The Senate’s recent assurance that the law to govern Nigeria’s oil and gas industry, hitherto known as the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), will be passed latest by March or April this year is worth acknowledging and the distinguished Senators should be held to their words. Passing the PIB is one step to sanity in an oil and gas sector that has been mismanaged over the years.
In the event of a proper re-structuring of Nigeria into a functional federation not taking place in the immediate, this law should receive total attention to bring some transparency into the sector.
The PIB has remained un-passed for nearly 10 years since it was presented to the National Assembly (NASS), even though Nigerians expected a prompt passage when it was first introduced in May 2009.
Three legislative assemblies have since sat over it. The first legislative assembly under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration actually passed the bill but the president refused to sign it into law.
The bill was re-presented under the Umaru Yar’Adua administration, and ever since then, has lingered, making this re-awakened interest in the bill is, therefore, a welcome development.
The Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream) had made the disclosure of the renewed interest at a plenary in Abuja to discuss new legislation and policy to transform the oil and gas sector.
The plenary was held on the margins of the 16th Nigeria Oil and Gas Conference and Exhibition (NOG) where solutions were proffered on how government policies could help develop the oil sector.
According to the Committee’s chairman, Tayo Alasoadura, the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill will by the end of March go through its third reading, to address all governance-related issues in Nigeria’s oil and gas sector.
He noted that once the bill gets to its third reading, it is as good as passed and said Senate expects the bill to be passed latest by April.
Along with the PIB is the Local Content law which Alasoadura also promised the Senate would give proper attention to.
According to him, Nigeria needs a national oil company that will be smooth in operation, commercially viable and transparent in management.
He reiterated that the lawmakers decided to have only one regulatory body in the oil/gas sector to ease the process of doing business and attract more investments.
A situation where it takes about a year to set up a business in the industry is an aberration and the ideal thing is to have a timeline for all businesses to be completed within six months.
While it is heartening that the Senate is gearing up to finally pass the PIB into law, it needs to be reiterated that, perhaps, no other piece of legislation has been so politicised like it.
It would be recalled that the fundamental objective of the PIB is to “vest oil and gas resources in the Sovereign State of Nigeria”, which is tantamount to changing the existing order whereby foreign interests rule Nigeria’s oil industry while Nigerians are marginalised in poverty.
Shortly after the bill was first introduced, two strong forces rose vehemently against it. Whereas, the international oil companies (IOCs), which constitute the major players in the industry, were afraid of what could become of their investment in the sector, an internal hurdle arising from the geopolitics of oil revenue sharing in Nigeria created another problem.
Some states which for long have been sustained by oil revenue allocation received from the Federation Account couldn’t understand why the existing arrangement should change. Consequently, they wanted the status quo to remain.
At a point, as if to accommodate such varying interests, the Federal Government renamed the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) the Petroleum Reform Bill (PRB), which seemed to foreclose the prospect of having the bill passed in its original formulation.
The original bill, no doubt, has been watered downed to satisfy vested interests.
The PIB, in its original form, represents the single most ambitious piece of legislation that has the capacity to transform the Nigerian economy, which under the present structure, is mono-product and oil-based economy.
Given the importance of the bill, it is baffling why the National Assembly should have delayed to get it passed into law. Now the question is: How much longer would this bill remain in limbo, especially, if the current lawmakers fail to pass it?
That the PIB has dragged on for 10 years without passage smacks of lack of patriotism on the part of all those involved. And there is no better illustration of how dysfunctional the structure of Nigeria is in its present form than the inability to pass that law till date. Suffice to say that since the ideal to which Nigeria should aspire is a proper federation in which all resources are vested in the people of the areas where such are found, the delay over this oil industry bill has made the quest for that ideal more urgent.