Udora Orizu writes that despite recent hurdles at the public hearing on the Petroleum Industry Bill, members of the 9th National Assembly are committed to ensuring the passage of the long awaited legislation
Following altercation between members of the oil producing communities, organised labour and various interests groups, and eventual rejection of some provisions in the new Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), at a recent public hearing, it seemed the legislation was faced with another jinx, with no hope of it being passed into law just like in the previous assemblies.
However, despite failed attempts by the previous assemblies and the recent hurdles from vested interests, the parliament’s will to see to the passage of the bill is not dampened, rather the federal legislators are working harder to ensure all concerns by the host communities are met and the long awaited legislation which is expected to bring about reforms in the oil sector, is passed into law by April this year.
The bill was first sent to the National Assembly in December 2008 by the then President Umaru Yar’Adua. A presidential committee set up in 2007 to look into the oil and gas sector came up with the idea of this bill, which aims to increase transparency at the NNPC and to increase Nigeria’s share of oil revenue.
The Bill then was never passed into law due to objections from the International oil companies (IOCs) and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) over the content in its drafts. In 2015, the then Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu said the PIB was to be amended to speed up its passage. Consequently, the Bill was broken into different parts, to address various aspects of the oil industry.
In 2016, the Senate showed signs of readiness to begin deliberations on the Bill, set to be moved for a second reading by the Chairman of Senate Committee on Petroleum (Upstream), Senator Omotayo Alasoadura.
Ahead of the debate on the Bill, Senators from the Niger Delta area, who had moved for the suspension of the bill some months back, because they believed that the non-inclusion of the community demands in the first phase might aggravate the tension in the oil producing areas, concluded plans to meet to brainstorm on the resuscitation of the bill and ensure that the work on its passage moves fast. The plan to ensure that it was passed before the end of the legislative sitting, for 2016, never became a reality.
Again in 2018, a version of the bill, the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), was passed by the 8th National Assembly, however President Muhammadu Buhari refused to assent to it.
The Renewed Zeal
Both chambers of the 9th Assembly since their inauguration, made the PIB an item of priority in their legislative agenda.
President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan and his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila had at different fora assured that the 9th National Assembly would ensure that the Bill was passed into law.
President Muhammadu Buhari on September 29, 2020 transmitted the new PIB to the legislators.
After receiving the Bill from the executive arm, both the Senate and the House got to work. The Bill was passed through first and second reading without varying views from the lawmakers, and consequently in December an ad-hoc committee was set up by the House, chaired by Hon. Mohammed Tahir Monguno and deputised by Hon. Victor Nwokolo.
Dangers of Delaying Passage of PIB
The new PIB titled: “A Bill for an Act to Provide Legal, Governance, Regulatory and Fiscal Framework for the Nigerian Petroleum Industry, the Development of Host Community and for Related Matters,” amongst others seeks to scrap the Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF) and Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) and replace them with a new agency to be known as Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Regulatory Authority (NMDRA) which shall be responsible for the technical and commercial regulation of midstream and upstream petroleum operations in the industry.
The Bill proposes the establishment of Nigerian Upstream Regulatory Commission to be responsible for the technical and commercial regulation of upstream petroleum operations.
It further seeks the commercialisation of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to become Nigerian National Petroleum Company to be incorporated under the Companies and Allied Matters Act by the Minister of petroleum.
The passage of PIB is very important as it is believed will give room for meaningful progress to be made in the oil and gas industry in particular, and Nigeria in general.
Also the absence of the PIB is responsible for series of economic and environmental sabotage in Nigeria as a whole, and the Niger Delta region where the oil fields are located in particular.
Addressing Pressure from Vested Interests
Soon after they called for memoranda from stakeholders, the President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan, revealed that the National Assembly has come under pressure from vested interests pushing for the usual to happen.
Lawan, however, reassured Nigerians that the bill will be passed in record time with utmost focus on safeguarding the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians.
Corroborating, Lawan statement, the House Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila,
did not hide the fact that vested interests have again activated their crafts saying, the National Assembly is not oblivious to the fact of many contending interests in the sector.
Speaking to participants at the public hearing, he noted that these contentions do not need to result in conflict, especially when we know the objective of national prosperity benefits us all.
He also reiterated the determination of the 9th Assembly to pass the PIB by April.
Committee’s Unwavering Faith
Despite attempts to thwart their efforts, the lawmakers are committed to passing the PIB, with the interest of Nigerians in mind.
The Chairman of the Adhoc Committee on the PIB, Hon. Mohammed Tahir Monguno while delivery his remarks at the public hearing, said that the bill when passed is expected to address salient issues, especially in the oil producing areas of the federation.
Monguno lamented the failure of Nigeria to overcome factors hindering the coming into being of the law.
Also to ensure that the host communities is fairly dealt with in the new legislation, Hon. Monguno speaking after the fight that broke out among representatives of the Host communities, assured them to shun any act of violence as the panel will visit and engage them one after another to assess their submissions as contained in their memoranda.
As the 9th Assembly has vowed to see the process through by April 2021, Nigerians are optimistic that it will run its full course by getting the much needed presidential approval unlike previous versions of the PIB which never saw the light of day.