By NBF News

By Oscarline Onwuemenyi
CIVIL society organisations across the country have urged the Federal Government to attach the removal of the fuel subsidy to the argument for the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, as proof of its commitment to the development of the industry and the economy at large.

The call was made in Abuja at a Policy Dialogue on the PIB, organised by the Afri-Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, in collaboration with PACT and the United States Agency for International Development, USAID, to brainstorm on the bill which is currently at the National Assembly.

The Lead Director, Centre for Social Justice, CSJ, Mr. Eze Onyekwere, observed that there was no better way for the President Goodluck Jonathan's administration to prove its social contract with Nigerians with regard to the removal of subsidy other than to align it with the protracted reform of the petroleum sector.

According to him, the argument that subsidy removal will free up funds for infrastructure development and open up windows for investment in refineries would be best served with the prompt passage of the PIB, which will create transparency in the sector as well as significantly increase domestic gas supplies for power generation and industrial development.

He said, 'The debate about removing subsidies on petroleum products to free up resources should be tied to the debate to free up resources that government continues to invest in joint venture operations and the fact that more resources would accrue to government if the PIB is passed into law.'

He noted that more money could be saved for the economy with the passage of the PIB, given its more robust and comprehensive nature.

'The government claims that that fuel subsidy removal would save the country more than N1.2 trillion annually; but it is very clear that passing the Petroleum Industry Bill, part of which stipulates comprehensive reform of the downstream system - of which crude refining is captured - will do the country far more good and would ensure more robust economic and infrastructure growth for the nation,' he stressed.

Onyekwere further charged government to take full charge to ensure the prompt passage of the bill, if it must convince Nigerians that it is committed to reform in the oil and gas industry.

The Civil society activist observed that, fortunately, the struggle for the passage of the PIB remained one in which the civil society organizations is likely fighting on the same side with the executive arm of government. He added that the Ministry of Petroleum Resources should be in a position to fund advocacy and sensitization activities in collaboration with other stakeholders.

He also advocated building more grassroots support for the cause, pointing out that many of them have been left in the dark regarding the true import of the PIB due to the elitist treatment giving to the whole process.

Regarding the mobilisation of grassroots support for the PIB, a former Company Secretary and Legal Adviser to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Prof. Yinka Omorogbe, noted that, 'We must do a lot of grassroots sensitization on the benefits accruable from the passage of the bill into law. If possible, the bill should be published in simplified English and other local languages highlighting the key benefits.'

Meanwhile, the Executive Director of ANEEJ, Rev. David Ugolor, has said the Network and its partner civil society organization were ready to organize more protest rallies to the National Assembly to demand the passage of the PIB.

According to him, 'It is time that the civil society began to show its strength in terms of drawing out men, women and youths to the streets to peacefully and legally rally and protest against systemic injustice and prejudices that have led to the non-passage of the PIB.

'Before the expiration of the last National Assembly, we were assured from all corners that the PIB will be passed into law before the end of the session but today we are back to the drawing board,' he added.