THE PETROLEUM INDUSTRY BILL: saving a brand in distress

petroleum bill

It is unnerving and depressing that for the umpteenth time, the Petroleum Industry Bill is, literally speaking, fighting the battle of its life once again in Nigeria’s National Assembly. The journey towards putting in place appropriate legislation and a legal policy framework that will deliver optimal benefits from the country’s rich but exhaustible oil reserves to the generality of Nigerians has been long, arduous and harrowing. It would seem that there is a conspiracy of several forces to maintain the status quo so that the mindless rape and plundering of our critical natural resource will continue unabated by foreign interests and their Nigerian cohorts.
Accusations of subterfuge by oil companies who were alleged to have compromised legislators in the 5th and 6th Assemblies were rife when even something as simple as fixing a deadline to stop gas flaring failed severally leading up to the eventual summary truncation of the first PIB which generated a lot of motion without much movement. Today the fight has shifted dangerously to our primordial fault lines of the South vs the North. BRANDPOWER believes that there is need for caution and plenty of circumspection on the issues arising from the PIB at this time.
According to some very vocal Northern Senators, the part of the bill that proposes to reserve 10 per cent of all oil and gas earnings for the oil producing areas through the Petroleum Host Community Fund is patently unfair to the North. Speaking earlier in the year, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Housing, Sen. Bukar Abba-Ibrahim (ANPP-Yobe) asserted that the North was opposed to the Petroleum Industry Bill because of its lopsidedness. Senator Buka Abba-Ibrahim at a recent interactive session with journalists, maintained that the clause in the PIB, which was asking for additional 10 per cent revenue for oil producing communities was unacceptable, pointing out that there were already too many revenue streams for oil-producing states with the present status and thus has vowed to join his fellow Northern Senators to frustrate its passage in its present form. In an obviously angry riposte, Senator Ita Enang, Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business, representing Akwa Ibom North/East, accused the Northern elite of being in control of 83 percent of oil blocs in the country and called on President Goodluck Jonathan to immediately revoke and re-allocate the oil blocs. Tempers are obviously beginning to flare and from the look of things it will not be too long before punches are traded over the otherwise simple matter of passing a bill.
Investigations have however confirmed that neither submission is true. Firstly the 10% host community fund is to be funded by the oil companies operating in each community and it is not true that Northerners own 83% of Nigeria’s oil blocs. But be that as it may, BRANDPOWER observes that the reason for this war of words and the PIB’s delicate position is as a result of the warped federal system handed down to us by past military governments. It is usually the parts that make the whole and not the whole that makes the parts. To really make progress as nation, there must be healthy competition among the constituent units of the country. That way our resources will be better exploited, better harnessed and better managed. States should manage the resources within their domains and pay taxes and levies to the federal government, just like it was in the 1st Republic.
The Petroleum Industry Bill is the culmination of several years of efforts at industry reform. The process began under President Obasanjo in 2000, with the establishment of the Oil and Gas Implementation Committee (“OGIC”). The objectives of the PIB are: Creation of a conducive business environment for petroleum opeations; Establishment of a progressive fiscal framework that encourages further investment in the petroleum industry while optimising revenues accruing to the Government; Creation of efficient and effective regulatory agencies; and Promotion of transparency and openness in the administration of the petroleum resources of Nigeria.
The obvious losers in this unending PIB debate are Nigerians both from the North and the South. It is time for our legislators to show political maturity and reach a compromise on the contending issues so that we can move our oil industry brand to global best standards. Enough of this dithering!