By Emman Ovuakporie
ABUJA — Members of the House of Representatives, yesterday, suspended further consideratioin series of observations raised by lawmakers on legal technicalities of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB.
Apparently sensing a deadlock, the Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal had before the consideration called for a closed session at 12:1 5pm with a view to agree on a common ground before the report could be considered.
In what seemed like a failure to reach an understanding, the House returned to plenary by 1: 33pm but could not resume proceedings untill 1:45pm as members were traversing the lenght and breadth of the chamber even as the Speaker read the notice urging the Chief Whip who chaired the Ad-hoc Committee to move for the consideration.
Of the 368-page document made up of 312 sections, only section 1 was attempted as issues arose questioning the validity of some clauses relative to provisions of the constitution.
Deputy Leader of the House, Mr Leo Ogor, was the first to raise an observation on clause 2 which deals with ownership of resources, saying: “An Act of the National Assembly must not be subjected to addition or subpraction from the view expressed by the constitution regarding protection of territorial waters of Nigeria and mineral resources therein.”
He argued that the provision of the clause is purely a duplication of the constitution and should be deleted.
This was upheld by Deputy Speaker in chair, Emeka Ihedioha who called on the Chairman of the Rules and Business Committee, Mr Albert Sam Tsokwa, for a second opinion.
Tsokwa, in his view, held that the clause cannot stand due to its inconsistency with a provision of the constitution which he said has already taken care of the subject matter.
On his part, Tambuwal, who took his originally allotted seat in the chamber to participate in the proceedings, punctured both views as held by Ogor and Tsokwa.
“I was expecting Sam Tsokwa to show the contradiction as to where and how the clause runs contrary to the constitution, but he did not do that which confirms that it does not in any way contradict the constitution,” Tambuwal noted.
Also in the argument, Chairman, House Committee on Justice, Ali Ahmad, opined that ownership with respect to mineral resources cannot be said to be a blanket under which petroleum resources found in certain communities with attendant negative effects should be classified since it’s not only in deep sea that the resources are explored.
The clause was suspended following Chairman Ihedioha’s advice that committee members meet with those who have issues with the clause and straighten out areas of disagreement in consultation with the said constitutional provision.
Another fault line was clause 6 which deals with the powers of the Petroleum minister to chair boards of agencies under the ministry and make recommendations to the President on issues of appointments as well as perform inspectorate functions came under scrutiny.
While some members argued that the powers of the minister are too enormous under the provision and must be cut down, others said the powers should remain enabling the minister to exercise inspectorate oversight over the industry since the President as a politician may not be well grounded in the technicalities of the sector and should not be burdened with responsibilities he can delegate.
At this point, Ihedioha expressed the belief that “allowing the president to assume the inspectorate role of the ministry is whittling down his status and reducing him to performing the role of appointees which will not be justifiable”.
The clause was eventually passed following a question for voice votes which adopted its provision upon an amendment.
Another contentious area was clause 7 which also came under question given its alleged contradiction of section 305 of the constitution because it deals with matters of state of emergency in the oil sector with powers vested on the minister to suggest or advise the President on the need to declare same in the event of industrial crisis.