Written by the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper
Reports that the Federal Government had renamed the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) as Petroleum Reform Bill (PRB) is tragic in the extreme. That is a pointer to the fact that indeed some shadowy stakeholders seem hell-bent on sabotaging passage of a bill that is at the heart of reviving the mainstay of the Nigerian economy – oil and gas exploration business. Besides, what is in a name that seems to have foreclosed the prospect of passing the bill in its original form? It is also unclear which version of the bill has been renamed since there have been many versions of the most retouched bill since 1999 when this republic began.
It makes no sense that after more than a decade since the bill was first presented to the National Assembly (NASS), what Nigerians are getting is a cosmetic change of name, instead of passing it. There is no fundamental difference between what the PIB and PRB should contain unless there are some hidden agenda to distort the original objectives. This whole idea is curious and most people will see it as diversionary and the goal is to delay it till the end of this session of the National Assembly in 2019. Besides, there is a sense in which it can be said that the same powers that would not like the petroleum industry to be reformed for operational efficiency, accountability and profitability are again working hard to sabotage its passage. The same bill had twice been passed and two former presidents had refused to sign it into law. This is unconscionable.
The PRB bill to be presented to the NASS shortly will effectively obliterate the original PIB. And there is no way the PIB and all its provisions would be the same as the PRB. Those behind the PRB have a different idea that they should table before the people that elected them. Whereas there is yet no formal announcement about the PRB, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, had during the 10th international conference of the Nigeria Gas Association (NGA) hinted at this when he reportedly referred to the PIB as PRB.
According to the Minister, government was in the process of completing draft legislation on the Petroleum Reform Bill, which would address institutional regulatory reforms necessary for the petroleum sector.
The former NNPC GMD had then noted that the bill would capture the key positions including the current gap in the Petroleum Act by providing clear rules for the exploration, development and utilization of gas.
Other issues the bill seeks to address include gas flaring, gas pricing and providing the basis for gas licensing activities throughout the gas value chain.
Ahead of the new bill, Kachikwu had also hinted that the vision of the sector “is to build an attractive gas-based industrial nation, with attention given to meeting local gas demand and developing significant presence in the international market.”
The priority of government, he had added included utilization of natural gas for domestic needs of the power sector. The minister further disclosed that plans were afoot to establish an Independent Petroleum Regulatory Authority through which government would execute its regulatory mandate.
The fundamental objective of the PIB is “to vest oil and gas resources in the sovereign state of Nigeria”. That amounts to changing the existing order, whereby, the oil, which is virtually vested in foreign interests, is made open for local participation. Getting Nigerians to be more involved in oil is the crux of the PIB. At present, while foreigners are reaping the oil benefits, Nigerians are sidelined despite the existence of the Local Content Act and Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF).
The key issues in the original PIB should not be removed without consultation with the people. Except these key issues are retained, the PRB would just be a camouflage without anything to offer Nigerians. Therefore, the Buhari administration should not make a mess of the bill under any guise because it is strategic to national planning and development. Most prosperous oil-producing countries in the Middle East and South America have settled their petroleum reform laws. It is unfortunate that state actors in Nigeria always fall short of expectation when it comes to developing state institutions for the public good. They would rather subsume public interest in their enlightened self-interest. This is insufferable.
This is a moment of truth. Apart from corruption in the oil sector that has made the PIB vulnerable, it has also been held down by two factors, namely, the international oil companies (OICs) and the North.
Whereas the IOCs want the status quo to remain to continue their domination, the North has been uncomfortable with some of the clauses in the PIB, especially, those giving concessionary benefits to the oil communities. The controversial northern interest has reportedly divided the National Assembly.
That the PIB has been with the federal legislators for the past 18 months is an indictment on the NASS that passed the North East Development Commission (NEDC) bill within six months. This time, the federal lawmakers who are familiar with the PIB provisions should not allow the executive bill to be delayed through any subterfuge approach. That will be working against national interest. And even if the authors of the bill would like to change the name, all former essential provisions should remain valid.