It started as the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) introduced nearly ten years ago, and aimed at reforming the petroleum industry in Nigeria. It was actually described as “An Act to establish the legal and regulatory framework, institutions and regulatory authorities for the Nigerian petroleum industry, to establish guidelines for the operation of the upstream and downstream sectors, and for purposes connected with the same.” It is generally recognised among well-informed stakeholders that the major challenge to the advancement of the nation’s oil and gas industry is the existing framework. A notableweakness of the presentstructure is the absence of clearness of roles, in addition to self- regulation, conflicts and unnecessary overlaps.
The passage of the bill was a dominant item in the reform agenda of the former Minister for Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke. It was so important that when the Permanent Secretary of the ministry appeared before the Senate Committee on Gas for the defence of ministry’s 2014 budget, it was revealed that N500 million had been spent on radio and television publicity for the bill. The details of that sensitization and mobilisation can only be best explained by the powerful minister and her ministry. Years passed and senators debated but the PIB never saw the light of the day. Every legislative year was heralded by a promise to conclude the legislative process on the bill, but the years also ended without a closure on the bill.
The currentSenate at inauguration did promise to expedite the passage of the bill, considering its importance to the advancement of the oil and gas industry in Nigeria. Moving in the same direction, the House of Representatives promised to do same. The first step in that direction was the unbundling of the PIB into smaller compartments, which include the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB),Upstream Petroleum Administration Reforms Bill, Downstream Petroleum Administration Reforms Bill, Fiscal Framework & Reforms Bill, and Revenue Management Reforms Bill. This unbundling allows the legislators to treat the sections of the initial PIB separately but as part of a whole. True to purpose, the legislators expedited action starting with the PIGB. And on 25th May, 2017 the Senate passed the PIGB opening a channel for the reform of the oil and gas sector in the country. The PIGB passed by Senate establishes delineation and interaction/overlap amongexisting and proposedinstitutions in the nation’s oil and gas industry. Experts have classified the institutions captured in the passed bill into four broad areas including policy formulation, regulatory institution, commercial institutions, and ancillary institutions that are expected to provide specific support services apportioned to them.
It is no news that the oil industry is responsible for more than 90% of the government’s foreign income; however the industry has the potential to contribute more to the nation’s economy if the right legislative framework is provided. The Petroleum Industry Bill seeks to fill this existing gap starting with the PIGB. This is why stakeholders in the industry were elated when the Senate passed the PIGB last year. With that landmark breakthrough many were waiting on the House of Representatives to follow in the steps of the upper chamber in order to pave way for the bill to quickly become an act. Commendably the House of Representatives passed its version of the PIGB on January 14 2018. The most gratifying news now is that the House passed the same version of the bill as the Senate, which presupposes that there will be no need for any harmonisation. To that extent the bill is soon to arrive at the desk of President Muhammadu Buhari for his immediate assent.
The national assembly deserves nothing but accolades for the ingenuity and resolve to see this bill finally come to fruition. The 8th Assembly will be remembered for this singular action. Attention must now be shifted to the President to ensure that bill is assented to as fast as possible. More so, it is imperative for our legislators to proximately proceed with debate on the other bills that make the PIB. The country can no longer afford another round of foot-dragging on this high-priority bill. Whilst one must acknowledge that crude oil is gradually losing its relevance, there is still ample time to completely extract the perceptible benefits in the industry to diversify our economy and grow the nation at large. The passage of the remaining bills must be top priority in the new legislative year. In the meantime, the ball is now in President Muhammadu Buhari’s court. Now is the time to display your determination to reform the oil and gas industry in Nigeria.