A tale of two nations

Diezani Alison-Madueke 1Onoakpoma Ohimor

19 August 2014, Sweetcrude, Houston –
While Nigeria dithers, Mexico makes progress with petroleum industry reforms.

Nigeria’s Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) appears set to achieve a feat – the longest pending bill in Nigeria’s legislative history. While it is true that landmark and popular legislations take time, they do not take forever or remain pending from one legislative assembly to another.

A similar legislation, the Electricity Sector Reform Act of 2005 which birthed the slow and steady change in the electricity industry took several years in the works before it was passed. The PlB which equally promises to transform the petroleum industry has been in the works for over six years and appears set to survive two consecutive legislative houses (2007 to 2011 and 2011 to 2015). With the 2015 electioneering approaching, prospect of its enactment by the present administration is dim to say the least.

A tale of two nations

While our esteemed national assembly grapples with the bill and continues to offer promises of passing the bill sooner than later, it is instructive to know that Mexico, another oil producing country and soon to be a major competitor for international oil companies (IOCs) investment funds with Nigeria, has within the last few months passed a number of legislations aimed at opening up her petroleum industry to private companies.

Despite opposition from leftist parties, Mexico’s congress have swiftly passed a series of legislations that will end over seven decades of government ownership and exploration and production monopoly enjoyed by state owned Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX). The bills just like in the case of Nigeria seeks to transform Mexico’s petroleum industry into a competitive one and spur production and reserves which have been on a downward run for many years in the later.

In addition to the similarities in the goals and objectives of the bills, a number of other similarities exist between the two nations as far as the petroleum industry is concerned. Chief among which are the heavy dependence on the petroleum sector for government revenue; largely opaque national oil companies which straddles every aspect of the industry with sub-optimal performances. While Mexico’s congress has passed the reform bills in less than six months, Nigeria’s national assembly has dithered for years.

With Mexican bills specifically designed to attract investments, it won’t be surprising if a good chunk of the funds realised from divestments by the international oil companies (IOCs) from Nigeria’s onshore blocks flows into the North American country’s petroleum industry in the coming months as the IOCs are expected to play in the country’s prolific offshore basins.

Who of what is holding the PIB?
This is the million Dollar question well-meaning Nigerians are asking. If the PIB, which has been touted as the elixir that will deliver the industry from the strangle-hold of wastages and inefficiencies and ensure Nigeria gets optimal value from its natural resources, why has it remained in the pending tray of our legislators for over six years.

The blame rest squarely on both the executive and legislative arms of government, the administration’s lethargic complacency defies any sane rationalisation. Equally blameworthy is the cohort of conniving industry operatives who benefits from the status quo.

Beyond the blame however, the non-passage of the PIB after so many years does not reflect positively on us as a nation. If Nigeria is to be taken seriously by would be investors and Nigerians get the most of their naturally endowed resources there is need to move with speed on the PIB.
To all parties concerned Nigerians deserve a better deal. IF THE PIB IS GOOD, LET IT PASS.

*Onoakpoma Ohimor is a financial consultant based in Lagos and can be reached at oohimor@gmail.com

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