• President, minister’s powers to be curtailed by new law
From Fred Itua in Uyo
Senators, yesterday, said the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), currently before the Red Chamber will lead to the creation of a new commission expected to administer and enforce policies relating to all aspects of petroleum operations in the country.
The new commission, which will be called Nigeria Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NPRC), will take over the functions of Petroleum Inspectorate (PI), the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA).
The lawmakers who are currently in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, for a four-day retreat on the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), are also proposing moves to reduce the powers of the President and the Minister of Petroleum Resources.
The proposed bill, if passed into law, will vest more powers on the commission, rather than on the President or the Minister.
Senators were however sharply divided on the powers vested on the President and the Minister to take certain decisions on issues relating to the petroleum industry.
Chairman of the joint committee on Petroleum Industry Reforms, Senator Tayo Alasoadura, maintained that every action taken must be in tandem with the provisions of the constitution.
He argued: “We cannot go outside the constitution. If we cannot do that, we must ensure that whatever we do is in tandem with the provisions of the constitution. We must be careful about semantics. A ministry was created to supervise the oil industry. We must not take away the entire powers of the ministry.”
However, the co-chairman, Senator Bassey Albert Akpan, countered the position of Alasoadura. He warned against giving too much powers to the President or the Minister.
Senator Akpan who is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Gas, maintained that the new bill must come up with ways to guard against abuses and protect the collective interest of Nigerians.
He opined: “We must be conscious of the kind of powers we give to the Minister. Tomorrow, we may have another Minister there. As a Senate, we have the power of control. Let us not be biased. We have to protect the interest of Nigerians.”
Senator Kabiru Marafa, another co-chairman of the joint committee, urged his colleagues to agree on areas that would not be rejected by the entire Senate when the report is submitted.
Marafa who spoke more in favour of maintaining the status quo, said: “At the end of the exercise, we will still have to face the Senate. It is necessary that we decide well here.”
Based on the recommendations of the committee, the Minister of Petroleum Resources shall “be responsible for the determination, formulation and monitoring of government policy for the industry; exercise general supervision over the affairs and operations of the petroleum industry subject to the provisions of this Act; report developments in the petroleum industry to the Federal Executive Council; advise the government on all matters pertaining to the petroleum industry and promote the development of local content in the Nigerian petroleum industry.
“The Minister will also represent Nigeria at international organizations that are primarily concerned with the petroleum industry; negotiate and execute international petroleum treaties and agreements with other sovereign countries, international organizations and other similar bodies on behalf of the government, subject to the approval of the Senate.”
Lawmakers proposed that upon the recommendations of the new commission, the Minister can grant, amend, renew, extend or revoke any licence or lease required for petroleum or production pursuant to the provisions of this Act or any other enactment.
The bill is proposing that when the commission is created, it shall be vested with all assets, funds, resources and other movable and immovable properties, which immediately before the commencement of operation of the new commission, were held by the PI, DPR and PPPRA.
The new commission, among other things, will also administer and enforce policies, laws and regulations relating to all aspects of petroleum operations assigned to it under the provisions of the Act.
Similarly, two new entities would be established by the new bill, when signed into law. The new companies, Nigeria Petroleum Assets Management Company and National Petroleum Company, will be vested with certain assets and liabilities of Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). The National Petroleum Company for instance, will operate as a full independent commercial entity.
In another move, the PIGB is proposing that the Ministry of Petroleum Resources be renamed as Ministry of Petroleum Incorporated.
These bold moves, according to lawmakers, are geared towards unbundling the NNPC and the petroleum industry. Consideration of some sections of the proposed bill, were suspended following the inability of lawmakers to agree on certain grey areas.