•To lobby S’West, S’East lawmakers
From ADETUTU FOLASADE-KOYI, Abuja
More facts yesterday emerged over the North’s opposition to the new Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) re-introduced by President Goodluck Jonathan. The President forwarded the new PIB to the National Assembly in July 2012. Lawmakers were, however, unable to commence work on the bill as it coincided with their summer recess. But the North resisted attempts by Senate Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba to lead the debate which would start the crucial second reading of the bill.
Chairman of the Senate Public Accounts Committee, Ahmad Lawan (ANPP, Yobe North) galvanised opposition when he raised a motion that debate on the bill be suspended. He cited Order 56 (12) (d) of the Senate Standing Rules to back his motion and argued that the bill required more than one day’s debate, noting that it would require “at least, three to five days to debate it.”
His northern colleagues backed him and responded with shouts of No! No! No! when Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, who presided at plenary on that day, tried to restore order. The more Ekweremadu tried to persuade the chamber to allow Ndoma-Egba lead the debate, the more the session became restive and rowdy. Eventually, the nays had the day and Deputy Minority Leader Sani Yerima seconded the motion that it should be stepped down till another legislative day.
It was not re-introduced until the Senate went on its yuletide recess. Two weeks ago, Chairman of the Housing Committee, Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim, also gave an insight into the North’s opposition to the bill. He stated that the region is against the bill because of its proposal of additional 10 per cent of oil revenue to the oil-producing states. Ibrahim, a former governor of Yobe State, told reporters penultimate Monday that such proposal could further polarise the nation, saying that the additional funds being proposed for the oil producing states should rather go to the treasury for the benefits of all Nigerians.
“This issue of oil producing communities getting 10 per cent of whatever is gotten from oil in addition to all sources of revenue for the oil producing states which has now divided the country into two, with oil producing states having more than what they need and squandering the oil riches and the non-oil producing states which are more in number hardly surviving, hardly paying salaries and hardly doing anything, has to stop. “Nobody planted or farmed oil. God put it there. The oil will not last forever. It’ll get to a stage when it will disappear and other resources will be relevant.
If Nigeria remains one, we expect these other resources to be made available for all Nigerians. We know that at one stage, the South-South was criminally marginalised; but today, they know what is happening. They have taken it too far to the right from their own side.
They need to balance it so that the so-called non-oil producing states will not rise against the oil producing states and further polarise the already polarised society. Bukar also described as unacceptable, the powers which the bill confers on the Petroleum Resources Minister to determine the operations of the oil and gas industry.
“The powers of the minister must be reduced”, he said. In an abridged commentary on the bill, an independent study commissioned by the region, a copy of which was obtained by Daily Sun, the area specifically wants the Jonathan administration to revert to some clauses in the original bill introduced by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
The late Yar’Adua hailed from Katsina State in the North-West. In a move designed to secure the economic future of the region since the world is looking for energy alternatives outside oil, the North now wants the Jonathan’s government to commence serious work in hydrocarbon exploration and gas-oriented projects in the North. The government of the late Yar’Adua, they contended, had incorporated these in the version of the PIB he forwarded to the National Assembly in 2008.
A part of the abridged commentary reads: “The new institutional structure being proposed for the country’s oil and gas industry does not create a framework for any serious or effective exploration for hydrocarbons in the frontier acreages of the country’s six sedimentary basins, four of which are in the northern section of the nation. “The new Petroleum Technical Bureau to be located in the office of the Minister of Petroleum Resources, which takes over the responsibilities of NNPC’s Frontier Exploration Services cannot really be a substitute for the National Frontier Exploration Services (NFES) that was earlier proposed in the version of the bill sent to the National Assembly by the late President Yar’Adua.”
On another flank, the region is worried about the seeming inability of “the management of the petroleum industry to prioritise gas supply to the North.” To resolve the problem, since “the Ajaokuta-Kano gas pipeline has consistently remained in the back burner of all gas utilization plans in the country, the only way to ensure gas supply to the North over more export-oriented gas projects by operators in the industry is (to) ensure that the terms of domestic supply obligations and pricing regulations signed by the Yar’Adua administration are incorporated in the new petroleum industry legislation.”
The region is also reportedly lobbying federal lawmakers from the South-West and some states in the South-East to sustain its opposition to the new PIB. A ranking lawmaker from the region who doesn’t want to be named, told Daily Sun that the area has reached out to some of their colleagues from the South, specifically states in the South-West and South-East, to explain their opposition.
He said that “should the National Assembly pass the bill as it is, all other regions would be impoverished because the oil-producing communities, located majorly in the South-South already five legal sources of income from the Federation Account. “Approving another 10 per cent of the profit of all oil and gas companies to the Niger Delta communities and host communities in the PIB is sounding the death knell for other states of the federation.”
The North argued that the 1999 Constitution should be amended if the 10 per cent profit clause is to take effect, “something we will block with all the powers at our disposal. Don’t forget that we have the majority in both chambers of the National Assembly.” The PIB formally titled, “A Bill for an Act to provide for the establishment of a legal, fiscal and regulatory framework for the petroleum industry in Nigeria and other related matters, 2012”, is seeking to, among other things, create a conducive business environment for petroleum operations; protect health, safety and the environment in the course of petroleum operations, enhance exploration and exploitation of petroleum resources for the benefit of Nigerians.
It will also optimise domestic gas supplies, particularly for power generation and industrial development; establish commercially-oriented and profit-driven, oil and gas entities; deregulate and liberalise the downstream petroleum sector; create efficient and effective regulatory agencies; and promote transparency and openness in the administration of the petroleum resources.