BY OKEY NDIRIBE
The legislative framework to rectify the rot and rudderless petroleum sector is enmeshed in a controversy over regional interests. It is still an unfolding battle.
The fate of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) may lead to an uproar in the National Assembly as soon as the federal lawmakers resume from their current end of year recess.
Already, the stage is set for a showdown between federal legislators from the Northern part of the country and their counterparts from the Niger Delta Region over some provisions of the bill presently awaiting passage.
The bill which was presented to the National Assembly by President Goodluck Jonathan last July aims among others, to create a conducive business environment for the oil and gas industry in the country.
Debate on the Bill entitled “A Bill for an Act to provide for the establishment of a legal, fiscal and regulatory framework for the Petroleum Industry in Nigeria and for other related matters and a Bill for an Act to establish the New National Frontier Agency for the purpose of exploration and production of oil and gas in the Frontier of Chad Basin, Dahomey Basin, Imo Basin, Benue Trough, Bauchi Basin and Sokoto Basin and for other matters connected therewith” was led by the House Leader, Hon. Mulikat Adeola-Akande.
According to her: “ From 1959 to date there have been about 16 laws in our statutes regulating the petroleum industry. Some of these are the Petroleum Profits Tax Act, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Act and the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Act.”
“The Petroleum Industry Bill 2012 is seeking to harmonize and consolidate all these laws in order to better regulate, coordinate and manage the operations of the industry.”
PIB non-passage hurts economy
She also informed her colleagues that non-passage of the bill had occasioned an atmosphere of confusion and uncertainty in the oil and gas sector, leading to loss of billions of dollars in potential revenue for the country.
Said she: “This situation continues to deteriorate with further delays in the passage of the bill. Recent discoveries of oil overseas and in neighbouring countries pose significant threats to the inflow of global investment funds to our oil and gas industry and seriously jeopardizes future earnings. As we speak investment in the oil and gas sector has dwindled and our crude reserves are shrinking. This is because most investors are awaiting the enactment of this very important legislation that has the potency to affect our quest to become one of the top 20 largest economies by the year 2020.”
Investigations have shown that despite the seeming noble intentions of the bill, many legislators believe that it ought not to be allowed to sail through verbatim. Several members of the House of Representatives from different parts of the country had expressed reservations about certain provisions of the bill especially those which gave wide powers to the Minister of Petroleum Resources.
This was confirmed by Hon. Daniel Reyenieju (PDP Delta), who said such a reservation among legislators was not misplaced. He welcomed meaningful contributions for amending the bill from his counterparts adding that they should be inspired by patriotic considerations rather than regional or ethnic factors while deliberating on the proposed law.
Massive northern opposition
Reyenieju’s view notwithstanding, there are clear indications that opposition to the bill has crystallized among federal parliamentarians from the northern region.
Indeed, members of the Northern Senators Forum recently demonstrated their dislike for the bill. Their action followed briefings on the bill by a consultant hired to scrutise the bill with a view to identifying how it infringed on the interest of the region especially as it relates to revenue allocation.
The consultant’s report was said to have confirmed the fears of the Northern lawmakers that the bill will allocate more petroleum funds to the Niger Delta region and correspondingly reduce the allocation to the North and the rest of the country.
Not surprisingly, the hostility of the Forum was recently on display in the Senate as the lawmakers suspended the consideration of the bill, despite efforts by the Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma Egba to ensure it is debated in the Upper Legislative Chamber. It was gathered that the decision to discard debate on the bill was as a result of the underground moves by the North.
It was also gathered that the Northern Senators were also angry that the PIB did not prioritise gas supply to the North. They are also uncomfortable that revenue accruing to four states in the Niger Delta Region including Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers is higher than that of the 19 states of the North put together. The consultant’s report also criticised what it called apparent divestment moves through the establishment of a National Oil Company and National Gas Company.
It was further learnt that the major objection of the North against the bill is directed against the clause which provides for the creation of a petroleum Host Community Fund that shall be charged on international oil companies operating in the country.
A member of the House from the South-Eastern part of the country who spoke to Vanguard on condition of anonymity said the feeling among Northern lawmakers was that the Niger Delta Region was already getting too much revenue allocation from the federation account.
Giving a deeper insight into the thinking of the Northern lawmakers, he said the feeling of meagre revenue allocation to the North was believed to be partly responsible for the Boko Haram insurgency which has seriously undermined the security situation in several parts of the region.
North opposed to the bill
A lawmaker from the Northern part of the country who spoke to some journalists confirmed that the North is actually opposed to the bill. Said he: ”All of us know that we are not united in this country. We believe that leaders of the Niger Delta are attempting to take advantage of the fact that their kinsman is the current President and increase revenue allocation to their region. This is unacceptable because what the Niger Delta states are collecting from the federation’s purse is lopsided.”
The legislator further added that opposition against the bill was responsible for an amendment that has been proposed for the bill. The amendment seeks to create a petroleum exploratory agency which shall prospect for oil and gas in the Northern, South-Western and South-Eastern parts of the country.
It was also learnt that the purpose of the amendment is to mobilize support against the proposed law from almost all parts of the country minus the Niger Delta Region. A source revealed that this strategy would ensure that lawmakers from the Niger Delta would be isolated during the forth-coming debate on the bill in the National Assembly.
This would then ensure that the bill is either outrightly killed or amended in such a manner that its original goal would be defeated.
Indeed, the opposition of Northern members against the bill was apparent right from the first day it was presented by the leader of the House, Hon. Adeola-Akande (PDP, Oyo). That first debate had indicated a clear pattern in the contributions of members indicating regional divides.
For instance Hon. Garba Datti Mohammed (CPC/Kaduna), who is the Deputy Minority Whip of the House had argued that the bill if passed into law in the form it was presented by the executive would further divide the country adding that the bill had contradictory provisions on regulation and deregulation of the industry. He further proposed that the powers of the Minister in the bill should be curbed.