By Udeme Akpan, Dapo Akinrefon & Dirisu Yakubu
ABUJA—The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the All Progressives Congress, APC, were yesterday locked in a war of words over the propriety of President Muhammadu Buhari continuing to serve as Minister of Petroleum Resources, given the attendant fuel crisis in the country.
The face-off between the two parties came as a civil society group, Spaces for Change, expressed concern at the weekend that the passage of the Petroleum Governance Industry Bill, PGIB, could be of no effect to the industry if the President continued to serve as Minister of Petroleum.
The assertion of the group was, however, debunked by another civil society group, Civil Society Advocacy and Legislative Centre, CISLAC which averred that the coming into law of the Petroleum Industry Governance law would make the minister essentially nominal.
The PDP, commenting on the unending fuel supply crisis in the country, observed that President Buhari as Minister of Petroleum should accept responsibility for the manifest failure in the oil sector, even as his government should be held responsible for the exacerbated economic and security situation in the country.
PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement said it was disheartening that instead of being remorseful for its failures, the APC-led government was busy dishing out lies and fabricated indices in an attempt to give Nigerians false hope on issues related to the fuel crisis and the collapsing national economy.
The party also said the fact that the Presidency has unapologetically failed to fix a national problem, which in December 2017 it promised to resolve within one week, showed it had no solution but intended to continue to hold the nation to ransom.
PDP stated: “The inherent poor coordination, inefficiency and reported heavy sleazes in a sector that is under the direct supervision of the President, raise a lot of issues and speak volumes of the evident mismanagement of the system for which the economy is now in complete shambles.
“It is an appalling height of insensitivity that the President, as the Minister of Petroleum Resources, has failed to take any decisive steps to arrest the situation, which has remained unabated since the last Yuletide.
“Rather, the sector has been delivered to an APC cabal, whose mission, particularly, the desperate re-election bid, largely accounts for the biting fuel situation and the economic misery Nigerians suffer today.
“It is instructive to state that the Presidency has refused to offer any explanation on the allegations linking the fuel crisis to the exposed siphoning of billions of naira through shady oil subsidy deals and the illegal lifting of crude oil worth trillions of naira, ostensibly to service APC interests ahead of the 2019 general elections.
“The point is that owing to the ineptitude of the Buhari Presidency and the desperation to remain in power, millions of Nigerians are languishing.
“The economy has further dipped in the last two months of this harrowing fuel situation; more businesses have folded up, prices of essential goods are skyrocketing and families are, more than ever before, under intense pressure of meeting economic demands.
“Currently, marauders have chased farmers away from farmlands while Buhari Presidency continue to wax lip sermons on serious issues of insecurity.
“We call on President Buhari to quit this all important ministry of petroleum resources and allow competent hands to save our people from the anguish and pains they have been subjected to in the last few months.”
They don’t know the workings of the Presidency — APC
Describing PDP’s call as an opinion, the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Bolaji Abdullahi, said the party lacked understanding of the workings of the Presidency.
Abdullahi said: “It is their opinion since they think they know better how to run the Presidency. Are they saying the President does not have the power to appoint himself as Minister or what are they saying?
“That is the only thing they can think of as solution. Are they saying the only solution is for the President to step down? That is absolutely their opinion. What they are saying demonstrates ignorance of presidential authority.
“The presidential power is vested by the constitution on only one person and that is the President of Nigeria. The President is not obliged to listen to them.”
Meanwhile, a non-governmental organisation, Spaces for Change, has expressed concern that despite the enactment of the PIGB, the industry would continue to be strewn in crisis so long as the President remained the Minister of Petroleum Resources.
The PIGB was aimed, among other things, to enable the nation reduce or shift the excess powers commanded by the Minister of Petroleum Resources to the proposed Nigerian Petroleum Regulatory Commission, NPRC.
Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, Executive Director of Spaces for Change Nigeria, disclosed in an email to Vanguard that: “The first thing to notice in HB477, that is, the version of the PIGB recently passed by the House of representatives, is the remarkable improvement made to the earlier version passed by the Senate (SB237). Particularly remarkable is the recommendation to transfer the Minister’s power to grant, amend, renew, extend or revoke any license or lease required for petroleum exploration to the Nigerian Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NPRC).
“This review addresses concerns about arrogating excessive powers to the person of the minister rather than to independent institutions which can easily give room to abuse of power, patronage and political interference. Notably too, HB477’s recommendation further clarifies with specificity, who the minister can delegate powers to.
“Transferring power to the Commission is laudable, but a likely problem that will emerge from this arrangement is where the President still retains the position of the substantive petroleum minister as has been witnessed under Obasanjo and Buhari administrations. Remember that the President is to appoint the members of the Governing Board of the Commission (NPRC). (See HB 477: S 13 (5)).
“Domiciling the power to issue and revoke licenses in the Commission is meaningless in a situation where the President doubles as the petroleum minister and the appointing authority for members of the governing board of the same commission.
“In this situation, no real transfer of power from the Minister to the Commission has occurred since President/Minister will retain the power to hire and fire those mandated to grant and revoke licenses. This sort of arrangement obfuscates accountability because it elevates the President to the status of both the judge and the jury in the same case.”
Consequently, she called on the National Assembly to emerge with legislation, stopping the president from doubling as the minister of Petroleum Resources.
Ibezim-Ohaeri stated that: “One way to enhance the integrity of the licensing process as well as the independence of the NPRC is through an express legislative prohibition requiring that the president should no longer have the power to become the petroleum minister under any circumstance.
“Not only will the House of Reps commendable reviews be defeated if the current arrangement that allows a sitting president to double as the minister of petroleum resources is retained, this dual-portfolio arrangement violates constitutional provisions.
“Section 138 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, provides that the president shall not during his tenure of office, hold any other executive office or paid employment in any form whatsoever. These roles should be separated through a legislative prohibition.”
No fears —CISLAC
Awal Ibrahim Rafsanjani, executive director of CISLAC, a civil society group championing the enactment of the PIGB, however, demurred, saying the passage of the PIGB would in effect make the minister essentially nominal as the new law would have created autonomous institutions to take over the present powers of the minister.
“Whosoever is saying that does not have a proper understanding of the PIGB because when the PIGB becomes a law, the present institutions as we have them would be dismantled and the powers that the president or the minister has would be nominal, so there is no fear as such.”