By Tobias Pius
Crude oil controls Nigeria’s economy and accounts for around 90 percent of its export earnings.
The nation has the largest oil and gas reserves in sub-Saharan Africa, owning an estimated 37 billion barrels of oil and 188 trillion cubic feet of gas. But for decades, the country’s oil and gas industry has become bedevilled and turned opaque and ungovernable due to wanton corruption, poor leadership, and its attendant environmental disaster in the oil rich, but criminally neglected, Niger Delta region
Past administrations, since the country’s independence have attempted various degrees of effort to rescue the industry, yet failed at it, causing the value to continuously get leached away via unscrupulous activities like sabotaging pipelines and oil theft in the oil producing region, which houses the nation’s precious treasure and causing taxpayers to lose out on billions of dollars in annual revenue, unaccountable middlemen, opaque licensing deals, and sadly, a lack of refining capacity and graft in the government and state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) put in place to regulate and participate in the country’s petroleum industry.
The arrival of the Petroleum Industrial Bill (PIB), deemed by many to be the significant solution to the years of misdeeds, to date hasn’t still hit the ground, let alone for it to start running. For over a decade, multiple governments in Nigeria have attempted to pass this all-enclosed bill but somehow buckled at the knee due to its scope and complexity. Then again, the nation’s current hierarchy still promises it can deliver reforms in this crucial yet chaotic oil industry, despite its contentious nature due to several objections, leaving hopefuls to continue pondering if the needed change will ever arrive.
But with all the back and forth and jiggling and yet no warm leads, the present Federal Government is already feeling overconfident it can finally break the jinx and deliver on this, thus speaking like a soothsayer who can project the tail end of a mission from its start.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo within the week already promised Nigerians how the PIB would be the most attractive in Africa, owing to the fiscal provisions in it that will attract investments.
Ovie Omo-Agege, deputy senate president, also made promises on how the PIB, upon passage into law, will trigger activities in the natural gas sector that would facilitate widespread development of gas projects to increase power generation and promote job opportunities both directly and through ancillary sectors and petroleum and gas-based industries. He said in a quote: “With the expected tremendous increase in activities in the natural gas sector that will come with the new bill, there will be massive networking of natural gas infrastructure, particularly upstream and midstream”.
President Muhammadu Buhari sent a new PIB to the nation’s bicameral National Assembly, which is compulsory for the Senate, alongside the House of Representatives to sign off on before it turns into a law. This current bill intends to offer a crucial departure from previous norms such as:
• Selling of shares in a reformed NNPC, (to make it a commercial and profit-driven national petroleum company independent of government and audited annually)
• Replacement of regulatory bodies,
• The reduction and streamlining of royalties,
• Introduce new dispute-resolution mechanisms between government and oil companies,
• Boost the royalties companies pay to local communities and for environmental clean-ups,
• Set up a midstream government infrastructure fund.
But before we start counting hens without even waiting for them to hatch, what are the chances this bill will ever see the light of day, with all the complexity and controversies entangling it? President Buhari’s All Progressive Congress controls the National Assembly which is a good sign that passage is secured
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, expressed determination to pass the bill within six months, taking into cognizance that the current PIB form would not make Nigeria’s oil and gas industry competitive globally, but it has to be satisfactory to all, despite knowing how difficult it is to satisfy everybody, but there won’t be any “sacrifice of thoroughness at the altar of speed” which means this entire process can either stall or become another merry-go-round, leaving us where we kicked off from.