No end appears to be in sight for the passing of the much-talked-about and -amended Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which was first sent to the National Assembly in 2008 by late President Umaru Musa Yar'adua. The bill languished there until it lapsed at the end of the 7th session of the National Assembly in 2011.
Hopes that the PIB may yet see the light of the day were raised recently when the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Ita Enang, said that the current session of the legislature had resolved to kick-start the debate on it. It was not to be, because these hopes were again dashed when on December 18, 2012, the Senate suspended further debate on the bill. As Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, rose to steer the debate on "A Bill for an Act to Provide for the Establishment of a Legal, Fiscal and Regulatory Framework for the Petroleum Industry in Nigerian and other Related Matters 2012",the chamber erupted into a shouting session, with insistent demands that the debate be postponed indefinitely.
These are just a couple of the several hurdles that have been thrown in the way of the PIB by vested interests, aided by a pliant coterie of legislators intent on enthroning self-interests than emphasising national imperatives, all of them generously oiled from the large purse of multinationals. Indigenous oil companies opposed the bill when it was first introduced to the National Assembly. Part of the scheme to obfuscate discussion and derail the legislation was that different versions of the bill were put into circulation during the last session of the National Assembly. However, these were harmonized into one version. The opposition to it continued. Multinational oil companies operating in the country, including Shell, have expressed reservations on the provisions of the bill, placing yet another obstacle in the way. Recently too, some foreign governments, through an 'Ambassadors' Forum' also added their voice against the bill. The envoys of the United States, Canada and The Netherlands visited the House of Representatives' Ad-Hoc Committee on the PIB to put those views across.
The 'Forum's intrusion is clearly unwarranted interference and an affront on the sovereignty of Nigeria. If legislators consider national interests to be paramount, they should be wary of and reject any attempt by foreign economic interests to steer the country's resources in a particular direction. Such brazen foreign interference could be the result of fears that multinationals' near-monopoly of Nigeria's oil resources would be broken when the PIB becomes law.
The PIB basically seeks to establish guidelines for the operation of the upstream and downstream sectors of the oil industry. Some of the lofty but key objectives of the bill include vesting of petroleum and natural gas in the sovereign state of Nigeria for and on behalf of the people of Nigeria. In the proposed legislation, allocation of acreage and providing for total benefits to accrue to the country will remain the principal criterion for the management of petroleum resources in the country. The bill aims to create a national oil company to be guided by principles of the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) Act of 2007; promote the involvement of indigenous companies and manpower and the use of local produced goods in all areas of the petroleum industry in order to ensure 'Nigerian content' in the real terms.
The Federal Government by provisions of the bill would be legally enabled to develop oil producing areas through the implementation of specific projects aimed at ameliorating the negative impacts of exploration activities. In addition to increasing local capacity production, the bill seeks to check and reduce the alarming level of corruption in the industry.
There really is no reason why the National Assembly should succumb to corruptive influences to delay consideration of the PIB for passage into law. The PIB has been too long in the making for the lawmakers to contemplate further prevarication on it. The Senate President should demonstrate leadership by bringing his colleagues to line in the national interest. Areas of internal disagreements, particularly on clauses that some state governors have expressed doubts over, can be debated upon and common ground found.