By Victor Ahiuma-Young
NIGERIA Labour Congress (NLC), has described the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) as a bold attemptÂ by the Federal government to update and consolidate all the existing legislations governing the nationâ€™s petroleum industry and called on the National Assembly to expedite the passage of the bill.
President of NLC, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar, who spoke in Abuja at a function organised by the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG, also said labourâ€™s opposition to full deregulation of the down stream sector of the oil industry was bored out of pastÂ experience as every effort at reforming the downstream sector in the last ten years in particular and the period before this had meant increases in the Price of products.
According to him: â€œRecently campaign by the Federal Government for the deregulation of the Downstream Sector of the Petroleum industry has tended to portray Congress as an unreasonable obstacle to the progress and development of the downstream sector of the industry.
For the avoidance of doubt, we wish to restate for the umpteenth time that our opposition to the policy is bored out of our experience. Every effort at reforming the downstream sector in the last ten years in particular and the period before this has meant increases in the Price of Petroleum Products.
We stand on the viewpoint that a country whose people have such a low disposable income as ours, and which is one of the biggest producers of oil in the world should not be afflicted with such calamity.
Furthermore, we feel that Nigerians should not be made to pay for the corruption which is endemic in the sector. Of course, our over dependence on road transportation in the absence of other forms of mass transportation makes dependence on fuel inevitable.
We are also strongly of the view that our policy of dependence on importation of Petroleum Products is not only unsustainable, it is unacceptable for an oil producing country with our size and; population.
However, as a sign of goodwill, Labour as a major stakeholder has accepted to engage and dialogue with government Consequently, NEC of Congress has set up a 10-man Committee to look into governmentâ€™s presentation with a view to advising Congress and organized Labour. Our hope is that at the end, we will reach an agreement that is best for our country and people.â€
â€œOur broad understanding of the Petroleum Industry Bill before the National Assembly is that it is a bold attempt to update and consolidate all the existing legislations governing the petroleum industry into one.
It is also to re-organize NNPC into a viable National oil company that will operate in a commercial and competitive level rather than its present operational status as a government parastatal. The bill also seeks to review upwards Government royalties and taxes which oil companies pay for exploring oil in the country. Understandably, the oil companies are unhappy about this.
The managing Director of Shell (Nigerian Exploration and Production Company). Mr. Chike Onyejekwe was quoted the other day as saying that the new bill proposes â€œmultiple royalties and fiscal terms that will make investments in deep water uneconomic…â€ And that this will â€œdiscourage companies from undertaking the aggressive exploration programmes under the 1993 production sharing contracts (PSCs)â€.
We understand that the 1993 PSCs were so skewed in favour of the oil companies that in some instances the Federal Government collected zero royalty from the oil companies. The PIB is therefore a welcome opportunity to redress this unhealthy position. We therefore wish to call on the National Assembly to expedite the passage of this bill.
Our political elites should take a leaf from the courage of other oil producing countries like Venezuela, Brazil, Norway, to cite a few, in placing the interest of the country and its people over and above the quest for endless profit by multinational oil corporations. The National Assembly must resist the temptation to dilute the bill in order to pander to the super exploitation of western oil companies.â€