The passage of the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) by the Senate, the other day, represents a good starting point in the effort to re-position Nigeria’s oil and gas industry. Though, it is not yet clear what the details of the content of the new bill is after the original Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) was renamed PIGB, it is, nevertheless, commendable that the bill, which languished in the parliament for many years, has finally been passed to address some problems plaguing the oil industry.
There is no doubt that the original bill was watered down to satisfy some sectional interests. For instance, while the PIB’s fundamental objective was to “Vest oil and gas resources in the sovereign state of Nigeria” which is tantamount to changing the existing order, whereby foreign interests are feeding fat on Nigeria’s oil while Nigerians languish in poverty, the PIGB merely seeks to unbundle the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). That, effectively, removes the issue of sovereignty of Nigeria and her oil while focusing on the NNPC governance and corruption.
The Senate passed the PIGB 14 years after the original PIB was drafted and presented to the National Assembly. A Joint Committee on Petroleum (Upstream, Downstream and Gas) on the PIGB made the recommendation which was adopted by the Senate at the plenary.
Chairman of the committee, who is also the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Petroleum, Senator Tayo Alasoadura, said some subsidiaries of the NNPC had also been merged into an entity to be known as the Nigerian Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NPRC). What is NPRC out to do?
Senate President, Bukola Saraki, lauded the passing of the bill, saying it would put a framework that will ensure transparency and accountability, and create an enabling environment for the petroleum sector to stimulate growth. He expressed hope that Nigerians would be able to benefit more from the petroleum sector.
The National Publicity Secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Bolaji Abdullahi, also commended the Senate for passing the bill and called on the Yakubu Dogara-led House of Representatives to follow the example of the Senate by also promptly passing the bill.
It would be recalled that the PIB was first presented to the National Assembly in 2003 under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration for passage into law. The first legislative assembly, under Obasanjo, actually passed the bill but the president refused to sign it into law.
The bill was re-presented under the Umaru Yar’Adua administration, and ever since then has lingered in four legislative assemblies which sat over it without doing much.
It was disheartening that at a point, the Federal Government renamed the PIB Petroleum Reform Bill (PRB), which seemed to foreclose the prospect of having the bill passed in its original formulation. It then became worrisome which version of the bill was being renamed since there were many of such flying around.
The re-awakened interest in the bill under the Muhammadu Buhari administration was therefore a welcome development and the Eighth Senate under Bukola Saraki deserves kudos. Senator Donald Alasoadura’s had earlier assured that the bill would be passed latest by March or April this year without fail as passing the PIB was seen as one good thing to happen to the oil and gas subsector that has been mismanaged.
While it is heartening that the Senate finally pass the PIGB, it needs to be acknowledged that, perhaps, no other piece of legislation has been so politicised, which is why the bill was delayed and tinkered with.
Some pertinent questions now need to be asked. For instance, what is the purpose of the bill since from all intents and purposes what was passed is not what was originally presented? What is remaining to be passed and how long would that take? What does the unbundling of the NNPC imply?
From experience, the unbundling of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) never made the organisation more efficient. What is the guarantee that the same problems won’t arise in the case of the NNPC?
One problem that plagues the NNPC is opaqueness. To what extent is it guaranteed in the new bill that the NNPC would henceforth be transparent and accountable in operations and accountability? Finally, how would the new bill be of benefit to ordinary Nigerians?
It needs to be stressed, at this juncture, that although the bill has been passed as a way forward, it should in no way be a substitute for fiscal federalism. Not until the country is restructured along the lines of federalism that would give sections of the country power to fully exploit their resources would there be peace, stability and progress. Certainly, the centre can no longer have the controlling power over resources and expect Nigeria to move forward.