BY Soni Daniel, HENRY UMORU & JOSEPH ERUNKE
…It shouldn’t divide us—Mark
ABUJA—AFTER three days of intense debates, the controversial Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, Thursday, scaled through second reading against the backdrop of stiff opposition, especially by lawmakers from the North, who vowed that the bill will not see the light of the day.
Senate President, David Mark, however, urged lawmakers not to be divided on the bill in the interest of the nation.
The passage also came barely 24 hours after the Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Senator Ita Enang, PDP, Akwa Ibom North/East, called on President Goodluck Jonathan to revoke and re-allocate oil blocs as he raised alarm that the Northerners control 83 percent of oil blocs in the country.
Recall that notable names like Emir of Kano, Ado Bayero; late President Umaru Yar’Adua; former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; former Minister of Defence, General Theophilus Danjuma; Sanusi Lamido; Rilwanu Lukman, among others, were beneficiaries of oil blocs in the country.
Out of the 109 senators, 81 made contributions on the bill, which has been referred to the Committees on Petroleum (Upstream and Downstream), Gas and Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters which were given six weeks to organise public hearings and report back to the house.
The Committee on Petroleum (Upstream) has Senator Emmanuel Paulker, PDP, Bayelsa Central as Chairman; Committee on Petroleum(Downstream) has Senator Magnus Abe, PDP, Rivers South/East as Chairman; Gas Committee has Senator Nkechi Justina Nwaogu, PDP, Abia Central as Chairman, while the Chairman for the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters is Senator Umaru Dahiru, PDP, Sokoto South.
Bill should not divide us— Mark
Speaking after deliberations, Senator Mark asserted that the PIB belonged to Nigerians and not a section of the country. He, however, appealed to the lawmakers not to see the bill as a source of confrontation between the North and the South, adding that what was good for the North was equally good for the South.
The Senate President, who expressed delight that the draft bill enjoyed robust debate and acceptability, said the Senate would not allow some portions of the bill passed, against the backdrop that they were certainly not practicable.
According to him, the bill scaling through second reading was a display of unity by the lawmakers, stressing that the development proved critics of the bill wrong.
He noted that the only areas the legislators differed with the bill were on the 10 percent Host Community Fund, the excessive powers conferred on the Minister of Petroleum and the National Oil Exploration Frontier.
Mark said: “We are also very united on the fact that so much power is given to the minister, particularly Section 191 where the minister can grant lease unconditionally and can also revoke lease unconditionally.
“We also all agree that the frontier exploration services should be properly funded and be made independent and the time within which it will compete and start prospecting for oil in all parts of the country. Those who spoke very strongly for South-South or Niger Delta also emphasised this, and this was an area where people expressed fear.
“The fact of the matter is that we all need to be on the same wave-length. I must emphasise that the bill is not North verses South. It is far from that because what is good for the north is also good for the south and what is bad for the south, is bad for the north. So it is not one section of the country versus another section of the country.
“The bill, like a senator pointed out earlier, is like the life-wire of this country. It has national interest as well as international interest and I think the IOCs are very interested in the debate that is going on, just as Nigerians are interested in the debate.”
Warning that it was not yet Uhuru for those who think that the National Assembly at large will not alter the PIB, he said: “Let me emphasise that no bill has come to the chamber that we have not tinkered with. It will go for second reading and public hearing and by the time it comes back, there will be amendments, additions and subtractions.
“So the draft bill that has been given to us is not sacrosanct. When the bill goes for public hearing, the committees that will look at it will bring the bill back in a manner that will reflect the views that we have expressed here and the view that was gathered from the public.
“I want to say that the bill is a worthy bill. The important thing is whether the bill guarantees the transparency we want in the petroleum sector, because that is a key issue because there is no transparency at the moment.
“Does the bill ensure that more revenue accrue to the government and by extension to the people and more importantly does the bill ensure the independence of the new companies that will come out from the unbundled NNPC?
“And finally, does the bill encourage investment? Does it provide an enabling environment for investors to come and invest in Nigeria?”
While regretting the non-utilisation of the 10 percent derivation to the Niger Delta region accrued to host communities, he enjoined those at the helm of affairs to know that there was a strong competition in the oil sector because more countries were discovering oil in their domain.
He said: “We are all conscious of the fact that almost all African countries are nearly oil producing countries. So the competition is stiff more than what it used to be before. There is also the issue of host community. That is the one that is most contentious.
“But the background to it is that the monies accruing to the Niger Delta area has not been properly utilised. That is the underlining fear for everybody.
