Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) has described as ‘disappointing’ the refusal by President Muhammadu Buhari to assent to the Petroleum Industry and Governance Bill (PIGB) sent to him by the National Assembly, urging him to re-think his decision in the national interest.
It said the refusal to assent to the Bill is a big failure on the part of Buhari’s government and a lost opportunity to reform and transform the sector to meet up with global standards.
It also said that it was worrisome that in spite of the established losses the nation incurs due to the absence of this law, which NEITI puts at $200 billion yearly and another $15 billion yearly in fresh investments, Buhari did not consider it a matter of national importance to assent to the Bill.
Executive Director of CISLAC, Auwa Ibrahim Rafsanjani, in a statement, said it was unfortunate that the President has refused to assent to the Bill in spite of his promise to reform the oil and gas sector in the country during his campaigns and repeatedly after his election.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Ita Enang had, on Wednesday, told State House Correspondents that contrary to media reports, President Buhari did not refuse to assent to the Bill but had some reservations which he has since made known to the National Assembly leadership a month ago in his letter dated July 29.
Enang said one of President Buhari’s reservations is the provision of the Bill permitting the Petroleum Regulatory commission to retain as much as 10 percent of the revenue generated, saying that will increase unduly the funds accruing to the Petroleum Regulatory commission to the detriment of the revenue available to the Federal, States, Federal capital Territory and Local governments in the country.
But the CISLAC boss insisted that if the government was serious about addressing corruption in oil and gas sector, an executive Bill ought to have been sent to the National Assembly early in the life of this administration, regretting that this was not done.
Rafsanjani’s words, “We note that it took the NASS, taking the initiative though a private member Bill to get the legislation to its current status only for assent to be withheld by the president.
“We are aware that throughout the legislative process, relevant agencies and stakeholders had the opportunity to make input into the Bill during the public hearing and other channels.
“It is therefore shocking that after all the efforts, time and cost incurred in the passage of the Bill, we are back to where we were as a nation 12 years ago.
“CISLAC finds it worrisome that in spite of the established losses the nation incurs due to the absence of this law, which among other sources, the NEITI put at $200 billion yearly and another $15 billion yearly in fresh investments, the President did not consider it a matter of national importance to assent to the Bill.
“We find it frustrating and disappointing that this government has spent its tenure without properly addressing this key important sector of our economy where corruption, inefficiency, community conflict and sabotage have been institutionalised.
“CISLAC considers this refusal to assent as a big failure on the part of this government and a lost opportunity to reform the sector and transform to meet up with global standards.
“The President, who is also the minister for Petroleum Resources has only superficial reform to show under his leadership, as he was in the position to muster the political will to drive deeper reforms.
“We find it even more worrisome that the passage of the Bill had been due since 2016 according to the timeline contained in the 7 Big wins released by the administration.
“We are disappointed that the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, who possesses technical knowledge and vast experience in the sector, has failed to provide the necessary leadership, either by facilitating an executive Bill or undertaking deeper engagement with the Bill subsequently passed by the House has not demonstrated the government’s commitment to a serious reform agenda that should have led to securing presidential assent of the Bill.
“CISLAC finds the reasons provided by the Presidency, as reported in the media unacceptable. The claim that the provision of the law whittles down the powers of the president only reveals the intension to retain the power of discretionary award of licenses and oil blocs by the President which has been the basis for patronage and the underlying cause of corruption and inefficiency in the sector, failing short of internationally accepted standards.
“The office of the President is meant to serve the nation and cannot be treated as personal property of its occupants who can occupy it for no more than eight years.
“To subject national interest to the powers of an individual office smacks of selfishness and pandering to the interest of vested interest who have held the sector captive up to this point.
“We find the reasons related to continued membership of the OPEC a pretext and another effort at subjecting national interest to the expectations of external forces at the expense of national wealth and prosperity.
“We note that the refusal to assent to this Bill can become a dis-incentive and excuse for the NASS to discontinue with the efforts to pass the other outstanding components of the PIB which bothers on fiscal frameworks, community participation and sector administration.
“CISLAC therefore calls on the President to re-think its decision, place national interest above any other and assent to the PIGB.
“We call on the NASS who have demonstrated commitment by the passage of the PIGB to consider the possibility of overriding the veto of the President as representatives of the Nigerian people, to demonstrate that power truly belongs to the people.
“We also call on the NASS to be undeterred by this development and proceed to conclude legislative action on the other components of the PIB that are still outstanding, as these are also crucial to the welfare of citizens and the nation.
“We call on both the executive and legislature to ensure that they do not allow politics, personality egos and party affiliations to supersede the national interest and potential benefits due to Nigeria and her people from the passage of this all important legislation.
“We remind the two arms of government that national interest and pride are at stake, as much as their integrity, considering that they have made repeated promises to the citizens that this law will be passed during their tenure in office to break a 12-yar old jinx. The passage of the PIGB and indeed all other components of the PIB should not become another campaign promise unfulfilled.
“We call on civil society, the media and all other advocates for the passage of this law not to be discouraged and allow disappointment to become despondency, but rather see it as an impetus for continuous engagement, campaign and advocacy.
“CISLAC and her partners remain committed and optimistic that this elusive legislation would someday become a reality and the forces of patriotism and genuine reforms on the oil and gas sector will ultimately prevail over vested interest and the forces of corruption and regression.”