The much-sought sanity in the petroleum industry may soon be found if the promise by the federal government to transmit a new Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to the National Assembly, for consideration and passage, is anything to go by.
Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, had last week during an appearance on Arise News Channel, the broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspapers, hinted that his ministry would within two weeks transmit the Bill to the parliament.
The Minister said, ‘’It (the PIB) has not been watered down. I don’t know, who has seen the bill. It’s still in draft. It has gone through several modifications. That’s the whole idea. You can’t change the laws very easily.
“It tells you that when we are able to pass the bill, it won’t change for a long time, because it has taken us about 20 years to get to where we are. It’s now ready to go to the National Assembly. But it has not been watered down.
‘’Everything has been done in the national interest and in the interest of Nigeria and we are hoping that in the next two weeks, we will be ready to go to the National Assembly, and then people can talk.
“Before seeing the bill, you can’t say it has een watered down. It’s a bill at the foundation of the main industry. There are lots of parts to it – community, government, industry – everybody’s interest has to be accommodated.
‘’We have been able to take a lot of interests on board. Not everybody will be on the same page. There’s no way government and private sector will be on the same page 100 per cent, but what we have tried to do is to narrow the gap as much as possible. Right now, we are ready to go to the National Assembly, so we can get this bill passed.’’
Sylva, in the interview, however, failed to specify the exact date of transmission of the Bill. So, deliberations and debate on the Bill by the lawmakers may likely commence after they return from their two months vacation, which starts on July 23rd.
It’s also not clear if the new bill is coming as a single bill or would come in four sets as it was in the Eighth Assembly.
The nation, for almost two decades, had been on a journey with PIB, with a lot of anticipation and promises, which failed overtime in previous assemblies. With the latest development, a lot of people are hopeful the Ninth National Assembly would break the jinx surrounding the PIB this time around and pass the Bill.
The bill was first sent to the National Assembly in December 2008 by the then President Umaru Yar’Adua. A presidential committee set up in 2007 to look into the oil and gas sector came up with the idea of this bill, which aims to increase transparency at the NNPC and to increase Nigeria’s share of oil revenue.
The Bill then was never passed into law due to objections from the International oil companies (IOCs) and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) over the content in its drafts. In 2015, the then Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu said the PIB was to be amended to speed up its passage. Consequently, the Bill was broken into different parts, to address various aspects of the oil industry.
In 2016, the Senate showed signs of readiness to begin deliberations on the Bill, set to be moved for a second reading by the Chairman of Senate Committee on Petroleum (Upstream), Senator Omotayo Alasoadura.
Ahead of the debate on the Bill, Senators from the Niger Delta area, who had moved for the suspension of the bill some months ago, because they believed that the non-inclusion of the community demands in the first phase might aggravate the tension in the oil producing areas, concluded plans to meet to brainstorm on the resuscitation of the bill and ensure that the work on its passage moves fast.
The plan to ensure that it was passed before the end of the legislative sitting, for 2016, never became a reality.
Currently, the passage of the Bill is also one of the priorities listed by the Ninth National Assembly in its legislative agenda.
President of the Senate, Dr Ahmed Lawan, had assured at different fora, that the 9th National Assembly would ensure that the Bill was passed, latest by the end of 2020.
Lawan had way back in December 2019, said the Ninth Senate would commence legislative works on the Petroleum Industry Bill. The Senate President said by the time the lawmakers return from their break in January, the Petroleum Industry Bill, which appeared to have defied passage and the constitutional amendment, which is a continuous exercise would be addressed.
‘’The mode of operation of this current Senate is, we don’t give space. We don’t create any space in the middle. We just want it done and done away with it. We passed our agenda.
“What we intend to do as Senators to enhance good governance in Nigeria is to make Nigeria better for the citizens. And of course, the way we want to go is different from the way of the past, because perhaps the goals and targets are different.’’
On February 5, 2020, Lawan disclosed that the National Assembly had commenced consultation with the Executive on a new version of the Petroleum Industry Bill to be introduced in the ninth National Assembly.
He disclosed this during a meeting with representatives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), who paid a visit to his office at the National Assembly in Abuja.
According to Lawan, ‘’The Ninth Assembly, in its determination to see to the eventual passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill, which defied passage into law since 2007, devised a strategy which deploys constant interaction and collaboration between the executive and legislative arms of government.’’
He added that the interface between both arms would birth a new PIB to be drafted from the scratch, and which would be passed by the National Assembly and assented to by the president before the end of the year.
The Chairman of the National Assembly said, ‘’Going forward, the Petroleum Industry Bill as referred to, has defied passage over the years since 2007. In 2011, there was another effort by the government; still, the bill was not passed as well. In 2015, there was a legislative effort and the PIGB was passed eventually, but at the end of the day, it was not signed.
“So, we came up with a new idea in the ninth National Assembly that the fact that the executive tried by drafting a bill and bringing it here for two tenures, then the legislature tried to do it on its own, none also saw the light of the day. This time, we should actually interact and collaborate more even before the bill is born.
‘’Let the Petroleum Industry Bill be of the executive and legislature, and that means starting to work on the bill from the scratch between both arms of government. We are in consultation already, and by the time we are able to fashion out the bill, our committees will swing into action. We believe that this time around, the ninth National Assembly will break the jinx and should be able to pass the PIB.’’
He added that the economy would further get a boost, when the National Assembly passes the PIB before the end of the year and is signed into law.
However, by June 2020, during an interview with THISDAY, the Senate President, when asked why the Bill was yet to be passed, said the Bill was not yet in the National Assembly but that the executive has been discussing with them on what they are doing about it.
He expressed optimism that the Bill would probably be submitted within June, saying contrary to what happened, when it was submitted in previous Assemblies, the Ninth Senate has decided to adopt a different approach by bringing the executive and legislature together, work on the Bill, so that it comes to the National Assembly only, when they are sufficiently on the same page.
In the House of Representatives, way back in December, the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, had assured that the House would give priority to the PIGB, the Police Reform Bill, the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) amendment bill, among others.
‘’On the issue of the PIGB, the CAMA Bill and the rest, we’ll work on them and get them to the President for his assent,’’ he said.
In January 2020, the House again reiterated its commitment to see to the passage of the Bill.
House’s spokesperson, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, disclosed that the House would prioritise the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill.
‘’We are committed to ensuring the Petroleum Industry Bill is passed. We would also fine-tune the electoral law to address the people’s core needs. We would keep going till we perfect the Electoral Act,’’ he said.
At a recent news briefing, Kalu had said the House would prioritise PIGB in its second legislative year.
His words: “PIB is one of the things that are going to be on the front burner, so, be patient with us. We are still working round to see how these laws have done while respecting the Covid-19 protocols.’’
Many, however, hope for the best as the Executive makes good its promise to transmit the PIB to the legislative arm in a matter of days, while the National Assembly is expected to fast track the passage of the bill, taking cognisance of the problems associated with why past PIBs were declined assent by the President.