A civil society organization, Social Development Integrated Centre, Social Action, has described the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) as “seriously flawed”.
The organisation, in a press statement signed by its director, Isaac Osuoka, said the bill, which was passed recently by the Nigerian Senate, fails the environment and local communities in oil producing states.
The statement explained that the report of a forensic analysis of the PIGB embarked upon by the group revealed that the bill does not provide for health, safety and environment (HSE) concerns.
The report, titled “The Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), 2017: Implications for the Environment and Local Communities”, also claimed that the PIGB has no provision for an end to gas flaring, noting that “there is a lack of independence for regulators and a glaring neglect of host communities’ interest in the proposed new institutions.”
It said, “The provisions of the PIGB as passed by the Senate do not demonstrate an understanding of the need to guarantee energy access as a right of citizens.
“Moreover, the powers and functions of the new institutions like the Petroleum Regulatory Commission created under the Bill do not reflect current global best practices.
“Our analysis clearly shows that PIGB as passed by the Senate is seriously flawed. Our conclusion is that the version of the PIGB as passed by the Senate is an unconscionable attempt to legalize the appropriation of national oil and gas assets to some powerful private interests.”
The group condemned the separation of the bill into bits by the Senate, saying it has created a sufficient setback to a holistic effort to revamp of the oil sector in Nigeria for the benefit of citizens.
The statement noted that it is strange that the Senate is swift to create new institutions in the industry without first creating the enabling environment on which these entities will thrive, adding that the bill does not have any part or section dealing with environmental protection.
“In its current form,” the statement said, “the PIGB cedes virtually all powers on environmental regulation from the Ministry of Environment to the New Petroleum Regulatory Commission. Sadly, the Commission is saddled with functions that are conflicting with each other.”
The original PIB, the statement explained further, had made it clear that the Ministry of Environment shall have overriding authority on environmental matters, but the neutrality and independence was necessary to appropriately enforce environmental regulations.
“Worryingly, in the PIGB, all provisions giving the Federal Ministry of Environment powers on environmental issues were struck out,” it said.
“By so doing, the Senate is causing the country to lose out on the opportunity of a new legislation to correct the lapses in our regulation of environmental issues in the Petroleum Sector.
“The logical consequence of this line of action is the exacerbation of environmental crisis and conflicts in Nigeria.
“We call on the National Assembly to promptly return to the 2015 version of the PIB as regards to the environment as it has clear and effective environmental protection provisions and regulations for the petroleum industry,” it said.
The group also alleged that in the creation of governance and other Institutions like the Petroleum Equalisation Fund and Ministry of Petroleum Incorporated, several ambiguities surround many of the institutions, raising questions as to their purpose and intents.
The statement, which noted that litigation remains a potent tool of making environmental polluters accountable for their actions, lamented restrictions placed on civil actions in the PIGB, saying the maximum of 12 months period for suits against the institutions and agencies created under the PIGB, was inadequate.
“Claimants in oil and gas pollution are known to have difficulties with collating evidence, raising money to fund their case and other structural problems with litigation against oil companies,” the group argued.
“Therefore, the 12 months limitation of cause of action in this respect is not in the interest of the poor people who are most times the victims of the oil politics in Nigeria. It is suggested that the general laws of limitation be application to the oil industry,” it said.
Meanwhile, the group noted that the bill has made some worthy landmarks as regards pruning the overbearing powers of the petroleum minister, to free entities in the sector from meddlesomeness and lack of institutional independence.
It, however, affirmed that the PIG Bill is not comprehensive enough and lacks clarity of intention, saying the restructuring of the oil and gas industry must not only be to serve the commercial interest of multinational oil companies and a few local businesses but the general interest of the country and her people.
It therefore called for a comprehensive package of the intended new legal regime for the Nigerian petroleum industry, which should be tabled before the National Assembly and other stakeholders for consideration simultaneously.
“That will show transparency on the part of government and give opportunity for relevant stakeholders, civil society organisations, environmentalists and sustainable development advocates to do proper analysis of the legal regime to ascertain its relevance to issues of environmental protection, termination of gas flares, fiscal accountability and transparency, easy access to justice and host community development and equity,” it said.
“Anything less may not be good for the petroleum industry, stakeholders and the Nigerian populace.”