ATTENDING the offshore technology conference in Houston a couple of weeks ago, I made it a point of duty to participate in all sessions that had anything to do with Nigeria. The experiences were worth every single moment, and besides the truly great liaisons I made, one of the highlights of the trip was the exposition on the petroleum industry bill. Funny it had to take going all the way to Houston to achieve that!
I was particularly impressed by the presence of key members of the oil and gas implementation committee at various OTC fora, including the presidentâ€™s special adviser on petroleum, Hon. Emmanuel Egbogah. The added presence of the members of the National Assembly was extra spice as seen from the immediate news bites following the conference. One of the fundamental points I want to make on the issue of the Petroleum Industry Bill is that we should get on with it and let it see the light of day. It obviously has to go through the crucible of due process, including the legislative public hearings, but that is precisely what I think needs to be done now, and speedily too. This is not time for politics, even though that will ultimately not be divorced from the final decision-making.
Happily, there was adequate diverse representation at the Nigeria-focused events at OTC to qualify for a public hearing of sorts, albeit outside the shores of Nigeria, with the presence of House of Representatives and Senate members of the National Assembly Petroleum Committees, chief executives and top management officials of virtually all the international oil companies (IOCâ€™s), controllers and heavyweights of the â€˜local oil companiesâ€™ (apologies Wale Tinubu of Oando!), petroleum technology and support service providers (flagbearers of â€˜Nigerian contentâ€™), leaders of thought from the Niger Delta, professional services (yours sincerely), the press (all the serious minded ones), and of course, government at the highest level, represented by no less a person than Dr. Egbogah.
I could elicit from the turbo-charged deliberations that everyone is fundamentally interested in moving the oil and gas industry forward, particularly from the accepted wisdom that the status quo is inefficient, wasteful, and to some (or a good) measure, skewed to short-change national sovereignty and wealth.
What then are the issues? Thanks to the long-suffering of the PIB, it has stayed around so long that most operators already know what it is all about (I know some who can almost recite it like a national anthem!). Apart from breaking NNPC into autonomous units for more efficient and hands-on policy making, benchmarking, monitoring and regulation, in addition to â€˜corporatisingâ€™ the exploration and management of Nigeriaâ€™s oil wealth, it significantly proposes to radically alter the legal and contractual framework that currently guides joint venture operations between Nigeria and its JV partners with the purpose of giving Nigeria greater latitude in handling its resources. Sounds all good and nice, so whatâ€™s the problem?
There are entrenched interests, established ways of doing things which favour a couple. Rocking the boat could throw some people overboard. The IOCs and to a good measure, some of their home governments will rather the status quo remains. This is an important point, as we are interested in consolidating and increasing investments in the oil and gas industry. It is such a fundamental concern that it has to be addressed one way or another, and here I will tend towards Ojo Maduekweâ€™s â€˜citizen diplomacyâ€™. Ultimately, Nigeriaâ€™s best sovereign interests are what will guide the unraveling of the PIB. And that is why the National Assembly should just get on with it.
There are other reasons why the National Assembly should get on with it. The industry needs to move on with many pending projects which have been stalled awaiting a definitive legislation by the National Assembly. Many investment decisions are waiting on the legislative all clear to determine which direction and form the investments will come. The downstream segment of the industry, which defines the understanding and perceptions Nigerians have of the countryâ€™s oil and gas on a day-to-day basis, needs the certainty of the PIBâ€™s translation to law to ensure the absence of a galloping economy.
Whatever the issues are can and should be readily canvassed at the public hearings of the National Assembly, which afford a forum to ensure the bill meets the general expectations of Nigerians. I am not concerned that the OPTS of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce took legislators to Ghana to educate them on the bill. Democratic lawmaking necessarily involves lobbying from different interest groups. It is more important, and certainly very comforting for me, that our legislators are patriots who have the best interests of Nigeria at heart. So, to our distinguished, honourable, and patriotic national legislators, please letâ€™s get on with the PIB.
Akabogu is a maritime and petroleum lawyer in Lagos