*Demand inclusion of subsidy removal in new bill
16 February 2014, Abuja – Civil society organizations working in the area of transparency and accountability in the oil and gas sector have announced plans to occupy the National Assembly over delays in the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB.
Some of these civil society groups include Centre for Democracy and Development; African Network for Environment & Economic Justice; Civil Society Legislative and Advocacy Centre; Spaces for Change; Publish What You Pay; Environmental Rights Action; Social Action; Protest to Power Movement; and the African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development.
According to the group, the occupation which will be heralded by a rally across the major streets of Abuja February 25, 2014, has become necessary following the politicization of the bill by members of the National Assembly.
A statement by Mr. Monday Osasah, on behalf of the group said opacity and other challenges in the Oil and Gas sector made the Federal Government of Nigeria to initiate a reform process as far back as 2000 which culminated into the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) that was transmitted to the National Assembly for passage into law.
“Regrettably, the bill up till now has not been passed into law in spite of the great hope it holds for Nigerians,” it stated.
It further said that the passage of the PIB with amendments that will promote greater transparency and accountability in the sector is very important, noting that the Senate Committee (Upstream)’s recent admission that the industry has already lost in excess of $28 billion in investments.
“As a result, Nigerians cannot afford the end of the seventh National Assembly without the passage of the PIB,” the statement noted.
The civil society organizations has further 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.
Speaking recently during a presentation on the PIB, 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.”
The group enjoins all Nigerians to come out enmass and be part of the final push for the passage of the PIB.