Initially, the entire idea of reform in Nigeria’s oil and gas sector came with the ‘spirit of good’ for the nation but recent developments surrounding the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) are showing that the ‘spirit of mischief’ has taken it over.

Nigerian media has been awash in the last few weeks with all kinds of articles and editorials on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), a legal framework to rewrite the country’s years of relationship with foreign oil operators and alter everything from fiscal terms to the structure of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR). Interestingly, all expressed opinions in the media stressed the urgent need for a taskforce passage of the bill into law by the present National Assembly before it leaves on May 29th.

The curious question is: what has happened between the time the International Oil Companies (IOCs) and their joint venture partner, NNPC fought fiercely against some alleged stern recommendations especially the fiscal system and community participation in the PIB and this present era of campaigns for the jet-passing of the bill? This is suspicious.

Who is sponsoring this campaign and what do they stand to gain from coercing everybody into blindly supporting the dark-room passage of this omega bill?

The National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) recently made an urgent call on the National Assembly to suspend the passage of the PIB until after the swearing-in of the new National Assembly.
The oil workers’ union cited the controversy surrounding the passage of the bill, as well as a bribery allegation against members of the National Assembly who were reported to have allegedly demanded a sum of $10 million as gratification from multi-national companies before passing the bill.

The question is: Who is giving money to pass this bill and why are the lawmakers asking for or rather receiving money to do what they know is right? You see there is a problem there. Those giving are doing so to achieve some goals which obviously will not be for the collective good of this nation and its people. And those collecting (lawmakers and politicians) are doing so because they are convinced the demands from the givers will not serve the general interests of the nation. This is the truth.

Truth be told, there were scores of unresolved issues in the bill as at the last time the public were allowed access to the document particularly the issue of numerous versions of the bill with the National Assembly.

Smuggling of alternative versions of the authentic bill into National Assembly as alleged points to the designs of their originators and peddlers to traffic their contrary views and hopefully translate same into law. If this is achieved, as it’s been canvassed, then it will be too late for anybody to do anything about it. And this is where the real danger lies.
 
The issue of fake or rather alternative petroleum industry bills or an outright comprise of the entire exercise is a very serious matter that should not just be casually dismissed as a hoax because there are so many divergent interests each pushing its selfish agenda with viciousness.

So it is pertinent for Nigerians to find out the content and actual version of the PIB the National Assembly and the President are being coerced into endorsing as the lawful framework for the nation’s oil industry.

The IOCs fought very hard even threatened to pull out of Nigeria because of the new fiscal system and host communities’ participation in the oil business proposed in the bill. So how come they are now so quite about those clauses? Have they secretly expunged it or terribly watered it down? We need to find out from the document at the National Assembly. The foreign operators have never been known to be this cooperative on matters perceived to work against their selfish interests. Something must have happened and we need to know.

Also, it would be recalled that a Panel of the Senate Committees on Upstream Petroleum, in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state sometime ago, accused the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) of undermining its work on the PIB by circulating fake copies of the bill.
 
Senator Lee Maeba, Chairman of the Panel of the Senate Upstream Oil and Gas Committees, was quoted then as saying at the Uyo retreat that: “The NNPC Group Managing Director is taking the Petroleum Industry Bill so personal and is putting up conducts and actions that are capable of undermining the integrity of this committee and if a line is not clear from the President as to whether this is an NNPC bill or a presidential bill, anytime from now we shall be compelled to stop action on this bill.
                                      
“We have traced it to NNPC. NNPC is doing everything to undermine the integrity of the committee. This is a Nigerian bill, it is not an NNPC bill.
 
“He has put up so many bills, he is putting up so much confusion to the committee and even now, he has sent a team from the NNPC to this place. This is an in-house committee why did he send NNPC people to this place and those are the actions that are undermining the integrity of this committee and it is wrong.”
 
That was the third time the NNPC top officials were being publicly accused of pursuing grey agenda rather than the collective interests in the entire business of the PIB.
 
The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association (PENGASSAN), Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) Branch had earlier in Abuja during the public hearing on the bill equally alleged that the NNPC chieftains were sabotaging the entire exercise and were more concerned with personal (corporate) agenda rather than the collective interest of the nation.
 
Prior to that, Senators had complained that top officials of the NNPC and government were allegedly railroading the National Assembly to coerce the lawmakers to manipulate and get ‘a suspicious version’ of the bill passed before the end of this administration.
 
The International Oil Companies (IOCs) who are afraid of the proposed Fiscal System contained in the bill; the NNPC bureaucrats who want business to continue their way without control; few privileged politicians who want un-coordinated oil industry in order to continue enjoying from leakages in the current system, should not be allowed to mess the idea of genuine reforms in the oil sector as proposed by the spirit of the original PIB.

Nigeria is not the first oil producing country to review the fiscal regime in its oil business. Venezuela and Bolivia successfully did that without the heavens falling. The IOCs are taking advantage of lack of political leadership and massive corruption in our system to manipulate all sorts of things.

Why should the IOCs expect the laws made over three decades ago to continue to guide the fiscal policies that put the country in a disadvantaged position? Today, the fortunes of the global oil business have increased dramatically. Why should Nigerian government and host communities not benefit from it?

It is an outright mischief for anybody to coerce the National Assembly into passing the adulterated bill on the ground that its delay is making the IOCs withhold or divert their investment in the Nigerian upstream to other counties. This is insulting to our sensibilities. Let them keep their investment or at worse take it elsewhere after all the ones they claimed to have done before now what do we have to show for it.

To say the bill will die technically if not passed before May 29, 2011 is absolute nonsense. Even if what they current have before the National Assembly as the PIB expires with the end of the present National Assembly, what is difficult in representing it even on the first day of the new National Assembly? There are a lot of things this people are not telling us.

Why the rush to pass this bill now? And that’s where the suspicion comes in. let the outgoing members of the National Assembly go. New members will join them and let us see how it will pay out. At least the new members are coming with clean or not so dirty hands.

There is a need to publish whatever version of the bill they are talking of passing so that stakeholders and members of the public can x-ray and make inputs to harmonise differences before the final document.
The National Assembly should provide a transparent mechanism that will provide access to all stakeholders including the communities who suffer most to participate in building consensus that will lead to the final legal framework.

There is no denying the fact that we all desire the oil and gas sector in Nigeria to be given an urgent and drastic reform so that Nigerians can benefit from the nation’s abundant oil and gas resources. But getting it wrong or more aptly giving away our rights again to foreign multinational operators in a new legal conscription would be far costlier that the current few weeks or months delay to streamline all grey areas and get it right or near-right at least for once.

IFEANYI IZEZE, ABUJA ([email protected])

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