Petroleum Resources and that of the Minister of State, Mr Ibe Kachikwu.

The president, in separate communications to the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, was said to have taken exception to the fact that the bill empowered the technocrats in the petroleum industry.

Buhari, the THISDAY sources said, however, gave assurances that his refusal to assent to the bill would not in any way affect the fiscal policy focus of his administration.

Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Ita Enang, told THISDAY this morning that he would speak in detail over the matter later today after consulting his records and principal.

Presently, Nigeria is losing billions as revenue due to the absence of an independent regulatory body in the petroleum sector.

Analysts expressed disappointment last night over the development, regretting that the president vetoed the bill for the very reasons the alterations were proposed.

The bill, they said, aimed essentially to reduce the power of the minister in order to stamp out the abuse of the wide discretion given him under the principal act, which enables him to allocate oil blocs at will with little or no restraints.

The possibility of abuse of such discretion, the analysts said became manifest, especially under the watch of Chief Dan Etete and Mrs. Diezani Alisson-Madueke.

According to them, Buhari who is currently the Minster of Petroleum might have been prevailed upon by his close aides to retain the powers, which he would exercise for the next four years if he wins the presidential election in 2019.

The Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, PIGB, passed by the National Assembly in March, 2018 was transmitted to President Buhari in July for his assent.

The bill, which was initiated by late President Umaru Yar’Adua and sent to the 6th National Assembly headed by Senator David Mark in 2008 had been enmeshed in controversy due to some of its provisions.

The Senate had on March 28 passed the PIGB having adopted the report of the conference committee of the PIGB, which harmonised the versions earlier passed by both Senate and House of Representatives.

The harmonised version of the bill seeks to, among others, unbundle the NNPC and merge its subsidiaries such as Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR and Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, into one entity.

The objectives of the PIGB, include transforming the administration of the upstream, midstream and downstream sectors of the Nigerian petroleum industry.

The bill creates a framework that will free up acreages that are not being developed by current license and lease holders, thereby creating opportunities for new investors. This will bring substantial new investment to the nation’s oil and gas industry.

The bill also ensures effective management of the environment by petroleum operators and administrators.

It provides a framework to unleash midstream activities which will open up the market for the supply of gas and other downstream products, for economic growth and provides much needed legal backing for the deregulation of our downstream petroleum sector.

Again Presidency Assures on Amended Electoral Law

As concerns mount over Buhari’s delay in assenting to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018, the presidency reiterated yesterday that there was no cause for alarm as the president would certainly do the needful before the bill lapses.

Some Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) had expressed fears to THISDAY yesterday that Buhari might withhold assent to the bill, which had been returned to the National Assembly unsigned twice.

The bill was transmitted to the president for his assent on August 2, 2018 after the corrected version was passed by the National Assembly on July 24. It would lapse on Monday, September 3, 2018.

If the president fails to assent the bill or return it to the parliament at the end of 30 days, the National Assembly has the option of override to pass into law.

But the presidency has promised that it won’t get to that level as the president will do the needful before the expiration of the 30 days constitutional provision.

The Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, spoke at the Presidential Villa, Abuja yesterday and said, “We will do the needful before the bill expires.”

Enang, who had recently countered the allegation that the president again refused to sign the bill into law, explained that the bill was being studied by the president’s team before he signs it.

Enang had debunked the claims that Buhari had vetoed the bill.

He had stated, “The final clean copy of the bill, which was received by President Buhari on August 2, 2018, is still undergoing thorough scrutiny by the president.

“Mr. President has not vetoed the bill. What some people are not aware of was that when the second copy was received after the initial rejection, it was discovered that there were typography errors, which the National Assembly needed to correct and they did it and sent it back on the 24th of July and this is still being studied before presidential assent.”

He explained, “It is good for people to cross check their facts first before feeding the public with the wrong information. As you know the president embarked on a 10 day leave soon after we submitted the bill to him, so we should wait.”

Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mahmoud Yakubu, had declared that the bill will not be used for the 2019 February general election unless it was signed into law at least six months before the election.

The bill contains relevant provisions that is expected to guide INEC in the conduct of the 2019 election.

CSOs Express Concerns

Leading Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) had expressed serious concerns over the delay presidential assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018, saying the president’s action could scuttle the 2019 general election.

Although the president has six more days to sign before veto could be assumed, the CSOs expressed fears that the delay in assent to the bill might be an indication that Buhari might have further objections to the alterations to the law, which promulgated in 2010.

Two previous amendment bills had been returned without assent in March and July 2018 respectively, following the president’s objections to some of the alterations made to the principal act that was last amended in 2015.

Speaking with THISDAY, the Executive Director of the Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER), Mr. Frank Tietie, expressed dismay over the president’s refusal to sign the bill, transmitted to him by the National Assembly more than three weeks ago.

According to him, “We are shocked beyond belief that the president could delay his assent to the bill,’’ adding that the president doesn’t have the luxury of one more day in signing the document.

“He may only be keeping it for convenience; but he cannot, except the president has realized that it’s better to conduct the general election without PVCs, so that the incongruities and inconsistency together with the fraudulent practices that were associated with 2015 elections will now be repeated in 2019. I hope that will not be the case,” Tietie said

The Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) claimed that Buhari is not who he claims to be, saying his sustained opposition to democratic tenets, including his delay to assent to the bill, barely a week to its expiration, clearly exposes the underbelly of the president as possibly opposed to the alterations.

Speaking with THISDAY, CLO President, Mr. Igho Akeregha, said that the inherent benefits of the bill, which Buhari had not signed provided for use of card reader for the 2019 general elections with the ultimate aim to nip electoral fraud and manipulation in the bud.

‘’The CLO agrees with all those who subscribe to the provisions of this bill and its capacity to guarantee credible, free and fair elections next year. What President Buhari has done by ignoring citizens clamour for him to sign the bill is a clear violation of his oath of office and a demonstration that he is not in sync with Nigerians and best global democratic practice,’’ the foremost human rights group added.

According to the group, ‘’Here is a man who promised at his inauguration that I am for nobody. I am for everyone, meaning he was going to pursue the interest of the critical mass of Nigerians. What he has shown by his continuous intransigence and opposition to the will of citizens is that he cannot be trusted to continue to lead.’’

Similarly, Dr. Tony Akabuno, the Co-Convener of Red Card Movement, advised the president to hurriedly sign the bill into law before the expiration of the 30 days window, saying refusing to sign the bill would be viewed as a deliberate plot by the ruling party to manipulate the general election.

He said, “This will be resisted with the full force of the law by the oppressed citizens of Nigeria. If for any reason the president does the unthinkable, by refusing to assent to the bill, then we will not hesitate to mobilize the office of the citizens to resist any attempt by the decadent political class to manipulate the forthcoming election. We remain vigilant and determined to resist any attempt by the political class to manipulate the electoral process.’’

Mr. Kingsley Nnajiaka, the Legal Officer, Centre for Social Justice, said that one of the immediate implications of the possible refusal by president to sign the bill will render ineffective the use of card reader in 2019 general elections.

‘’The technological innovation introduced by INEC to help deepen our democracy as noble as the idea may appear, it is unknown to the Electoral Act. The current bill pending before Mr. President has captured the use of card reader,’’ he stated, adding, ‘’If actually Mr. President want our electoral system to be reformed, the bill must be signed into law without delay. The earlier he does that, the better for this country since no amendment shall be made in electoral Act six months to the election.’’

The spokesman of the Pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said that it was unfortunate that the president had not sign the bill in national interest, saying Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), might be working against the electronic transmission of election results.