By Joseph Erunke
ABUJA—A few weeks after the long pending Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, passed second reading in Senate, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, has ordered the indefinite suspension of further consideration of the bill.
Saraki’s directive, according to Vanguard source, is in reaction to a staunch opposition mounted against the treatment of the bill by senators of southern extraction who argued that exclusion of vital areas of the bill, one of which is the host communities fund, from the new bill was, not in the best interest of their region.
Saraki, who had boasted that the bill, which the Senate, in harmony with the House of Representatives, have re-christened Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, PIGB, would be passed in Senate, for subsequent assent by President Muhammadu Buhari, under his leadership, was stunned on April 13 when it was presented for first reading, as southern senators insisted that the bill must be treated in full without any portion excised.
The source said it took the senate president time to convince the senators to support the bill to pass first reading during a closed-door meeting held prior to its introduction.
The removal of the Host Community Development Fund, as captured in the original PIB, re-awakened ethnic and geopolitical consciousness in the country.
While the North is against the 10 percent royalty proposed for host oil communities, the oil producing regions in the Niger Delta is favorably disposed to the proposal.
Although the bill, having passed first reading, was to be presented for second reading for onward public hearing, the source, who would not want his name disclosed, said the Senate President, following mounting opposition from the southern lawmakers against the content of the new bill, has asked that further work on it be suspended indefinitely.
Given that the bill had consistently failed legislative test in the past, the two chambers of the National Assembly had posited that for it to see the light of the day under the present assembly, it must be broken down into several workable, practical and functional laws so that the various issues involved could be tackled at different times.
Under this arrangement, the legislature was to later proceed to work on the contentious areas through different bills, a development some considered as a more realistic approach.
Saraki’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu, had argued that the logjam around this bill could be resolved if the Senate, for example, took the first step to enact into law aspects not contentious and where national consensus had been achieved.
The controversial bill, which is called the Petroleum Industry and Governance Bill, PIGB, seeks to give the country’s oil and gas industry a comprehensive legal framework and also provide the basis for the unbundling the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, into five independent commercial entities.
Speaking during its first reading, Saraki had said the legislature adopted the PIB as one of its legislative agenda, boasting that the 8th Senate under his watch, would pass the bill to help stimulate the nation’s ailing economy.
Also, the controversial PIB had been in the National Assembly for consideration since 2003 but due to ethnic politics and duplication of the bill, efforts to pass it were scuttled.
The petroleum industry framework was first conceived by the administration of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua and sent to the sixth National Assembly.
Failure of the 6th Assembly to pass the bill made the immediate past government of President Goodluck Jonathan re-present the bill to the seventh Assembly.
However, the 7th Assembly, again, failed to pass the bill as a result of stiff opposition from Northern lawmakers, especially over allocation of 10 per cent royalty to oil producing communities.