LAGOS (AFP) – A bill seeking to overhaul Nigeria’s oil industry represents a key test of whether Africa’s top crude producer is committed to transparency in the energy sector, Britain’s business secretary said Monday.
Lawmakers are due to debate the bill in the coming weeks and oil majors have strongly criticised the current draft, saying its fiscal terms will stifle investment.
On a visit to Nigeria, British Business Secretary Vince Cable told journalists that the bill is “something foreign investors are looking at very carefully.”
“This will be seen as a kind of symbol of transparency and clarity,” he said.
“I am not coming here to criticise. We are just setting out a potential concern about the way things have to be if they are going to be convincing for inward investors.”
Legislative uncertainty has already hindered investment in Nigeria’s oil sector, criticised for decades as being poorly managed and riddled with corruption.
President Goodluck Jonathan sent a fresh draft of the much-delayed bill to lawmakers in July.
The head of ExxonMobil’s Nigeria operations last month said the current proposal, if unchanged, will lead to a halt in offshore investment and curb development across the energy sector.
“I am not arguing the case for the oil companies. They can argue their own case,” Cable said.
“I am arguing the case from the general investment climate,” he added, noting that the bill must be consistent with international best practices.
Asked if the current draft met that requirement, he said, “it clearly hasn’t gotten to the stage of law yet.”
Nigeria’s Trade and Investment Minister Olusegun Aganga, addressing reporters alongside Cable, said the opposition that has emerged to the bill was “normal.”
“Any legislation that you want to bring that is going to a lead to a big significant change in industry will attract comments from everywhere,” he said.
Oil Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke has described the bill as fair to the government, oil firms and Nigerians, who have long pushed for a fairer stake in an industry that has left the country’s Niger Delta region badly polluted.
Cable is scheduled to visit the oil hub of Port Harcourt in Tuesday before moving on to South Africa.