While it is globally acknowledged that lawmaking is serious business, it is also a fact that the majority of members of the legislature are from the elite. The main reason for this phenomenon arises from the cost of attaining the positions usually through hard-fought and expensive elections. First, it is a constitutional assignment to represent a group or groups of people called a constituency.
Undoubtedly, not many are ready and willing to sacrifice the material and intellectual resources demanded by the race. On getting to the legislature the second assignment becomes that of lawmaking: initiating bills, motions, resolutions and drawing attention of the House to various national, regional or sectoral issues of importance.
The third function which are outside the legislature are numerous projects, institutions, processes and issues which the legislators are required by law to oversight, comment and report on.
Initiating a bill such as Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB that has spent over a decade in the legislative House is one of the challenges of legislators. Apart from the demand of extensive research on the legislators, it is also capital intensive. It is on the realization of these facts that the delay suffered by the bill in the successive Assemblies can be assessed.
It can also be accessed through the mischief of the bill presented by the government summed up in terms of reference of Dr. Rilwani Lukman-led committee that was empanelled by late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to implement National Oil and Gas Policy, NOGP, thus: “Transform the broad provisions in the (NOGP) into functional institutional structures that are legal and practical for the effective management of the oil and gas sector in Nigeria.”
Such a sensitive bill is one that should unite all legislators despite their political leanings, in ensuring a speedy passage bearing in mind Nigeria’s monolithic economy. Anything short of a speedy passage drains the scarce resource and the economy as successive assemblies considers the bill de novo. What a tragedy!
One is not unmindful of the blockade mounted by International Oil Companies (IOCs) through conditionality that favour their investments to the detriment of indigenous oil and gas enterprises. The challenge posed by the IOCs should not deter the legislators from passing the bill since the bill is coming on the mantra of strengthening free-market enterprise. It is now doubtful if the passage of the bill would sail through the 7th Assembly after the 2015 polls interruptions of the legislative process.
It may well be that the change that came to Nigeria affected the electorate adversely if the seventh assembly fails to pass the PIB which the bicameral assembly promised to bring to fruition before the disillusion. The assurance is important and valuable when you consider the number of years the bill has sojourned in the House. The assurances to pass the bill into law were secured before the commencement of 2015 polls. Both the Senate president and the Speaker confirmed their commitment until the ‘change’ that swept the political and legislative landscape.
Through the activation of its auto policy, very soon Nigeria will begin the production of electric cars. With this in place some of the provisions of PIB would be obsolete. It would have been better for policy reason for PIB to be in force before electric cars that would have little or nothing to do with petroleum. On the global scale, the demand of petroleum product is predicted to considerably shrink with USA achieving self-dependence in energy supply in a couple of decades. These reasoning can be gleaned from the anticipated commercial activities to be engendered by the ‘Act’ when passed. It is also expected to promote indigenous oil and gas companies.
The ‘Act’ also proposes good corporate governance through responsible and responsive management. Not only is it a producer, the petroleum company would also regulate stakeholders to ensure environmentally friendly policies, safe human right practices as well as consumer friendly.
The cost burden would not be left for the company alone. There would be a common contributory fund to care for the environment and economic development of the surrounding of exploration areas, called Petroleum Host Community Fund, PHCF), to prevent restiveness and sabotage by locals.
However, the host community stands a risk of forfeiting the contribution to PHCF if they allow vandalism, sabotage or damage of any sort to affect operators’ network of fixtures and investments. It is also public notice for them to mitigate circumstances that may lead to damages or destruction.
Since the President-elect has been part of petroleum industry, he now has the opportunity to take a holistic view of the Bill, especially the thorny issue of granting petroleum licenses that hitherto has been exercised by the Minister or by the President where the latter keeps the ministry in the presidency. There are cases where these licenses were issued and traded off without any impact for which the licenses were issued in the first place.
Ozemena, a legal practitioner, is of Ikechukwu O. Odoemelam & CO Chambers.