When you are the president of a country, your signature has extraordinary force. A stroke of your pen can dismantle decades-old monuments. Your imprimatur can change the narrative of a generation.
The most important piece of legislation President Buhari will ever sign is lying on his desk. It is the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB). Whether he assents to the Bill or not, will determine, to a great extent, the success and sustainability of his war against corruption.
The biggest corruption cases in Nigeria develop from the matrix of the petroleum industry. This owes a lot to the flaws of the governance structure of the industry. Its architecture is adamantly obscurantist. It is antithetical to transparency and accountability. It provides an ideal ambience for the prevalence of the norm of endemic stealing.
The PIGB represents an attempt to modernize the Oil and Gas sector and nudge it towards conformity with best international practices. The Bill specifies strong governance and institutional frameworks for the Nigerian petroleum industry. Boiled down to its essence, it eradicates the climate of opportunities for grand corruption and establishes impersonal bulwarks against sharp practices so as to deliver better economic outcomes for all stakeholders.
Nigeria is a textbook example of irony: a rich country and pauperized citizenry. Nigerian petroleum resources have mostly benefited a clique of public officials on a relay race of primitive acquisition. While they get richer, the rest of the people get poorer and the host
communities grows more inhabitable.
The root of the problem is Nigerian laws. The Petroleum Act of 1969 and other extant laws which govern the Nigerian petroleum industry are a ridiculous recipe for sleaze. Under the current regime of laws, the minister of petroleum resources is vested with extensive discretionary powers. He awards Oil Prospecting Licenses, Oil Mining Licenses,
pipeline licenses and refinery licenses. He is the de jure Chairman of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). He decides who gets what, how and when.
The ministry of petroleum resources is the most coveted portfolio in the Federal Executive Council. The minister of petroleum resources is the number one ‘’juicy’’ political appointment in Nigeria. He has the carte blanche to make just about anybody rich.
In the current scheme of things, the petroleum industry is an annex of the presidency. The president loans the ministry to his most trusted surrogate. He micromanages the industry by manipulating the puppet who is beholden to him.
In instances where the president cannot trust anyone with the ‘’juicy’’ post, he holds it. President Olusegun Obasanjo hogged the ministry of petroleum resources throughout his presidency. He was the minister of petroleum and minister of state for petroleum for six out of the eight years of his presidency. He only bent over backwards and appointed Edmund Daukoru as Special Adviser on Petroleum and Energy in 2003, the last year of his first term; to fulfill all tokenistic righteousness.
And, it took a law suit filed by two persons representing the Niger Delta Development Union (NDDU) to embarrass Obasanjo into a grudging rethink of his territoriality. The group prayed the court, among other things, to issue ‘’ an order directing President Obasanjo to appoint a Minister of Petroleum Resources in accordance with the mandatory provisions of the Petroleum Act Cap 350 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990 as amended.” He reluctantly promoted Daukoru to Minister of State for Petroleum Resources in July 2005 but dug in his heels and remained the top dog.
When President Buhari followed Obasanjo’s precedent and appointed himself minister of petroleum resources, it sparked another round of controversy. Why do they not grab education or labour? Why do they lust after petroleum?
But the petroleum industry is a high leverage field. Next to defense, it is commonly regarded the space the president needs to have under his thumb to survive.
The president often parlays his power over the national cash cow into a political tool. By himself or through a proxy, he dispenses patronage, strikes quid pro quo deals, and funds political campaigns.
The PIGB insulates the petroleum industry from political interference. It divests the minister of petroleum resources of the power to dash out oil blocs and leaves him with only a policymaking role.
The PIGB transfers the locus of power to regulate the industry to the Nigeria Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NPRC). The Commission will have wide remit, covering upstream, midstream and downstream regulation. This individual-to-institution transfer of power will reduce the range of possibilities for abuse of regulatory power and
The NNPC has always served as the ATM of the head of state and his charmed circle. The account of the corporation is shrouded in secrecy. The particulars of its earnings are inaccessible to the public.
The PIGB unbundles NNPC, that scandal-prone bastion of corruption, into several companies incorporated under the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA). It introduces private ownership to state-owned commercial entities and mandates their compliance with private sector governance codes. The Bill also separates NNPC’s consolidated policy, regulatory and commercial functions and creates independent institutions with role boundaries to focus on those distinct responsibilities.
The merits of the letter of the PIGB makes the question of whether the president should assent to it or not a no-brainer. Of course, he ought to urgently sign. It is the best thing that can happen to his fight against corruption.
The smart way to fight corruption is not to chase the looter after the fact. In the context of our slow judicial system, its already too late after the criminal has stashed away the lion’s share of his loot and set aside the remainder to finance a possible legal battle with the EFCC. The smart way to fight corruption is to build strong institutions whose setup frustrates greed.
Ita Enang, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, has indicated that President Buhari is ‘’committed’’ to signing the Bill. It would be great if the president follows through.
There is a possibility, though, that vested interests who are profiting from the status quo may try to bend Buhari’s resolve. They may suggest that he would become weak and vulnerable if he relinquishes his oil power. That he cannot afford to throw away what
he needs to secure a second term.
If he takes the bait and pass up the opportunity to sign the Bill, he will have no legacy that will outlast his incumbency.
The PIGB is a litmus test of his avowed integrity. If he gives thumbs down to the drastic and disruptive reform of an industry that is a den of thieves, he will be perpetuating corruption. If he transcends self and approves the Bill, he will institutionalize probity in the most critical sector of the economy.
In concrete terms, it makes sense to give assent to the PIGB. Nigeria’s antiquated petroleum laws are detrimental to the economy. They are costing the country value chain jobs, foreign exchange and investment capital. Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) estimates that Nigeria loses $200 billion yearly and another $15 billion yearly in fresh investments because of our laws are basically defeatist.
The signing of the PIGB will mark the beginning of Nigeria’s competitive participation in the global energy market. PMB should urgently assent to the Bill.
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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