By Henry Umoru
ABUJA- STRONG indications have emerged that if the present Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) is finally passed into law by the National Assembly, the existing Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) and Petroleum Inspectorate (PI ) would be scrapped, thereby give way for the creation of a new body, the Nigeria Petroleum Regulatory Commission, NPRC.
According to the Senators, the Nigeria Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NPRC) would take over the functions of Petroleum Inspectorate (PI), the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA).
The Senators said yesterday that the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which is currently before them, would support the creation of this new commission which is expected to administer and enforce policies that are related to all aspects of petroleum operations in the country.
Also in the new law see the light of the day, the powers of the President and Minister of Petroleum Resources would curtailed by new law, and if the proposed bill is passed into law, it would give more powers on the commission, rather than to the President or the Minister.
The two new companies would be established and they are the Nigeria Petroleum Assets Management Company and National Petroleum Company, which would be vested with certain assets and liabilities of Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC, just as the National Petroleum Company for instance, will operate as a full independent commercial entity.
Also as part of moves to unbundle the NNPC and the Petroleum Industry, the PIGB is proposing that the Ministry of Petroleum Resources be renamed as Ministry of Petroleum Incorporated.
The Senators who are currently in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital for a four-day retreat on the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), are also proposing moves to reduce the powers of the President and the Minister of Petroleum Resources.
However, Senators were however sharply divided on the powers vested on the President and the Minister to take certain decisions on issues relating to the petroleum industry.
Chairman of the joint committee on Petroleum Industry Reforms, Senator Tayo Alaosoadura who maintained that every action taken must be in tandem with the provisions of the constitution, said, “We cannot go outside the constitution. If we cannot do that, we must ensure that whatever we do is in tandem with the provisions of the constitution. We must be careful about semantics. A Ministry was created to supervise the oil industry. We must not take away the entire powers of the Ministry.”
Alaosoadura’s position was countered by his co-chairman, Senator Bassey Albert Akpan who warned against arrogating too much powers to the President or the Minister.
Senator Akpan who chairs Gas committee of the Senate who noted that the new bill must come up with ways to guide against abuses and protect the collective interest of Nigerians, “You cannot commit the country to any treaty without the approval of the Senate. Every treaty must be domesticated. Even if its in the constitution, we still need to include it in this bill. We are trying to come up with this bill because of the inefficiencies in the industry.
“We must be conscious of the kind of powers we give to the Minister. Tomorrow, we may have another Minister there. As a Senate, we have the power of control. Let us not be biased. We have to protect the interest of Nigerians.”
On his part, Senator Kabiru Marafa, another co-chairman of the joint committee, urged his colleagues to agree on areas that will not be rejected by the entire Senate when the report is submitted.
Marafa who spoke more in favour of maintaining the status quo, said: “At the end of the exercise, we will still have to face the Senate. It is necessary that we decide well here.”
According to the recommendations of the committee, the Minister of Petroleum Resources shall “be responsible for the determination, formulation and monitoring of government policy for the industry; exercise general supervision over the affairs and operations of the petroleum industry subject to the provisions of this Act; report developments in the petroleum industry to the Federal Executive Council; advise the government on all matters pertaining to the petroleum industry and promote the development of local content in the Nigerian petroleum industry.
“The Minister will also represent Nigeria at international organizations that are primarily concerned with the petroleum industry; negotiate and execute international petroleum treaties and agreements with other sovereign countries, international organizations and other similar bodies on behalf of the government, subject to the approval of the Senate.”
The Senators proposed that upon the recommendations of the new commission, the Minister can grant, amend, renew, extend or revoke any licence or lease required for petroleum or production pursuant to the provisions of this Act or any other enactment.
The bill is proposing that when when the commission is created, it shall be vested with all assets, funds, resources and other movable and immovable properties which immediately before the commencement of operation of the new commission, were held by the PI, DPR and PPPRA.
The new commission, among other things, will also administer and enforce policies, laws and regulations relating to all aspects of petroleum operations which are assigned to it under the provisions of the Act.
Consideration of some sections of the proposed bill, were however suspended, following the inability of lawmakers to agree on certain grey areas.