Nigerian Senate vows to limit Jonathan, Alison-Madueke’s powers in petroleum law

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Senators said the PIB currently allocates too much power to the President and the Minister of Petroleum.

A Senate, polarized by the controversies of a new oil law, closed ranks Thursday to give the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, a second reading, but made it clear it will curb the “unprecedented” powers given the president and the petroleum minister, before giving the legislation final approval.

The Senate President, David Mark, said many parts of the bill were not practicable and will be revised by the committees.

He described the spread of powers, which allowed the president and the minister to unilaterally give and revoke rights and leases, and several others in the bill, as “unprecedented and unlimited.”

“All of us say the powers are unprecedented and unlimited and there is no need for it,” Mr. Mark said, minutes before putting the question to give the bill a second reading.

“If you grant lease unconditionally, you can also revoke unconditionally,” he said.

Expected to be fully passed this year, many lawmakers anticipate the expansive powers in the bill are designed to be deployed first by President Goodluck Jonathan and Petroleum Minister, Diezani Alison- Madueke, at least until 2015.

The bill will be reviewed by four committees, namely, petroleum upstream, petroleum downstream, gas, and judiciary and legal issues. The committees will conduct extensive hearings on the bill, ahead of a clause by clause consideration by the senate assembly.

Even with the second reading, the lawmakers made it clear the proposal was far from retaining many of the controversial provisions that stirred charged debates, and divided lawmakers along ethnic lines on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The bill combines 14 existing petroleum sector related Acts; and past attempts at passing the ambitious document failed over similar controversies.

Most contentious for the 2012 version, is the inclusion of a 10 per cent fund for oil producing communities, a stipulation opposed by northern senators who claim extra funds for the oil region were not necessary since more funds already accrue to the area.

Senators, mainly from the South-South and the South-Eastern part of Nigeria have fiercely rejected the call, culminating with a member, Ita Enang, on Wednesday, urging the revocation and reassignment of all oil blocs, which he claimed 83 per cent were retained by northerners.

On Thursday, the final day for the debates, lawmakers adopted a more conciliatory tone, not radically opposing or backing the 10 per cent funds.

Those who kicked against the fund, to be derived from profits declared by the oil companies, suggested the law find ways of ensuring the moneys get to target beneficiaries, to avoid being hijacked by a few officials.

“The issue of 10 per cent or 13 per cent is neither here nor there,” said Mohammed Saleh, Kaduna Central. “What we should concern ourselves with, is how to get the money to the communities; even if it is one percent, it will make a difference.”

Those advocating for the funds nonetheless, sought support across board, invoking the camaraderie spirit.

“We are all our brothers’ keepers,” said Wilson Ake, Rivers State. “They started by calling them oil producing community, later it became bearing communities, in this bill, it is host community. You can see clearly that they are trying to distance these people from the oil.”

More than anything, the lawmakers admitted, the bill was needed to ensure transparency and encourage investments in the sector.

“Everyone involved in the oil sector has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. This bill has come to salvage them,” said Aloysius Etok, Akwa Ibom North.

Nearly all senators agreed the bill apportioned too much power to the president and the minister of petroleum.

Besides the powers to issue and revoke titles for exploration, the minister retains a supervisory right over all new agencies to be created from the unbundled Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC.

One section of the bill, which is expected to curb corruption, ironically excused the legislation from federal financial laws including the Public Procurement law and the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

Decisions to be taken related to financing, will be at the discretion of the minister, the bill said, arousing further opposition.

A former Minister of Finance, Nenadi Usman, subtly vilified the petroleum minister, Mrs. Alison-Madueke, seen as the architect of the bill in its current form.

“When you craft a bill like this, as fair minded and detribalized as the minister is, you need to have it at the back of your mind that one day, you will not be there again. And I hope, you will agree with the new person having such powers,” Mrs. Usman said.

Mr. Mark said the bill was not “sacrosanct and bible” and will be addressed by the committees.

“How can you say a bill should be exempted from the Procurement Act? It’s scandalous!” he said. “Nobody expects us to pass that.”

The committees working on the bill have six weeks in the first instance, to complete their tasks.

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