By JOHNBOSCO AGBAKWURU & JOSEPH ERUNKE
ABUJA — THE controversial Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, has again suffered setback in the Senate as the planned public hearing had been put on hold as a result of the ongoing Hajj by the Muslim lawmakers.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Petroleum, (Upstream) Senator Emmanuel Paulker, who confirmed the abrupt postponement of the public hearing in Abuja, said it was “due to circumstances beyond our control.”
Paulker said there was no cause for alarm as everything would be done to ensure passage of the bill, assuring that “at the end of the day, national interest will prevail and the PIB will see the light of the day in the life of this National Assembly.”
He also explained that opposition against the bill was only against some clauses in the bill, noting that International Oil Companies, IOCs, were only opposed to the fiscal regime of the bill while some northern governors were opposed to 10 per cent equity participation of the host communities.
The Committee Chairman added that stakeholders had agreed that the laws surrounding oil and gas sector were obsolete and needed to be reviewed.
He said: “In the first outing that we had we slated two days for our public hearing, but we lost a colleague. We started hearing on the first day but the second day was the burial of Senator Pius Ewherido. We now agreed in a smaller committee of chairmen and vice chairmen that there was need for us to create room for those that never attended the hearing to attend. Unfortunately, we scheduled it for October 9, but here again a lot of our colleagues went for the Hajj.
“The PIB is a very important bill, so important that we cannot exclude a good majority of members of the joint committee who are going on Hajj. It will not be fair for those who left for Hajj to come back and hear that we have gone ahead with the public hearing. So it is not correct to say that the PIB has suffered many postponements.”
Commenting on the controversy surrounding the bill, Paulker said that the PIB was very important to every Nigerian and all the sectors of the economy, adding, “Oil is the main stay of our economy. We are looking forward to a day that the economy would be diversified. There is so much reliance on oil.
“As long as the economy rests on oil and there is an Act that is coming to repeal all laws surrounding this single all important commodity, every serious minded Nigerian would be interested.”
Giving explanations for reason behind the recent postponement of the public hearing, he said he received calls that “if we hold the public hearing on October 9, it will not be possible for them to appear for the public hearing.
“One thing I will assure Nigerians is that everything humanly possible will be done to ensure that the PIB will see the light of the day.
“As soon as we have this last outing of the public hearing we will retreat to our committee level. We can decide to lock up ourselves for a week or two to filter the bill so that we can forward it to plenary.”
Paulker also allayed the fears of many that it was the National Assembly that would kill the bill, saying that “those are assumptions.”
“There is hardly any bill that does not receive opposition. People oppose bills even on the floor of the Senate and in public hearing and that is why every bill is subjected to three phases, first reading, second reading and public hearing where Nigerians are allowed to make their own input,” he stated.
While saying that it was not all the northern governors that were opposed to the bill, he said those that opposed the bill were free because the bill had been placed in public domain.
He said, ‘’If some governors from the north say that if certain sections of the bill are passed it will affect them they are free to say that. But at the end of the day, I believe that national interest will prevail over personal or minority interest.
“The collective interest of this country will be brought to bear on the bill and its passage. As I speak now, I have not taken any decision and the Senate has not taken any decision on any clause of the bill. So at the end of the day, national interest will override pockets of interests, individual interest.
Also commenting on the complaints by the IOCs complaint over alleged harsh fiscal regime, he said “we are at the public hearing stage all the complaints would be taken into consideration. Based on the opinions expressed by the public, the joint committee will work on the bill, filter the opinions and present the bill to Senate in plenary.
“The plenary will again debate clause by clause of the bill. You cannot say that those opposed to the bill are opposed to just some clauses of the bill, not the entire bill. The IOCs are critical of the fiscal regime and the fiscal regime alone did not constitute the bill in its entirety.
“While the IOCs are talking about the fiscal regime of the bill, some northern governors that attended the first public hearing talked about the 10 per cent equity participation of the host communities.
“No person has said that the bill should be dropped. Everybody agrees that this laws that has been in operation for over 50 years are obsolete and needed to be reviewed. So oppositions are in certain areas of the bill.
“We will compare the fiscal regime in the bill with the fiscal regime in some other countries before we arrive at conclusion.