From IHEANACHO NWOSU and CHUKS AKUNNA, Abuja
The House of Representatives yesterday commenced debate on the general principles of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) with majority kicking against certain provisions in the contentious Bill. The Bill was submitted to the chamber in July, the same month members embarked on a two-month recess.
At the debate yesterday, some provisions in the bill, which dwelt on oil community benefits, regulatory powers of petroleum minister, unbundling of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry and environmental issues topped the debate that lasted about three hours.
Kicking off the debate, House Majority Leader, Mulikat Adeola-Akande, outlined the revolutionary nature of the Bill and enjoined her colleagues to support it. According to her, the PIB if passed would harmonise all previous laws regulating different aspects of the petroleum industry. She recalled: “From 1959 to date, there have been about 16 laws in our statutes regulating the petroleum industry.
Some of these are the Petroleum Profits Tax Act, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Act, the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Act among others. “ She explained that: “The Petroleum Industry Bill 2012 is seeking to harmonize and consolidate all these laws to better regulate, coordinate and manage the operations of the industry.”
She listed some of the objectives of the PIB which include: “Creation of a conducive business environment for petroleum operations; Enhancing exploration and exploitation of petroleum resources in Nigeria for the benefit of Nigerian people; Optimization of domestic gas supplies, particularly for power generation and industrial development;”
The House leader maintained that the initiative would ensure the: “Establishment of a progressive fiscal framework that encourages further investments in the petroleum industry while optimizing the revenues accruing to the government; Establishment of commercially-oriented and profit-driven oil and gas entities; Deregulation and liberalization of the downstream petroleum sector; Creation of an efficient and effective regulatory agencies; Promote transparency and openness in the administration of the petroleum resources of Nigeria; Promote the development of Nigerian content in the petroleum industry; Protect health, safety and the environment in the course of petroleum operations; Attain such other objectives to promote a viable and sustainable petroleum industry in Nigeria.”
Arguing in similar fashion, Abubakar Momoh, (Action Congress of Nigeria, Edo State), pointed out that provision in the bill which makes way for the unbundling of the NNPC would produce immense positive implications for the economy. He particularly praised the clause, which seeks the establishment of a Petroleum Host Community Fund, pointing out that if the clause were passed as part of the Bill, restiveness in oil communities would become a thing of the past. The lawmaker however, criticised the provision for the establishment of Equalisation Fund in the Bill, arguing that it was in conflict with the deregulation policy, which was equally provided for in the Bill.
Opposing substantial aspects of the Bill, Simeon Araboh, and Aisha Modibbo said it lacked merit in many areas. Both rejected the provision for the establishment of Petroleum Host Community Fund, pointing out that the constitutional provision for 13 percent derivation had already taken care of what the clause was seeking to do. Modibbo faulted the Bill, he said it was defective in the sense that it placed huge powers on the shoulders of the minister of petroleum. Equally picking hole in the bill, Uche Ekwunife (All Progressive Grand Alliance, Anambra) argued that the bill if passed the way it was presented by the president would not augur well.
She particularly queried the clause, which gave the minister of petroleum powers over some environmental issues, contending that that would cause a conflict of role between the minister of Environment and that of petroleum resources. Ekwunife also backed other speakers who faulted the powers given to the minister of petroleum in the Bill. Friday Itula (ACN, Edo) and Abike Dabiri- Erewa (ACN, Lagos) equally opposed the powers provided in the Bill for petroleum minister.
Dabiri- Erewa also argued that unlike the claim of authors of the Bill that it would promote transparency in the oil sector, the opposite was the case. She said, for instance, that the Bill does not allow for disclosure of earnings from taxes. The debate continues today.