By Akpobor Jirue
Apart from making history as the bill with the longest life span in the Nigerian legislative chambers, the petroleum industry bill, PIB, reputed for its controversies appears set to continue in that path, even as both chambers of National Assembly last Thursday passed the bill.
The bill, which had an unequalled and uneviable history of spending about two decades at the National Assembly suffered this huge delay because of the political and personal interests attached. National interest was thrown to the wind from its inception as multiple versions of the bill emerged depending on who you were talking to.
The multinational companies operating in the oil and gas industry who are supposed to first feel the impact of the bill objected to some aspects of it and fought frantically to frustrate what they felt was inimical to their business interest.
The technocrats and agencies operating in the industry whose existence was threatened by the bill equally put up a frantic fight to protect their interest.
Next was the turn of politicians who have turned businessmen and those benefiting from the industry using their political connections and power. The usual Nigerian factor of the North versus the South also had a fair share in the delay.
The 8th National Assembly in its wisdom split the bill into four parts , namely, Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), Petroleum Industry Administration Bill (PIAB), Petroleum Industry Fiscal Bill (PIFB) and Petroleum Host Community Bill (PHCB), all in an effort secure its passage.
Although the PIGB which has to do with the industry governance managed to secure the approval of the assembly it failed to get presidential assent and so fell like a pack of card, the way a cookie crumbles.
The bill which later found its way to the 9th National Assembly as an Executive bill finally got the nod of the legislators on Thursday last week, perhaps due to the realization that the nation was being left behind in the global market space.
However, since both chambers of National Assembly confirmed its approval of the bill which is now waiting for harmonization of some issues of disparity by the committees responsible, it has started generating fresh controversies.
This time around, two key issues are at the front burner; the percentage payment to the Host Communities Trust Fund, and the percentage allocation for exploration of frontier basins.
While the first which is expected to benefit the areas where crude exploration has been ongoing since Nigeria first found oil basically located in the Southern part, the second is designed to benefit the quest to find the black gold in the Northern region.
While the host communities who have continued to suffer the effect of the crude exploration in terms of negative impact on the environment and economic activities requested for 10 percent from profit after tax of companies operating in the region to be allocated to the proposed Trust Fund, the National Assembly approved 3 percent as against the 2.5 percent proposed by the executives cum the Senate and the 5 percent approved by the House of Representatives.
Interestingly, the same assembly approved 30 percent of the annual profit from the proposed National Oil Company which will replace the current Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to be dedicated to oil exploration in the Northern region termed, Fronter Basins.
Although, the cumulative earnings expected to accrue to the Host Communities Trust Fund has been pegged at $500 million per annual while the fronter basins is expected to receive about $300 million, the decision has not gone down well with rational economist and those from the South.
The pertinent questions that have arisen are , why should funds be set aside for the exploration of crude in a particular region? What fund was set aside for exploration in the Southern region? Is exploration not an investment decision? If it is, why not allow for investors to see the viability of the prospects in the region and key into it? Even if funds were to be set aside, why that huge junk, 30 percent! How much will be left for stakeholders to share as dividends or rewards for their investment?
On the other hand, stakeholders from the Southern region including regional cultural/political associations, host communities’ leaders, youths and event traditional rulers have risen in one accord to resist the portion allocated the host communities trust fund insisting on a minimum of 5 percent.
However, the agitation took a new turn on Monday when the 17 Governors from the Southern region unanimously rejected the 3 percent allocation to the host communities’ trust fund.
The Southern Governors who made their position known a communique issued after a meeting held on Monday, July 5, 2021, opted for the 5 percent recommended by the House of Representatives. The Chairman, Southern Governors’ Forum, who is also Ondo State governor ,Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, however, commended the National Assembly for the progress made in the passage of the PIB, but also rejected the proposed 30 percent share of profit for the exploration of oil and gas in the basins.
Other aspect of the bill the forum rejected includes the ownership structure of the proposed Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC). The governor frowned at the idea of the ownership of the company being vested in the Federal Ministry of Finance but rather suggested that it should be held in trust by Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) since all tiers of government have stakes in that vehicle.
Interestingly, while the governors were busy meeting in Lagos, one of their sons, Minister, Niger Delta Affairs Ministry, Senator Godswill Akpabio, was in Abuja applauding the National Assembly for allocating three percent to the host communities trust fund.
Senator Akpabio who made the appeal at the Town Hall meeting on the: Destruction of Oil Pipelines and Gas infrastructure, organized by the Ministry of Information and Culture at the NAF Conference Centre, Abuja said, “any percentage allotted to the oil producing communities is okay for the people of the Niger Delta Region.”
A release by his Chief Press Secretary, Jackson Udom, quoted the Minister as saying, “Let me appeal to my former colleagues in the National Assembly to pass the PIB Bill into law so that the people of the region will begin to have a new lease of life. Let them not allow the argument on the percentage delay the passage of the bill. Whatever you agree on, we will accept. At least, let us start from somewhere”.
“It is not the percentage that matters. The bill has been there for over 20 years. I am speaking for the Niger Delta people. Let them not use the issue of percentage to delay the passage. No matter the percentage approved, we will accept it, whether 3, 4 or even 5 percent. If they use it well, we can go back to demand for an increase.
Senator Akpabio’s position which runs contrary those of his people brings to mind what some political analysts have termed the emerging division between Abuja politicians and their constituencies. From all indications, the Abuja politicians from the region seem satisfied, hence their members in the National Assembly could not stand up to resist their Northern peers against terms and conditions which their constituencies do not approved. Where were the Senators and members of Houses of Representatives when the decision to approve the bill was reached?
Were the Governors who convened in Lagos not aware of the proposal by the National Assembly prior to the day the bill was passed? If no, is there a disconnect between their representatives in Abuja and the landlords (the governors) back home? Could it be that the Governors are merely taking advantage of the situation on ground to boost their political relevance back home? If yes, would they use this against the Abuja politicians come 2023?
As someone jokingly suggested to the other, “If indeed the people of the Niger Delta region feel a sense of betrayal in the action or inaction of their Abuja Representatives, they should show it in 2023.”
While the brouhaha about the passage of the PIB is ongoing with a clear demarcation between Abuja politicians and the governors who seem to be playing along with the agitators from the region, all concerned must be reminded that the big masquerade is watching.
Of course, Mr President’s assent will decide whether the bill becomes law or otherwise. Drawing from the experience of the PIGB, wisdom will demand that agitators allow the bill to go at least for the sake of national interest, and seek for amendment in 2023 when they will have voted for people who will come to Abuja to truly represent their interest.