opinionBy Francis Ottah Agbo
The first time I came across Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, the first female to be so appointed Minister of Petroleum in Nigeria, was in 2007 on the Lagos- Ibadan Express way. I was with TheNews magazine at the time and was travelling from Lagos to Akure, Ondo State capital to do a story on the governorship tussle in the election tribunal between Governor Olusegun Mimiko and his predecessor, Dr. Olusegun Agagu. The Madueke that I saw that day cried profusely.
As the then Minister of Transport, she had taken time out to do an on-the-spot assessment of major roads in the country and Lagos Ibadan road which had become a death trap was one of her ports of call.
She wondered why the ordinary people die like rodents on the road.
To me, the tears flowing from her eyes showed her connect with ordinary Nigerians who are common victims of road accidents.
This encounter endeared me to this amazon who had carved a niche for herself in the oil and gas sector at home and abroad. Little wonder that she is the first woman ever to lead a Nigeria delegation to Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to Vienna in Austria in 2010 and the first Nigerian woman to be conferred with an honorary doctorate degree by the Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA) for excelling in a field that is seen as reserved for men.
So I was not surprised that President Goodluck Jonathan retained Madueke as Petroleum Minister. And with the recent presentation of a new Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to the National Assembly for passage by the executive arm of government, the Bayelsa-born technocrat has added another feather to her cap. It is true that she is not the first to moot the idea of a PIB but Madueke is clearly the architect of this new PIB. She achieved this by rallying round all the stakeholders in the oil and gas industry including the Oil Producing Companies (OICs). The new PIB, is adjudged to be pro-Nigeria because of its rich local content.
The Minister must be praised for securing the buy-in of the IOCs in the new PIB. It will be recalled that the IOCs had frustrated the passage of the earlier bill in the sixth National Assembly on the grounds that it was insensitive to their interests. They, for example, claimed that the old PIB, amongst other things, compelled them to pay mind-boggling and unrealistic royalties and taxes to the Federal Government through the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). So government was in dire need of solution to keep the IOCs in the country and a Diezani had to come to judgement by deploring her sterling leadership qualities and persuasive skills. The Minister quickly addressed the issues of royalties, taxes and licenses in such a manner that the interests of the IOCs are protected in the new PIB.
If the National Assembly passes the PIB into law as quickly as possible as promised by Senate President David Mark, the administration of oil and gas sector will be transparent and accountable to the public and the pricing of petroleum products in the downstream sector will be completely deregulated with more indigenous participation. Deregulation will amongst other things create fair market value for petroleum products in the Nigerian economy, make enough products available by removing artificial scarcity and ultimately remove economic distortions.
The Minister ensured that the PIB provides for the setting up of a Petroleum Host Community Fund which compels oil companies to surrender 10 percent of their profits from upstream activities for the development of the oil producing communities as more and more Niger Deltans especially the youths will be gainfully employed. The PIB further protects the environment, terminates oil flaring and makes it punishable by law! The hitherto flared gas will now be exported to developed nations in dire need of the product hence creating another window for the inflow of revenue into the economy and hence signaling the implementation of the gas master plan.
The Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) are to be scrapped if the new PIB sails through. They are to be replaced with Petroleum Technical Bureau and the Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Agency with in-built measures to curb malfeasance and waste.
The NNPC is to be unbundled into three companies - National Oil Company, National Petroleum Assets Management Corporation and National Gas Company. Nigerian investors are to have 30 percent equity in the National Oil Company and 40 percent in the National Gas Company within six years from the date of incorporation.
The National Petroleum Assets Management Corporation as a holding company, as provided by the PIB, will operate fully on a commercial swing. Consequently the corporation will have power to (a) enter into contracts and incur obligations; (b) acquire, hold, mortgage, purchase and deal with all types of property; (c) establish and maintain subsidiaries for the discharge of its functions as the Corporation may determine and so on.
Similarly, the sections allow the Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Agency to oversee tariffs to prevent hijack of deregulation by exploitative marketers.
A deep study of the crux of the NNPC reform embarked upon by Alison-Madueke is to reposition the corporation in such a way that it is more transparent and profit-oriented so that it could generate more funds for the federation thereby dispelling rumours of NNPC's insolvency, alleged sharp practices and inefficiency. The reforms will equally make the corporation to be at par with its counterparts in other oil- producing countries like the Petrobras of Brazil, Aramco of Saudi Arabia and Petronas of Malaysia. The implication of this is that NNPC will declare more money for government to develop the country.
Nigerians and the National Assembly must rise up in unison to own, fly with the PIB and chart the course of our collective destiny by ensuring that the PIB is expeditiously passed into law.
The insinuation in some quarters that the PIB vests too much power in Alison-Madueke should be discarded. The issue at stake is not about her or President Jonathan but about our destiny as a people and institutional reforms of the sector which we all desperately desire. In any case, Alison-Madueke will not be Minister of Petroleum forever, many will still come after her. So Nigerians should not allow the thunder of the minority to cow the ovation of the majority as far as the PIB is concerned.
The author a journalist and public affairs analyst, lives in Abuja.