By Dele Sobowale
“I am happy to announce to you that this morning (Wednesday), Mr. President forwarded the Petroleum Industrial Bill to the National Assembly”, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, the Minister of Petroleum; July 18, 2012.
For many Nigerians as well as the global investment community, this is a welcome development – although nobody accustomed to the way this particular government works will heave a sigh of relief yet. The reasons are not hard to discover and the Minister provided some reasons for skepticism.
According to her, “The new bill looks at new areas that are quite critical and first of all they are the inspectorate, the regulatory agencies for the oil and gas sector to ensure that they are independent and that they can actually do the regulation”. That is only one of several objections that Nigerian stakeholders had to the original bill which Mrs. Alison-Madueke and the President were trying to push through the National Assembly, NASS, last year – with very heavy financial assistance from the International Oil Companies, IOCs.
President Jonathan, during his state visit to Turkey last year, had promised to have the PIB passed and signed by May 29, last year. The Minister had repeated the announcement – to which some of us strongly objected on many grounds.
First, by the time Jonathan was promising his Turkish counterpart a signed bill by May 2011, there were at least three versions of the bill in the National Assembly. The first was the Executive Bill, which was drafted mainly by the International Oil Companies to serve their own interests – understandably. That Executive Bill, if signed into law, without major amendments, would have amounted to selling our country down the river.
It is of great importance that the Minister now admits that the government has taken a look “at new areas” which, in its haste or complicity with the IOCs, were inadvertently or deliberately overlooked in the first bill.
In addition to the Executive Bill, there was an amended version of the bill in the House of Representatives. Some of us have drawn the attention of our representatives to the lapses in the Executive Bill which would work against the interest of Nigerians. The patriotic members of the House had dutifully ensured that most of the concerns, including regulatory matters, were included in the House version of the bill.
Finally, there was a Senate version of the bill; which also included some amendments to the original bill. Here, again, individuals and civil society groups had pointed to lapses in the original Executive Bill which needed to be corrected before the bill could be regarded as fair to all stakeholders. As anyone can imagine, the Executive, the Senate and House versions were different in some respects and would have needed to be harmonized. Unfortunately, the Executive branch was not prepared for amendments last year. More unfortunate still, the President and the Minister became totally engaged in the campaign for the presidency while time was running out on the out-going National Assembly.
In an article published early last year in SUNDAY VANGUARD, titled “PIB LETTER TO JONATHAN, MARK AND BANKOLE”, a request was made to the three leaders to step down the bill last year and have it re-presented this year. Reproduced below is a part of that column; which is designed to serve as a reminder to our leaders once again that this bill is perhaps the most important bill for consideration by any NASS since 1960 and the consequences for us, if not carefully handled, will be grave.
Forgive me for this joint address to the top three officials of our Federal Republic of Nigeria in the year 2011. Only God knows which, if any of you, will remain in those positions after May 29, 2011. But, one thing is certain; you will all remain Nigerians. So will I. Therefore, irrespective of our positions, political affiliations, ethnicity and religion, even now, we are at least united in one respect – we are all Nigerians and as such owe our first allegiance to our fatherland.
There is no other motive for this letter, which will be made public, than to ensure that the vital interests of our nation are protected – now and forever whenever this bill is eventually passed. Let me also state very clearly that the nation needs a bill to restructure the petroleum sector and to make it more attractive to private investors. But, not the bill; which is now about to be rushed through the National Assembly; as will be demonstrated presently. This bill gives too much to others and too little to Nigeria.
For a start, two weeks ago, I had written an appeal to the NASS urging them to step down this bill until a new NASS which will have four years is elected because it is a complex bill. The original ran into over 800 pages and it is doubtful if up to ten of our lawmakers read the entire document.
But, I not only obtained a copy of the bill, at great expense to myself, I read it; condensed it and even wrote an Executive Summary not more than 12 pages out of it. Since war is too important to be left only to Generals, I had assumed that a bill which will affect the welfare of Nigerians so profoundly will also be considered too important to be left only to members of the NASS. I was waiting for the NASS to call for a national input into the bill; perhaps to conduct zonal hearings and give the people whose parsimony they will auction off a chance to have a say in their own future. Nothing like that happened.
Instead, the passage of the bill had been treated as a conspiracy between the NASS, the International Oil Companies, IOCs, and, now, the Presidency. The House of Representatives passed its own version of the bill with slight amendments to the original document prepared by patriotic Nigerians. The Senate is getting set to pass its own version with several amendments which favour IOCs more than the Nigerian people.
To demonstrate that this is not an alarm by an “uninformed” person, enclosed are photocopies of the front and 7th pages of the version now under consideration in the Senate. I have spent nothing less than N300,000 of my own money to obtain these documents. The Senate version is so riddled with unpatriotic amendments suggesting that elements in government labouring under conflict of interest and the IOCs have collaborated in the attempt to foist a bill on Nigerians which is not in our interest.
The President’s promise, when on state visit to Turkey, that the PIB will be passed before May 2011 was alarming because it means that Jonathan might have been persuaded to support a bill which is not in the national interest. Unfortunately, the President is handicapped by his quest for re-election. He probably has not had the time to read what he is being asked to support by his advisers in the Executive branch. The leading advisers to the President are the Minister for Petroleum Resources, the Senior Special Adviser to the President and the Group Managing Director of NNPC.
The Minister, a former Executive Director of an OIC, also has a Special Assistant who is also a former employee of the same IOC. The GMD-NNPC similarly has at least one assistant recruited from an IOC; and the Senior Special Adviser to Jonathan is also a former senior staff of an IOC but also surrounded by “escapees” from various IOCs. On account of conflict of interest, they not only, deliberately or inadvertently, serve the interest of the IOCs; they also constitute the spy ring which WikiLeaks has exposed. One thing is certain. Whereas the IOCs pursue their own self-interest 100%, top officials of the Executive branch of government are, at best, lukewarm, and, at worst, subversive of the national interest”.
We don’t know how long the new bill is. A long bill is guaranteed not to be read. But, the IOCs remain organized and they probably have a copy before Nigerians get a chance to read it. We are also disorganized. So we are at a disadvantage and we cannot rely on government to protect our interests. But our readers can rest assured that we will follow through to the end on PIB.