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THE DITHERING ON PETROLEUM INDUSTRY BILL

By NBF News
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The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) currently marooned in a political maze at the National Assembly is one critical legislation that ought not to suffer the needless bickering and delay it has been subjected to in the two chambers of the Assembly. Considering its importance to the petroleum sector, the nation's main revenue earner, the public expected a speedy hearing and passage of the bill.

Brought before the Senate and the House of Representative since 2000, the PIB, which is an Executive Bill, cost the Federal Government N481 million to prepare, according to the Minister of Petroleum Resource, Mrs Dieziani Allison-Madueke.

This huge expenditure on the bill underscores its significance. It includes a provision for a clear mandate to monitor the coastal areas of the Niger Delta for oil spills as well as penalty for gas glaring. This clause provides for urgent remediation for the purposes of restoring and recovering impacted sites.

Other provisions include a detailed legal and regulatory framework for foreign investors' participation, and compensation process before a refinery is sited in any part of the country. There is also a clause in the bill that emphasizes local content requirements. This provision is a big boost to indigenous oil companies that have, for decades, played second fiddle to foreign oil companies. The bill, in addition, gives the oil bearing states a sense of belonging on the resources exploited in their communities, and mandates oil companies to forward to the Petroleum Ministry, details of their pipeline network, type of product conveyed by each pipeline and the destination of such products, among others. Clearly, the Petroleum Industry Bill is a blueprint for a comprehensive framework for the petroleum sector.

However, the bill is yet to receive the urgent consideration it deserves, considering its critical importance to the Nigerian economy. Recent developments at the National Assembly attest to the lack of patriotic zeal and clarity of purpose required to pass the bill through. For instance, the altercation on March 17 between legislators from the North and those from the South in the House of Representatives over the nomenclature of the bill has re-opened the age-long mutual suspicion and the fault-lines that divide the country along ethnic dichotomies.

This came to the fore when a minor clause in the proposed bill that stipulates that the control and ownership of oil resources be vested in the 'Government of the Federation', instead of 'Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria', sparked off a rancorous debate that consequently prevented a detailed hearing of the proposed bill. The fact that the simple issue of nomenclature could shoot down a debate on a bill that seeks to set pragmatic guidelines for operators in the oil industry is most unfortunate.

PIB ought not to be subsumed in undue bureaucracy or legislative high- handedness. The suspension of debate on the bill in the Senate came following protests by civil society groups urging a speedy hearing and passage of the bill. Senate President, Mr. David Mark, had, following a motion moved by Senate Leader, Teslim Folarin, suspended further deliberation of the bill, remarking that 'pressure' by interest groups would not help the passage of the proposed legislation. He said the Senate would treat the bill on its own terms, and will not be stampeded by any group.

This controversy is needless. It is regrettable that the bill has been subjected to legislative foot-dragging. Wisdom demands that any bill that will remove the bureaucratic bottlenecks in the petroleum sector and create more jobs should receive prompt attention. With few weeks left for the current National Assembly to wind up, it ought to engage itself with serious matters that will impact positively on the economy and the people.

It has been alleged that some multinational oil companies that have a strong hold on the sector may be pulling the strings behind the scene against the passage of the bill. We urge our lawmakers to consider national interest above all things and pass it. Let them seek to institute legacies, and not pursue self interest. The passage of the PIB into law will be a fitting parting gift from this National Assembly and a welcome development for Nigeria. Let commonsense prevail.