PIGB: Dead on arrival?

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I am afraid that with the President’s veto, the PIGB, and by extension the three other related bills, may have been dead on arrival


Ndubuisi Orji

Some bills are just not lucky.  For such “ill-fated” bills, no matter what you do to save them, they are bound to die. It is either they are shot down in the chamber, during debate, especially at the second reading or killed by the executive arm of government, after they may have scaled through legislative scrutiny. But die, they must.

Perhaps, the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) belongs to this class of bills. The PIGB, which was passed into law by the two chambers of the National Assembly in the first quarter of this year, is designed to provide a new legal framework for the operation of the oil and gas sector of the economy.

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It is intended to engender more transparency in the oil and gas sector and block all perceived loopholes, as well as whittle down to some extent,  the powers of the Minister of Petroleum in the sector.

The bill was introduced in the National Assembly 17 years ago as the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). Since then, it has become a recurring decimal in every every successive Assembly, until its eventual passage by the 8th Assembly. At the inception of the 8th assembly, the PIB was broken into  four bills or ease of passage, with the PIGB as major bill.  The other bills,  which are still in the mill, are the Petroleum Industry Fiscal Bill, the Petroleum Host and Impacted Communities Bill and the Petroleum Industry Administration Bill.

The key components of the PIGB includes the unbundling of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the establishment of the Nigerian Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NPRC), which will be the regulatory agency for the oil and gas sector.

However,  hopes that the PIGB will signal a new dawn were dashed last week as   President Muhammadu Buhari, declined assent to the PIGB, citing several reasons. Not a few see the President’s action as the beginning of the end  for that beautiful piece of legislation, which has been severally described as the antidote to the myriad of problems confronting the oil and gas sector of the economy.

According to the Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly, Senator Ita Enang, President Buhari withheld his assent because he has reservations about the provisions of the bill that empower the proposed Nigerian Petroleum Regulatory Commission to retain 10 percent of the revenue it generates. He noted that this would affect the revenue available to the federal, states and local governments in the country.

Suffice it to say that the reasons given by President Buhari for withholding his assent to the PIGB are neither here nor there. The idea of a government agency, retaining part of the revenue it generates is not novel. Several government agencies like the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Central Bank of Nigeria are known to keep back certain percentages of the revenue they generate as their  operating cost.

Besides, if what it will take for the oil and gas sector to function optimally and transparently is to whittle down the powers of the Petroleum Minister on the sector,  so be it. Expectedly, many persons have called on the National Assembly to override President Buhari’s veto on the PIGB. I agree that that is the appropriate thing to do in this circumstance.

But I am afraid that with the President’s veto, the PIGB, and by extension the three other related bills, may have been dead on arrival, as the National Assembly may not have the will to override the President.

Ordinarily,  the refusal of the President to assent to a bill should not mark the end of the PIG bill, as the 1999 constitution (as amended) empowers the parliament to override presidential veto with two/third votes. Regrettably, in Nigeria, once the President for whatever reason says no to any bill,  that bill is as good as dead,  no matter how good it is.

It is actually easier for a carmel to pass through the eye of a needle than for National Assembly to override the President. In the last 18 years, there is only one known case where federal legislature has only been able to override presidential veto. And that was on the bill for the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).

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Apart from that scenario,  every other attempt to override presidential veto has failed woefully in parliament. The most recent is the case of Nigeria Peace Corps Bill, which the House of Representatives, tried albeit unsuccessfully to override the President veto.

To make matters worse, the National Assembly at the moment has become so factionalised along party lines,  so much so that national interest has taken the back stage. Ahead of the 2019 general elections, many federal lawmakers are presently more concerned with things that will advance the interest of their political parties more than anything else.

Therefore,  it will take a miracle for the National Assembly to muster a two /third majority to override President Buhari on PIGB or any other issue for that matter.

One of the tragedies of our politics is that everything is viewed either through the prism of politics, ethnicity or religion. Many a time, lawmakers, especially those in the ruling party, confuse loyalty to the President or political party as loyalty to the country.

For many of them,  it is an anathema to take a position contrary to that of the President and their political party. To them the President is god and must always be right. Therefore,  the fact that the President has declined assent to the bill would be enough reason for some lawmakers to kick against any attempt to override the President’s veto.

However, our lawmakers must always bear in mind the words of late American Senator, John McCain that “We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.”

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