The concept of a Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) began in 2007, following the recommendations of a Presidential Committee set up to carry out oil and gas sector reforms in Nigeria. The reforms were expected to form the nucleus of Nigeria's aspiration to become one of the most industrialized nations in the world by the year 2020.
For the country to realize this tall dream, it was envisaged that the major source of revenue to the Federation account, (the oil and gas sector) must be re-positioned for greater efficiency, openness, and competition built on corporate governance as obtained in other resource-rich nations. The proposed legislation was therefore designed to strengthen the capacity of indigenous Nigerian companies in the oil and gas sector to compete with international oil companies in the search and acquisition of hydrocarbons in Nigeria. The measure was also intended to reduce exploitation in the sector, limit to the barest minimum Federal Government's exposure to oil and gas exploration and production through joint venture operations.
To achieve this, priority has to be placed on privatization and commercialization in a manner that retains government interest only as a shareholder. Besides, all the companies in the joint venture arrangement are to enjoy the freedom to source funds independently for their operations. To make this to happen, the PIB is expected to provide for establishment of an independent regulator, an energy council, a national petroleum directorate, an Inspectorate commission and a National Petroleum Company that will be open and ready to embrace competition, professionalism and good business ethics in its operations. The new law is expected to lay the foundation by producing dynamic policy framework for massive reforms in the oil and gas industry. Under the PIB, the need to address the issue of raising indigenous capacity through a deliberate policy on research, production and broadening the spectrum for distribution are to be given priority. Each of these new agencies to be created under the PIB is expected to operate in the spirit of efficiency, compliment and division of labour. Above all, the agencies are to function with Nigeria's national interest as fundamental basis of operation.
But surprisingly, the contents of former petroleum industry bill became a very contentious issue that divided the oil and gas industry into diverse interests and factions. Even more contentious was the fiscal regime proposed by the former bill. While some major oil companies routed for a fiscal regime that guarantees them maximum profits, NEITI, the media, the civil society and majority of Nigerian's public were concerned that the reform should lead to improved revenues to the Federation account.
NEITI as an agency set up to, among other things, develop a framework for transparency and accountability in Nigeria's extractive industries, and to ensure conformity with the principles of global extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, took it as a responsibility to alert the nation through the media and a formal letter to the National Assembly that in its consideration of the Petroleum Industry Bill, nothing but Nigeria's overriding national interest should prevail. NEITI's major concern at that time was in the areas of optimization of revenue flows to Nigeria, protection of the operational environment, transparency, accountability and inter-generational equity.
NEITI's alert to the National Assembly in a formal press statement in June 2011, became very necessary in the face of public suspicion and allegations that several versions of the PIB had found their way into the National Assembly at that time. The public suspicion of many versions in circulation then created confusion and eroded public trust in the minds of Nigerians as to which version of this important document would be considered, who authored them and for whose interest?. It was therefore a relief when the 7th National Assembly jettisoned the various versions in circulation and opted to begin the process afresh.
Now that a new PIB is being packaged for the National Assembly for consideration and passage into law, NEITI strongly encourages greater access to valid crucial facts, data, and knowledgeable resource persons with passion for the Nigerian project to provide informed inputs, constructive discussions as well as debates on the proposed legislation.
The technical committee set up to handle the exercise may definitely require every freedom and support to consult widely and secure as much inputs as may be desirable. But also of interest to NEITI is need for accurate use of such data, patriotic indigenous skills, knowledge and necessary information that will enable the legislators make informed decisions on the proposed legislation. NEITI is particularly interested over the impact and implications of the fiscal regimes on revenue flows to the Federation Account as well as the criticality of independent role through specific reference to the NEITI Act 2007 in the proposed legislation. NEITI also hopes that specific roles assigned to it and other stakeholders in the former PIB to ensure transparency and accountability in the sector should be retained in the new Bill.
As the immediate past chair of NEITI Prof Assisi Asobie argued recently, "For NEITI there is every rationale in ensuring that in consideration of the new PIB, the National Assembly puts substantial improvement in government revenue from petroleum operations upper most in their minds. One way to achieve this is through courageous and appropriate adjustments of the fiscal regimes to meet internationally competitive levels. Besides, there is the need for the proposed law to support the creation of institutions and mechanism that will result in a rapid growth of government petroleum revenues during the next 5 years."
The current rates of Nigerian government share of revenues are PSC 48%, JV 82% while International rates of government share of oil revenue revolve around minimum of 56% and maximum of 90% respectively. This is an important guide that the National Assembly has to take into consideration in looking at the fiscal regime provisions in the PIB.
In view of the fact that oil is the mainstay of the Nigerian economy, NEITI believes that the National Assembly owes all Nigerians a responsibility to promote Nigeria's interest in the bill, protect our country's corporate sovereignty and secure the future of generations yet unborn.
Orji is NEITI's Director of Communications.