By Omeiza Ajayi – Abuja
The Coalition of Public Interests Lawyers and Advocates COPA, a conglomeration of seasoned legal practitioners committed to public interest engagement and developmental advocacy has identified some lacunae in the Petroleum Industry Bill, 2020, advising that the Ministry of Petroleum Resources be restructured into the Administrative and Professional Organs to avoid redundancy.
At a media interface yesterday in Abuja, the lawyers led by Pelumi Olajengbesi and Olufemi Franklin who chaired a committee that reviewed the Bill noted that beyond optimizing the revenue generation capacity to fund the critical infrastructural outlay necessary to reach Nigeria’s vision, the sector must be strengthened to provide the policy frame work needed without which Nigeria’s quest in the oil and gas sector may be compromised.
“Having carefully and thoroughly appraised the said Bill, we observed that the vision for an improved petroleum regime may be threatened by gaps and/or inconsistencies which must be addressed and fixed to advance the developmental potentials of the Oil and Gas sector, in addition to the revenue maximization goal which is unmistakably at the heart of the present version of the Bill”, the lawyers stated.
They noted that the bulk of its research effort is centred on the failure of the Bill to recognise, situate and provide for the full integration and exploration of the expertise of
the non-pool professionals within the Ministry of Petroleum Resources.
“For proper perspective, the non-pool professionals are specially trained group of experts within the Ministry of Petroleum Resources who were recruited sometime in 2008 in preparation for the implementation of the now defunct Petroleum Industry Bill, 2009 and have been extensively trained as situational experts but whose special skill-sets and expertise are made redundant by an industry regime lacking a legal instrument or provision that statutorily recognises these group of workers. It was hoped that any over-hauling legislation in the petroleum industry would positively identify and treat the systematic redundancy of the Ministry’s non-pool professionals, but it is a negligence that has occurred in the much celebrated new Bill”, the coalition noted.
It argued that despite the pace and intent behind a timely passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill, 2020, there is significant value in drawing attention to and redirecting the current discussion on the Bill to the challenge of a neglected professional workforce within the Ministry of Petroleum Resources whose very setup can save certain operational costs and ensure efficient running of the sector.
“Let it be noted that having this discussion now is a necessary step to forestall possible implementation and operational challenges that the PIB, 2020 may face with the realities within the Ministry of Petroleum Resources.
“Among a long list of observations and recommendations made in the referenced Memorandum on the Petroleum Industry Bill, 2020, we call on the National Assembly to subject the Bill to a thorough public debate. This will afford Nigerians the best opportunity to properly interrogate all issues relating to the Bill with a view to addressing all hitherto neglected areas.
“We strongly recommend that the Petroleum Industry Bill, 2020 create and establish a National Petroleum Directorate as a professional arm of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources to immediately absorb all the non-pool staff/professionals already engaged in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources as earlier proposed by successive reports and bills on the need to revitalise the petroleum industry sector.
“Specifically, the Bill should structure the Ministry of Petroleum Resources into the Administrative and Professional Organ.
The Professional Organ should be the National Petroleum Directorate which would serve as the technical expert arm of the Ministry empowered by Law and made up of non-pool staff who, unlike in past regimes, remain a constant reserve of the Ministry regardless of the Minister’s tenure.
The usual practice of a Minister hiring of external professionals as consultants to give policy support to their offices at all times and the resultant drain of the said professionals during the termination of the Minister’s tenure has not only resulted in an anomaly in the Ministry’s technical and professional make up but has equally brought about the exclusion and under-utilisation of the Ministry’s internationally trained professionals whose potentials are waiting to be explored and maximized.
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We reiterate that as a matter of expediency, the impending legal regime should take deliberate steps to integrate these professionals into the business of the ministry by setting up a viable legal framework for their operational integration thereby justifying the Federal Government’s enormous investments in their training in reputable institutions around the world. It is salient at this point that for there to be a proper framework for these professionals to be adequately engaged in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, the Bill must be intentional in its approach in order to bring about a positive overhaul of the Ministry”, the coalition added.
Saturday Vanguard checks revealed that over 100 Oil and Gas professionals were recruited into the Ministry of Petroleum Resources by the Federal Civil Service Commission to form the proposed National Petroleum Directorate as the professional arm of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources.
While they were subsequently trained both locally and internationally for effective and efficient implementation of a new Petroleum Industry legal regime, the professionals have remained under-utilized for the said purpose and now, under the Petroleum Industry Bill, 2020, appear set to suffer the same fate as the Bill fails to situate and contemplate their integration into the system.