President Muhammadu Buhari withheld assent to the harmonised Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) for constitutional and legal reasons, the presidential aide on National Assembly Matters, Ita Enang, said on Wednesday.
On June 8, the Senate sent to the president for final assent into law the harmonised draft Bill earlier approved by the House of Representatives in January this year.
But, the president declined assent to the draft law initiated to update the outdated Petroleum Act and replace its provisions with a more comprehensive and current legal framework that aligned with global standards.
Confirming the president’s decision to decline assent, Mr Enang in a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday, said the decision was conveyed in separate presidential communications delivered to the leadership of the two Chambers of the National Assembly on July 29, 2018.
“By Presidential communication of July 29, 2018 (one month ago) addressed to the Senate and House of Representatives, Mr President did communicate decline of assent to the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, 2018 for constitutional and legal reasons stated therein,” the statement said.
Although Mr Enang said ”by convention, it is inappropriate to speak on the content of Executive communication addressed to the Legislature until same has been read on the floor in plenary”, he urged the legislature to understand the peculiar circumstance under which the clarification was issued.
He blamed it on the misrepresentation of the communication in the media to the public domain apparently with a deliberate intent to blackmail the executive, and ”if not promptly handled, may set the two arms of government against the public and the international investment community”.
“None of the reasons for withholding assent by Mr President adduced by the media is true,” Mr Enang said.
The reports, first broken by The Cable on Tuesday, said the President withheld assent to the proposed law because he felt there were some sections that sought to whittle down the power of the Minister of Petroleum Resources and vest same in some technocrats.
Besides, the report said the ”President equally felt uncomfortable that there were no provisions that covered the Fiscal content of the draft law”.
Also, the report said some key ministers the President consulted over the issue, including the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, refused to support his (Buhari) assent.
But, the aide in his statement said he was disclosing “very limited of the rationale communicated to the legislature,” in deference to the National Assembly.
He said the provision of the Bill permitting the Petroleum Regulatory Commission to retain as much as 10 per cent of the revenue generated unduly increases the funds accruing to the Commission to the detriment of the revenue available to the Federal, States and Local governments as well as the Federal Capital Territory.
Besides, he said the President felt that expanding the scope of Petroleum Equalisation Fund made some provisions of the draft law to be in divergence from his administration’s policy and indeed conflicted with provisions on the Fund.
Also, he said there were some legislative drafting concerns which, the President felt if assented to in the form presented, would create ambiguity and conflict in interpretation of the final law.
Apart from these issues, Mr Enang said there other issues in the draft Bill that required further attention. He did not identify the controversial sections or issues.
The PIGB is one of four parts of the proposed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which seeks to update and replace the outdated provisions with a more comprehensive and current petroleum industry law that aligns with global standards.
Also, the PIB seeks to empower institutions and not individuals, remove bad governance which leads to inefficiency, ineffectiveness, rent-seeking tendencies, inequity, secrecy and corruption in the country’s petroleum industry.
The Bill proposes to reform the governing institutional framework of the Nigerian petroleum industry by setting up an independent regulatory agency, unbundling the NNPC into two limited liability companies and setting specific policy roles for the Minister of Petroleum Resources, amongst others.
The other parts of the draft law, which are still pending consideration by the National Assembly, include the Petroleum Industry Administration Bill (PIAB), Petroleum Industry Fiscal Bill (PIFB) and Petroleum Host and Impacted Communities Bill (PHICB).
The PIAB focuses on establishing a transparent and efficient management of exploration and production operations, while the PIFB deals with financiall terms, in terms of tax regimes and contractual terms to help realise full value in line with global standards.
The PHICB takes care of the rights and opportunities for local benefits, in terms of restitution for environmental and social costs of resource extraction activities.
Meanwhile, a former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, on Monday appealed to Mr Buhari to reconsider his position on the bill.
In a statement issued by his media office, the presidential aspirant said it was unfortunate that President Buhari rejected the bill which the National Assembly in conjunction with the oil majors and host communities put in so much work to come up with.
”I am of the opinion that this is a monumental mistake,” Mr Abubakar said.
He also criticised the president for losing touch with global realities.
”The reason given by the President for rejecting the bill also betrays the fact that the current administration is out of tandem with global best practices. Saying that the Bill will “whittle down” the President’s powers is most unfortunate.
”A leader must be secure in himself before he can secure his or her people. A President is not powerful because he holds the Presidency. Neither is he only powerful because laws confer powers on him. In truth, a secure leader brings power and influence to the office he occupies instead of taking power from that office. He also gives laws the force of power by obeying and implementing them,” Mr Abubakar said.
He also said the PIGB will be ”a great catalyst” for Nigeria’s oil and gas sector.
”In recent months, Nigeria became the world headquarters for extreme poverty, having overtaken India as the nation with the most people living under $2 a day (81 million people). If we are to change the situation and bring our people out of poverty, we must support legislation such as the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill.
”As the late great President Ronald Reagan once said, the greatest leader “gets the people to do the greatest things”. The Petroleum Industry Governance Bill will help Nigeria to do great things and I urge President Buhari to put aside his insecurities over the loss of his power and let the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill be,” Mr Abubakar added.