Assent withdrawal by president Buhari was heartbreaking

At the peak of deliberations and subsequent passing of the
controversial Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) by
Nigeria’s Senate in 2017, I got myself acquainted with the
provisions of the bill. Given close to two tumultuous decades of
back and forth, disagreements, controversies and consternations,
with the South in support of the bill while most of the North
opposed, it was a thing of celebration when the Senate finally
passed it. Suffix it to note that the PIGB bill is close to 20 years in
the making as our legislators have sought to reform Nigeria’s oil
industry through overhaul of the existing laws, which have been
adjudged insufficient over the decades. The PIGB and its sister
bills seek to replace the obsolete Petroleum Act of 1969.
One is left to imagine why Nigeria still runs its most important
industry amd highest revenue earner on decrepit laws. According
to Kenneth Ene writing in Oxford Policy Management (OPM), “the
bill (PIB – Petroleum Industry Bill, parent to PIGB) has since
undergone numerous revisions and debates, and met with a
complex set of obstacles. In July 2012, the then President
Goodluck Jonathan’s administration presented a new version of
the PIB to the National Assembly for consideration and
enactment.” Kenneth highlighted that “in 2015, the Buhari
administration proposed passing the PIB in various segments,
forming four separate bills (Petroleum Industry Governance Bill
[being the Motherlode], Fiscal Regime Bill, Upstream and
Midstream Administration Bill, Petroleum Host Communities Bill)”.
Furthermore, the Office of the Senate President and Vice President
worked harmoniously to ensure there were no conflicting versions
and it was described as historic when the Senate passed the PIGB
in May 2017 followed by the House of Representatives on 25
January 2018. The innovation of splitting the PIB largely credited to
the Dr Bukola Saraki-led Senate allowed Nigerians to surmount the
hurdle of passing the landmark bill to reform Nigeria’s oil industry
which is not in tune with current global oil industry practices.
Nonetheless I will not dwell on the merits and demerits of the bill
as it is a settled issue as to the relevance of the bill to national
development which has been established hence its passage by the
National Assembly after many years.
From the foregoing, one learns that the Buhari administration
particularly the office of the Vice President was intricately involved
in the process of formulating the bill in the 8th National Assembly
after it was sponsored as a private member bill by Sen. Tayo
Alasoadura after the 8th National Assembly waited for the
presidency for 10 months to forward its petroleum industry reform
bill if it has any. Former Presidents Yardua and Jonathan all
forwarded executive versions of the bill all of which proved
abortive. After the laborious formulation process and rancorous
passing of the bill, and it was sent to the presidency, with hindsight
of President Buhari’s aversion to the bill which I will state later, I
took to microblogging website to say: “I doubt Buhari will assent to
the # PIGB if he’s the one it is presented to. Powers to allocate oil
licences has been moved to a commission.” Here is the link of the
tweet.
That was 26th May 2019. My extrapolation was based on my
knowledge of the antecedents of the president who I know was
very much indifferent to the overhaul of the petroleum sector
because of his penchant for consolidation of power in the center as
evident in his rejection of restructuring as imperative for Nigeria.
Not only him, in his camp are foreign oil companies that have fed
fat from the oil sector over many decades, which has benefited the
Nigerian people marginally.
However what is news is that the bill, which has been awaiting
presidential assent, was declined by President Buhari. In a week
when the president’s political capital has depreciated given the
snide remark made by President Trump describing his meeting
with Mr Buhari as lifeless, one would have expected a move to
shore up political capital from the incumbent. Breaking the news of
the decline of assent, The CableNg put it boldly on its headline
thus: “Buhari rejects PIGB, says it whittles down his power”,
sending shockwaves down the length and breadth of Nigeria.
According to The CableNg, the prime reason for withholding assent
was his contention that the powers of minister of petroleum will be
whittled down. Recall that Buhari doubles as the petroleum
minister. Second, he stated that none of his ministers supported
the bill and third, lack of any “fiscal content”. Now for the president
to withdraw assent giving totally baffling reasons reeks of policy
and administrative disconnect, information asymmetry and lack of
synergy between the office of the president and office of the vice
president the later which was part of the formulation process. On
Buhari’s compliant about lack of fiscal content, Petroleum Industry
Fiscal Bill (PIFB), Petroleum Industry Administration Bill (PIAB) and
the Petroleum Host Community Bill (PHCB), which are components
of the bill are still before the legislators. VP Osinbajo was part of
the formulation process and one queries if the VP was consulted
and if he was also part of the people that advised President Buhari
to withdraw assent. One also wonders how none of Buhari’s
ministers supported the when the minister of state for petroleum,
Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, told the world in October 2015, that the
country lost about N3trn worth of investment annually due to the
non-enactment of the PIB as it was known before it was split.
It is an unfortunate situation that such a strategic bill which aims
at reforming Nigeria’s oil industry has been left in jeopardy. If by
the end of this administration, things remain as they are it will
mean the presidency has not assented to an bill of urgent national
importance – electoral amendment bill was rejected too by the
presidency- neither has it originated any and one wonders how it
expects to be rewarded with another four years after the first
tenure was lacklustre and inconsequential as far as reforms which
are needed to improve the lots of Nigerian citizens are concerned.

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