President Muhammadu Buhari's refusal to assent the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill is proof that the executive and the National Assembly were not on the same page in the process leading up to the passage of the bill, stakeholders have said.
And they are worried that if the bill does not come into effect before the end of the current legislature, the oil industry's crisis will deepen.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Ita Enang, on Wednesday identified the provision of the PIGB permitting the Petroleum Regulatory Commission to retain as much as 10 per cent of the revenue generated as one of the reasons Buhari declined assent to the bill.
Following the inability of the 6th and 7th National Assembly to pass the Petroleum Industry Bill, which was initially proposed in 2008, the current National Assembly split the bill into four parts – the PIGB, Petroleum Industry Administration Bill, Petroleum Industry Fiscal Bill and Petroleum Host Community Bill — to fast-track its passage.
The first part of the bill, the PIGB, was recently passed by the National Assembly and transmitted to the President in July for his assent to enable it to become a law.
“One thing that is clear is that the executive and legislature are not working together on the PIB,” the Chairman, National PIB Committee, Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria and Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, Mr. Chika Onuegbu, said.
He said if the two arms of government were working together, right from the public hearing to the point of harmonisation, those issues raised would have been resolved internally.
“So, it is very disheartening; honestly, it is heartbreaking. Our suggestion is that the Presidency and the National Assembly should close ranks and resolve things quickly and get the PIB passed into law, if not for any other thing, at least to show that this government is different from previous governments,” Onuegbu added.
The Chairman, Petroleum Club, Lagos, Mr. Godswill Ihetu, said, “Anything that will take the PIB back will be a serious matter; and I believe that both the executive and the National Assembly will work hard to resolve some of the issues.
A former President of the International Association for Energy Economics, Prof. Wumi Iledare, who also raised concern about the President’s decline of assent to the bill, said, “The governance bill is about empowering institutions, not individuals.
“When he (Buhari) came to power, he said he wanted transparency and accountability, and now a bill that will make the governance of the oil and gas industry transparent and accountable is not good enough; I just don’t understand.
Iledare added, “My understanding of the bill is that the spending for the Nigerian Petroleum Regulatory Commission will still be by appropriation. If they take more money than is appropriated, they return the rest to the account. I don’t see what is unconstitutional about that.
“I also don’t think it is going to reduce the federation account because it certainly going to make the operation of the industry more efficient. The other argument with respect to fiscal provisions not there, we have a fiscal bill that has passed the second reading supported by the stakeholders.”
The Africa Network for Environment & Economic Justice which expressed “deep dismay and bewilderment” at President Buhari’s decision not to sign the PIGB into law, urged him to reconsider his stance in the interest of Nigerians.
“ANEEJ believes that rather than dwell on the technicalities inherent in the bill, Mr. President needs to rise up to the occasion and do the needful by exploring other ways and means of resolving these technicalities than an outright dissent,” it stated.
“If the bill will effectively checkmate the three tiers of government from the habit of going cap in hand to Abuja to pick up monthly handouts from the centre, so be it. In all of the 17 years wherein the bill has been with the legislature, it has been so balkanised and scrutinised to the extent that it has nearly lost all its substance and relevance’, the ANEEJ Executive Director, Rev David Ugolor, said in a statement.
He added, “We are persuaded at ANEEJ that withholding assent after a bill has been debated and reviewed for 17 years ordinarily pits Mr. President against the Nigerian people and presents him in egoistic terms. Conflicts are resolvable and perceived conflicts related to provisions of an independent Petroleum Equalisation Fund are resolvable and cannot be the basis for Mr. President to refrain from signing the PIGB into law.”