Civil society groups urge govt to tie subsidy to PIB

*Plan rallies to protest non-passage of law

Oscarline Onwuemenyi

4 November 2011, Sweetcrude, ABUJA – Civil society organizations across the country have urged the Federal Government to attach the removal of the fuel subsidy to the argument for the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill, in order to prove its commitment to the development of the oil and gas industry and the economy at large.

The call was made in Abuja at a Policy Dialogue on the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, organized by the Afri-Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) in collaboration with PACT and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), to brainstorm on the bill which is currently in the National Assembly.

Speaking during a presentation, the Lead Director, Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Mr. Eze Onyekwere observed that there was no better way for the President Goodluck Jonathan administration to prove its social contract with Nigerians with regards to the removal of subsidy other than to align it with the protracted reform of the petroleum sector.

According to him, the argument that subsidy removal will free up funds for infrastructure development and open up windows for investment in refineries would be best served with the prompt passage of the PIB, which will create transparency in the sector as well as significantly increase domestic gas supplies for power generation and industrial development.

He noted that, “If the executive and the legislature agree that there is a need to free up funds for government to concentrate on development, particularly for infrastructure and the social sector, then the PIB should be passed expeditiously so that a proper picture about petroleum subsidies can emerge.

“The debate about removing subsidies on petroleum products to free up resources should be tied to the debate to free up resources that government continues to invest in joint venture operations and the fact that more resources would accrue to government if the PIB is passed into law.”

He noted that more money could be saved for the economy with the passage of the PIB, given the more robust and comprehensive nature of the reform bill.

“The government claims that that fuel subsidy removal would save the country more than N1.2 trillion annually; but it is very clear that passing the Petroleum Industry Bill, part of which stipulates comprehensive reform of the downstream system – of which crude refining is captured – will do the country far more good and would ensure more robust economic and infrastructure growth for the nation,” he stressed.

Onyekwere further charged the Executive arm to show leadership over the Petroleum Industry Bill, and take full charge to ensure prompt passage, if it must convince Nigerians that it is committed to reform in the oil and gas industry.

He said, “We ask the Executive to take a leadership position on this Bill as President Obama does on his pet bills. The executive should be seen to be talking about and advocating for the passage of the Bill together with its benefits for the economy and the common person so as to put a subtle pressure on the legislature to expeditiously do its job.”

The Civil society activist observed that, fortunately, the struggle for the passage of the PIB remained one in which the civil society organizations is likely fighting on the same side with the executive arm of government, adding that the Ministry of Petroleum Resources should be in a position to fund advocacy and sensitization activities in collaboration with other stakeholders.

He also advocated building more grassroots support for the cause, pointing out that many people in the grassroots had been left in the dark regarding the true import of the PIB due to the elitist treatment giving to the whole process.

According to him, “It appears that because of the technical nature of the law, it is being debated in a few circles that are apparently elitist and nowhere near the grassroots and those who stand to benefit a lot from the passage of its provisions.”

Regarding the mobilization of grassroots support for the passage of the PIB, a former Company Secretary and Legal Adviser to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Prof. Yinka Omorogbe noted that, “We must do a lot of grassroots sensitization on the benefits accruable from the passage of the bill into law. If possible, the bill should be published in simplified English and other local languages highlighting the key benefits.”

Meanwhile, the Executive Director of ANEEJ, Rev. David Ugolor, has said the Network and its partner civil society organization were ready to organize more protest rallies to the National Assembly to demand the passage of the PIB.

According to him, “It is time that the civil society began to show its strength in terms of drawing out men, women and youths to the streets to peacefully and legally rally and protest against systemic injustice and prejudices that have led to the non-passage of the PIB.

“Before the expiration of the last National Assembly, we were assured from all corners that the PIB will be passed into law before the end of the session but today we are back to the drawing board,” he added.

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