“Everybody that spoke here agreed that the host community needs to benefit. It is how they benefit that has been a problem. The fear is whether the 10 percent for the host community will be another pipeline where a few characters would hijack it at the expense of the host community.
“Some of us here have requested for an ad-hoc committee to handle the public hearing but let me ask you, my distinguished colleagues, who here is not nationalistic enough?
“I am not going to get senators from outside to form an ad-hoc committee. If you believe that a senator who is in a standing committee is not going to be honest enough, is not going to be partial and nationalistic enough, if I put him in an ad-hoc committee, how does that change him? It doesn’t. It’s the same person.”
“I, as the Senate President, believe that every senator here has the honour and the integrity to view things from a national perspective not from a regional perspective.’’
Practicability of PIB
Besides, the Senate President noted that most aspects of the bill were not practicable, saying when the committee submits it report back to the plenary, every clause of the bill would be then be looked into.
He said: “More importantly, when the bill comes back from the public hearing, we are going to do clause by clause in this chamber and if the committee that has looked at it is biased, we will throw it away and it will be an indictment on that committee. There are so many things in this bill that are impracticable.
“I think in theory they may sound nice but if a pipeline and the current pipeline from Kaduna passes through my local government and through about three or four local governments, how will each of these local governments quantify the money that would be given to us?
“Is it by the length of the pipe that goes through or by the volume of products that is pumped through? It is not just a practicable thing. To me, it is just an avenue where a handful of people will come together and manipulate government and then siphon money.
“Rightly, like some of you pointed out, there has to be a regulatory agency to control this industry.
“This bill must ensure that there is transparency in the industry because very few people here know what is happening and I do not know what is happening in that industry and I have tried to but it looks like a Mafia world where nobody is willing to tell you anything.
“They have tried to make the bill and exceptional bill. How can you suggest that this bill should be exempted from the Procurement Act? It is scandalous.
“The Procurement Act will be there. If the bill offends it or if an operator of this bill, when it becomes an act, offends the Procurement Act, it offends an act of the National Assembly. It is not an act of an individual. It is an act of the National Assembly.”
Benefit to Nigerians — Senator Enang
Meanwhile, Senate Committee Chairman on Rules and Business, Senator Ita Enang, yesterday sought to allay the fears of those opposed to the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, saying that the law would bring economic prosperity to all parts of Nigeria, if passed.
The lawmaker, who represents Uyo Senatorial District of Akwa Ibom State, told Vanguard that he was convinced that the provisions of the law would be of immense benefits to all parts of Nigeria, as it seeks to bring together all oil-related legislations in the country and give room for more Nigerians to participate in the industry.
The lawmaker said: “There is a fundamental omission in the Bill which I urge should be provided for when considered in the Committee. It is the Frontier Exploration Fund/Agency which is responsible for exploring oil in areas not yet producing.
“In Nigeria, oil is produced mainly in the Niger Delta and off-shore Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Guinea.
“Large deposits of oil are found in the Benue Trough (Benue, Plateau, Taraba States, etc), the Bauchi Trough (Bauchi, Gombe States et al) and the Chad Basin (Borno, Yobe states in Nigeria), Republic of Cameroon, Niger Republic, Chad Republic are oil bearing, and up to produce.
“The Frontier Exploration Agency or Fund could be used in sustaining and funding preliminary activities to be used for the actual exploitation to contribute to the Federation Account.”
“The implication of this is that these states, in addition to derivation from solid minerals through the Federation Account would also earn derivation from oil, with attendant environmental challenges.
Enang however disagreed with a section of the PIB, which seeks to preclude the national oil companies and other oil-related agencies from the Fiscal Responsibility Act and Public Procurement Act.
He pointed out that since Nigeria was taking steps to rid the nation of corrupt practices, all agencies of government must be subjected to the laws of the land in a bid to ensure accountability and transparency.
The lawmaker argued, “These laws were made for all public institutions in Nigeria and not lesser mortals. It was in a bid to strengthen these laws that the Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Act was made by the National Assembly and assented to by Mr. President, and it became law.
“Therefore, this provision that the bodies in the PIB should not be subject to the Fiscal Responsibility and the Public Procurement Acts, wherever it appears in the Bill, should be expunged.
The lawmaker also clarified the issue of paying 10 percent of oil royalty to the host communities, saying that it would apply to any part of the country where oil is exploited.
According to him, the current argument that the payment of the 10 percent to oil-bearing communities would further weaken other parts of the country and add more money to the Niger Delta is not entirely true.
Enang maintained that while the 13 percent is being used by the oil-producing states, the 10 percent stipulated in the PIB would go directly to oil-bearing communities in the country.