ByÂ Emmanuel Aziken & Inalegwu Shaibu
The Senate, yesterday, advanced the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) despite strong reservations by senators from the Niger Delta region on its lack of consideration of the interest of the oil- producing region.
PIB which aims to repeal all laws presently regulating the petroleum industry and enact them under one comprehensive law also aims to break up the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
NNPC Group Managing Director, Dr. Mohammed Barkindo, who witnessed yesterdayâ€™s deliberation in the Senate, immediately thumbed up the proposed law as a needed tonic to enhance the fortunes of the industry.
Laying the bill yesterday, Senate Leader, Senator Teslim Folarin, said the bill which is the most comprehensive piece of legislation to go through the present National Assembly has over 500 provisions covering â€œvirtually every aspect of governance and operations across the petroleum value chain, ranging from fundamental objectives of state policy, institutional framework, upstream and downstream operations, fiscal system and to matters of health, safety and environment and community relations.â€
According to him the bill aims to establish a new fiscal regime for the industryÂ that will help to â€œcapture the full gas value chain for taxation purposes, developing a fiscal regime for gas that is decoupled from oil thereby creating a level playing field for all investors in gas.â€™â€™
Though strong support was expressed by several senators, a couple of senators from the Niger Delta region lamented that the good contents of the bill did not extend to the Niger Delta region.
â€œIt is a good bill for Nigeria and not a good bill for where the oil is got. If you take the bill, very, very little is said about the environment where the area is got,â€™â€™ Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, the Deputy Senate Leader and leader of the South-South Senate caucus said in his contribution.
He faulted the billâ€™s failure to consider the environmental impact of oil exploration.
Other reservations came from senators Nimi Barigha-Amange (PDP, Bayelsa East), Heineken Lokpobiri (PDP, Bayelsa West), and Thompson Sekibo (PDP, Rivers South-East) among others.
Senator Barigha-Amange while opposing the bill decried the degradation of the oil rich region by oil companies and profiteering from the suffering of the people by government. He said dividing the NNPC will not address the Niger Delta crisis.
He asked, â€œWill the bill address the suffering of oil producing communities? Will splitting the NNPC resuscitate the environment, will it give jobs in oil companies to oil producing communities, will it resuscitate the creeks, rivers, oil producing communities do their fishing, can it stop acid rain on roof of people in the Niger Delta. It is not enough to say we want to split NNPC to 10 autonomous.â€
Senator Lokpobiri in his opposition said the problem in the Niger Delta was not due to lack of effective laws but the failure in the implementation of the laws.
â€œI oppose the bill in its root, stem and branch. It is absolutely unnecessary in character and content. It should be sent to River Niger. Are the problems bedeviling the oil industry lack of laws? We have 20 laws regulating the different aspects of our petroleum industry. The issue is not lack of laws, the issue is lack of implementation.â€
â€œSomebody somewhere is lazy, the person just sat down, picked various aspects of the acts and sent it to the National Assembly. If we accept the bill, we will regret at the end of the day. If the essence of the bill is to unbundle the NNPC, all we need to do is to repeal the NNPC law,â€ he submitted.
However at the end of the debate, Senate President, Senator David Mark agreed with the Niger Delta Senators on the lack of provisions in the bill to address environmental in the Delta Region.
He said, â€œPeople should be concerned about the situations of the people where oil is produced from. They are Nigerians and they deserve to be considered in the making of laws of this nature.â€
The bill was subsequently forwarded to the Senate committees on Gas, Downstream Petroleum and Upstream Petroleum.
Speaking to correspondents at the end of the Senate session, Dr. Barkindo the GMD of the NNPC said:
â€œThe state of this bill when passed into law is going to fundamentally change the landscape of the oil and gas industry in this country.â€™â€™
â€œThis industry has been in operation for nearly fifty yearsÂ despite the number of legislations totaling over 16Â yet this is the first time we are having one all emcompassing legislationÂ that covers the entire industry upstream, midstream, downstream and gas that will bring the industry into the 21st century and put it on the path of growth and development.”