The Coalition of Public Interest Lawyers and Advocates (COPA) has urged the National Assembly to subject the country’s Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to thorough public debate.
This, it said, will afford Nigerians the opportunity to properly interrogate all issues relating to the Bill, with a view to addressing all previously neglected areas.
The widely anticipated bill seeks to empower institutions and not individuals; remove bad governance, which has led to inefficiency, ineffectiveness, rent-seeking tendencies, inequity, secrecy, and corruption in the country’s petroleum industry.
The critical bill, which has lingered for nearly 20 years, and survived at least two legislative cycles, passed the second reading in the House of Representatives on November 24, 2020.
There have been concerns expressed by concerned parties on some blank gaps in the new and improved legislation, which may defeat the federal government’s intent to reposition the petroleum industry in Nigeria, if not addressed.
COPA, a conglomeration of seasoned legal practitioners committed to public interest engagement and developmental advocacy during a press conference in Abuja on Thursday, made some observations and recommendations after going through the bill.
According to the coordinator of the coalition, Pelumi Olajengbesi, the bulk of their research effort is centered on the failure of the Bill to recognise, situate and provide for the full integration and exploration of the expertise of the non-pool professionals within the Ministry of Petroleum Resources.
“For proper perspective, the non-pool professionals are specially trained group of experts within the Ministry of Petroleum Resources that were recruited sometime in 2008 in preparation for the implementation of the now-defunct Petroleum Industry Bill, 2009 and have been extensively trained as situational experts but whose special skill-sets and expertise are made redundant by an industry regime lacking a legal instrument or provision that statutorily recognizes these group of workers.
“It was hoped that any over-hauling legislation in the petroleum industry would positively identify and treat the systematic redundancy of the Ministry’s non-pool professionals, but it is negligence that has occurred in the much-celebrated new Bill.
“Despite the pace and intent behind a timely passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill, 2020, there is significant value in drawing attention to and redirecting the current discussion on the Bill to the challenge of a neglected professional workforce within the Ministry of Petroleum Resources whose very setup can save certain operational costs and ensure the efficient running of the sector.”
He said the discussion, coming at a time like this, is a necessary step to forestall possible implementation and operational challenges that the PIB 2020 may face within the realities of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources.
Also, a lawyer with COPA, Olufemi Frank, said the bill should create a National Petroleum Directorate (NPD) as a professional arm of the petroleum ministry to immediately absorb all the non-pool staff/professionals already engaged in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources as earlier proposed by successive reports and bills on the need to revitalize the petroleum industry sector.
The NPD was first proposed in the Petroleum Industry Bill, 2009 to serve as the secretariat of the Minister.
“Specifically, the Bill should structure the Ministry of Petroleum Resources into the Administrative and Professional Organ.
“The usual practice of a Minister hiring of external professionals as consultants to give policy support to their offices at all times and the resultant drain of the said professionals during the termination of the Minister’s tenure has not only resulted in an anomaly in the Ministry’s technical and professional makeup but has equally brought about the exclusion and under-utilization of the Ministry’s internationally trained professionals whose potentials are waiting to be explored and maximized.
“We reiterate that as a matter of expediency, the impending legal regime should take deliberate steps to integrate these professionals into the business of the ministry by setting up a viable legal framework for their operational integration thereby justifying the Federal Government’s enormous investments in their training in reputable institutions around the world.”
The coalition observed that while the Petroleum Industry Bill, 2020 introduces new structures within the sector, it does so without the benefit of the expertise, efficiency, and proficiency of the specially trained class of Oil and Gas professionals whose critical roles will become redundant under the new Bill if reparative steps are not taken forthwith.
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