BY Inalegwu Shaibu
The Petroleum Industry Bill which had been envisaged as an industry instrument to address archaic and other dysfunctional sub-sectors of the industry has been reintroduced into the National Assembly. The plots over the bill to govern the nation’s honey pot is, however, unending.
IT is understandable that no other bill in the history of the nation’s fourth republic should stir as much passion and perhaps intrigues as the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB. After all, no other bill touches the heart of the nation’s economy as the PIB, the proposed legislation that is to tie the different fabrics of the nation’s petroleum industry.
The various sub-sectors of the octopus industry have up till now been governed by different laws with the Petroleum Act promulgated at the end of the sixties being the dominant law.
That the PIB is dogged by controversies, suspicions and intrigues show the uniqueness and the importance of the petroleum sector to the national economy. The sector alone accounts for over 70 percent of the nation’s foreign exchange earnings.
Besides tying up the different legislations governing the industry in one document, the bill also aims to address the perceived inadequacies in the sector.
Lawmakers and other stakeholders had argued that the present laws in the oil and gas sector of Nigeria have lost relevance in the modern era. The contention of many was that the oil majors were taking advantage of the lax laws in the sector to pillage the country’s oil wealth.
It is also reckoned that it is the absence of a relevant law that has enabled oil companies to treat with abandon the several cases of environmental degradation in the oil producing Niger Delta region.
Hope of stakeholders
Besides addressing these, it is also the hope of stakeholders that the PIB would resolve issues concerning commensurate compensation packages for victims of the consequences of oil exploration.
Indeed, supporters of the bill say that the PIB would address the present disadvantages to the host communities, liberalise the sector and make it more vibrant and ensure good revenue goes into government coffers.
The bill was first presented to the sixth National Assembly but it was lost in the midst of the intrigues that shadowed the lobbying for and against the proposed legislation.
Though it was introduced quite early to allow legislators ample time to pass it before the sixth National Assembly rounded up deliberations, there was however dilly-dally with the consideration of the bill until the expiration of the session.
The bill as usual was mired with controversies, so much that at the closing of the sixth Senate, the PIB had already assumed a status of mystery, with reports here and there about fake copies of the bill.
Work on the bill which had reached advance stage at the twilight of the sixth Senate remarkably failed to guarantee its eventual passage.
The non passage led to outcry from Nigerians and other interested stakeholders including organised labour and civil society groups.
This prompted the Senate into self defense with the Senate President David Mark, assuring Nigerians that there was no foul play in its failure to pass the PIB. Mark on several occasions assured that rule 111 of the Senate as amended would enable the seventh Senate to pick it up and dust the PIB for eventual passage.
But that never came to light because the circus show with the PIB continues even at the seventh Senate. First there were contentious issues with the application of rule 111. The rule was unable to resurrect the PIB in the seventh Senate as claimed.
The controversies continues as the Chairman of Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Senator Ita Enang, who is the custodian of all bills and schedule of legislative activities, had attested that the PIB had ceased to exist with the demise of the sixth Senate.
New version of the PIB
Speaking on the status of the PIB, before the recent re-introduction Enang affirmed, “There is no Petroleum Industry Bill in the National Assembly and in particular in the Senate. There is none,” he said last November.
He added that unless a new bill is sent by President Jonathan to the seventh Senate; rule 111 cannot resuscitate the PIB.
Enang was proved right as the President recently sent a new version of the PIB to the National Assembly for consideration and eventual passage.
But even before the re-introduction of the new PIB, the controversies have reared its head again. Accusations and counter accusations have begun to fly first over the genuineness of the bill under consideration and then, over the propriety of the lawmakers. It is alleged that some key lawmakers have been bought over by the International Oil Companies, IOCs to kill the bill.
There are also those who believe that the Senate was not ready to pass the bill for selfish reasons. Mark was pushed to dismiss the claims of fake copies and different versions of the bill being in circulation in the Senate.
Immediately after acknowledging the receipt of the bill from President Jonathan two weeks ago, Mark refuted claims of the Senate being in custody of a different version of the bill. He went ahead to assure Nigerians that the Senate has taken a proactive step to guide against the circulation of fake copies.
According to him, over 200 copies of bill were immediately printed by the Senate to ensure that no fake copies drop into the hands of any Senator.
He said, “We have 200 copies and have your names written as collected, so that to know which is authentic or fake.”
Mark further charged the Senators to use their time during the recess period to study the bill extensively which will aid its quick passage upon resumption of the Senate in September.
Now that the bill is back in the Senate, the question of the capacity of the Senate to break the jinx and bring the long and tortuous journey of the PIB to an end is now in the court of the lawmakers.