Want CSOs’ involvement in disbursement of revenue process
By Gabriel Ewepu – Abuja
With the month of April insight based on the promise of Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, on the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, into law in April 2021, Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, Wednesday, set agenda on transparency, accountability, and global standards in implementing provisions of the would-be law to the benefit of host communities, attract investors and expand the economy.
Speaking with Vanguard on the bill currently on advanced stage with the public hearing conducted the CSOs expressed concern in some grave areas that needs attention including payment of rent directly to landowners, review rents, disbursements of revenues, and others.
The Country Director, Global Rights, Abiodun Baiyewu, said, “It is a welcome development given the intrigues and inordinate delays in its passage, but we all need to be vigilant to ensure that the final version passed protects the vulnerable and reflects the aspirations of the Nigerians and not the whims of selfish interests.
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“In particular, we are concerned about provisions to ensure the transparent disbursements of revenues derived for the development host communities, and ensure that environmental degradation is adequately mitigated and penalised.
“In all sane societies, the free, prior, and informed consent of host communities alongside other rights is sacrosanct. We will be watching to ensure that they are affirmed and respected in the final version.
“The bill also needs to be forward-thinking in its provisions. We are near the end of the oil era – this final version must reflect this context.
She also added that CSOs are to be involved in the aspect of ensuring transparency in the disbursement of revenue derived for the development of host communities and protection of the environment.
Speaking the PIB that would soon become one of the nation’s oil and gas laws, The Director, Health For Mother Earth Foundation, HOMEF, Arc Nnimmo Bassey, said, “The PIB will still leave vital issues unaddressed if environment costs remain externalized and its spirit is not in line with the provisions of the Solid Minerals Act of 2007.
“A big deal is being made of a minuscule provision for communities that have borne the brunt of irresponsible exploitation and pollution (including gas flaring) for over six decades now.
He queried, “Who determines who a host community is? Who says a community that constantly suffers pollution — but doesn’t have oil facilities — is not a host community? Oil companies who thrive on divide-and-rule and are always evading responsibility? A community like Goi in Ogoniland is one such prime example. These are some of the important issues that mustn’t be overlooked.
“PIB should have equivalent provisions for environment and communities as provided in the Solid Minerals Act 2007. Oil companies should make deposited for operations closure at the end of the lifespan of fields. Pay direct rent to landowners and review such rents as in the Solid Minerals Act.
He further stated that “Moreover, communities should have a right to reject oil and gas exploration and exploitation in their territories.”
In another reaction, a social crusader and Founder, One Love Foundation, OLF, Chief Patrick Eholor, said, “Kudos to the present National Assembly members for their dedication and patriotism in making sure that this Bill is passed and accented.
“You and I know that non-passage of the PIB has been a major drag on the industry over the years, significantly limiting its ability to attract both local and foreign capital at a time when many other countries are scrambling to exploit their oil and gas resources.
“The mere knowledge that the nation’s oil industry is still being governed by laws enacted more than 50 years ago is ludicrous and extremely disappointing.
“We must have an oil and gas industry that’ll benefit the people with a global standard practices that’ll promote transparency and accountability.”
However, according to Eholor years of not passing the PIB into law has cost Nigeria and the oil-bearing communities colossal loss and backwardness, rather made them aggressive and frustrated that has led to agitations and attacks on oil companies and facilities in the Niger Delta region.
“It is unfortunate that the Oil and Gas reforms began in April 2000 when the then President Olusegun Obasanjo inaugurated the Oil and Gas Reform Implementation Committee.
“The work of the reform committee culminated into the Petroleum Industry Bill which was later transmitted to the 6th Senate in September 2008 and since then, efforts by successive members of the National Assembly to get the Bill passed have not yielded the much-desired result”, he stated.
He also called on the government to consider deregulation of the downstream sector and unbundling of NNPC, “They should equally look into the aspect of deregulation of the downstream sector, the agitation of the oil-producing communities and the unbundling of the NNPC which is a conduit pipe for the looting of our common patrimony.”
Meanwhile, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, Auwal Rafsanjani, urged National Assembly not to disappoint Nigerians in passing the PIB into law as promised by the Speaker of House of Representatives as it would change the narrative in the oil and gas sector that has been long-awaited to happen.
Rafsanjani said, “We have heard from the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt Hon Femi Gbajabimiala that they will do everything possible to pass the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, in April, this is a serious commitment by the National Assembly members working on the PIB to demonstrate and show their seriousness about this.
“It is important that the PIB this time around break the jinx. It is important that the National Assembly do everything possible to work with various recommendations and suggestions that would help to improve the sector and make it more productive, accountable, and responsive for the nation.
“Without PIB passage the nation’s economy will continue to be stagnated and suffer corruption, ineffectiveness, lack of efficiency, and all sorts of democratic bottlenecks.
“If the PIB is passed into law will make the nation’s oil and gas sector be more productive, efficient, transparent and accountable, and investors will surely come when they see that their investments are guaranteed, regulators are performing according to what the law says, there is enabling environment to ensure they have a healthy business we will have more investors will come to the sector.
“We will not want to have the current situation hereby Nigeria is importing Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, even shamelessly from our neighbouring country. We pray that the PIB legislation scales through, although the President of the Senate made a scary statement that some powerful forces will not allow the PIB to be passed into law.
“My question is that the National Assembly members are the ones that have the constitutional and legislative powers to pass the PIB, is that within the legislature or members of the legislature or is he alleging that some of them would frustrate it?
“But I don’t think this will happen because they are elected to make good laws for the country and one of the good laws is of course to have this PIB passed so that the petroleum sector would be sanitized.
“CSOs and CISLAC have been at the forefront of advocating and agitating for this law to be passed and we hope that this time around the NASS will fulfill its promises as made by Rt Hon Femi Gbajabiamila that they would pass this law.”