Contrary to the impression that the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) granted enormous powers to the Minister of Petroleum Resources, investigations have revealed that the powers vested on the Nigerian minister by the reform bill are not very different from those vested on the minister's counterparts by the petroleum laws of the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Norway.
In fact, it was gathered that in some cases, the powers granted the Nigerian minister by the PIB are less than those of his/her counterparts in other laws of advanced petroleum producing countries.
For instance, Part I, Section 4 (1) of the 1998 Petroleum Law of the United Kingdom vests on the Secretary of State the "powers to make regulations prescribing the manner in which and the persons by whom applications for licences under the Act may be made."
But Section 8 (2) of the PIB provides that the Nigerian minister shall, prior to making any regulation under the Act, conduct a public inquiry.
Before holding the public inquiry, the PIB also requires the minister to publish in at least two national newspapers, notice of:- "(a) the fact that he is holding inquiry; (b) invitation to members of the public to participate in the public inquiry: (c) the venue and period during which the inquiry is to be held; (d) the nature of the matter to which the inquiry relates; (e) the matter that the minister would like the submissions to deal with; (f) the form in which members of the public are to make submissions to the Minister on the subject matter; (g) the period of public notice for the commencement of the public inquiry which shall not be less than twenty-one days; and (h) the address or addresses to which the submissions may be sent."
On the other hand, the UK's Secretary of State is not required to conduct any inquiry before making regulations and publishing the notice in the London Gazette, after granting licence.
Though Part I of the UK law vests on the queen the exclusive right of searching and boring for and getting petroleum, Section 3 provides that the Secretary of State, on behalf of Her Majesty, may grant to such persons as he thinks fit licences to search and bore for and get petroleum to which this section applies.
This provision no doubt, concentrated too much power on the Secretary of State, unlike the Nigerian minister, which the PIB empowers to grant, amend, renew, extend or revoke licences, but based only on the recommendation of the Inspectorate.
To check excesses and abuse of powers, the PIB also empowers the minister to delegate some of her powers, which is a vital ingredient of democracy.
In contrast, the UK law does not allow the Secretary of State to delegate her powers to any individual or authority.
Part II of the UK law stipulates that "nothing in this part of this Act shall be construed as conferring, or as enabling the Secretary of State to confer, on any person, whether acting on behalf of Her Majesty or not, any right."
But Section 6(2) of the PIB empowers the Minister of Petroleum to delegate in writing to any person or institution any power or function conferred on him by or under this Act except the power to make orders and regulations.
The 1996 Petroleum Act of Norway however vests on the King in Council the power to issue regulations.
The Ministry of Petroleum however "carries out regulatory supervision to see that the provisions laid down in or pursuant to this Act are complied with by all who carry out petroleum activities comprised by the Act. The Ministry may issue such orders as are necessary for the implementation of the provisions laid down in or pursuant to this Act."