The House of Representatives has once again pushed to the front burner for passage, the controversial Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which has been on the floor of the National Assembly since December, 2008, when it was originally introduced. This piece of legislation has since then undergone several revisions and has been the subject of controversy and debate. Right now, the Bill has been split into four documents.
Interestingly, former President Goodluck Jonathan had on July 18, 2012, presented a new version of the Bill to the Seventh National Assembly for reconsideration and re-enactment. The National Assembly graciously did that but the Bill was not signed into law until that regime fizzled out in 2015.
Inadvertently, another component of the Bill, the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), was passed by the Senate in May, 2017, while the House of Representatives followed suit in January, 2018, as part of a package of legislative reform for the oil and gas sector. However, President Muhammadu Buhari withheld his assent, and the document has remained in the cooler since then.
There is no doubt that the Nigerian oil industry is the mainstay of the country’s economy. Keen observers, however, believe that the oil industry is opaque in its dealings, as it is widely seen as a source of corruption in government circles.
Incidentally, various stakeholders within government, oil companies and even civil society organisations equally agree that the oil and gas sector in Nigeria needs urgent reforms. This arises from the fact that the current structures are convoluted and impede effective regulation. This is mainly because of overlapping regulatory functions exercised by multiple agencies which in themselves breed dysfunction.
As it were, the long term consequence of this persisting scenario has been a significant deterioration in the environment of the Niger Delta region as a result of oil spills and gas flaring, which ultimately has impacted negatively on the health of the local people, the loss of agricultural land, and the pollution of its creeks and surrounding seas.
Essentially, these are lapses among others the PIB intends to address. It also aspires to promote transparency and accountability in the oil and gas sector. While transparency encourages competition, accountable institutions reassure investors, improve regulation and revenue collection, and these result in higher production and earnings.
Besides, the PIB would also enhance and increase access to information within the sector by opening more kinds of documents and data to public scrutiny, and by so doing, improve incentives for performance and check corruption and other sharp practices within the sector.
It is in cognizance of this fact that the House of Representatives recently set in motion modalities to pass the long-awaited PIB into law in September, by setting up a 30-member committee with five members drawn from each of the six geo-political zones of the country. The Minority Leader of the House, Rep Ndudi Elumelu, told newsmen that the House would go ahead with the process of amending and passing the Bill even without the input of the Executive.
“We don’t need the Executive to tutor us. We are going ahead with considering the Bill,” Elumelu enthused, while another lawmaker, Rep. Nicholas Ossai, advised the President to cooperate with the National Assembly on this piece of legislation, so as to attract more investments to the oil and gas industry. The House and the Senate are expected to resume full business in the second week of September.
The Tide is elated that the House of Representatives has taken a bold step to revisit this nagging issue, and promised to do the needful in ensuring that the Bill is passed into law. We are not unmindful that this is the fourth time the Bill is being introduced and re-introduced without having a smooth sail in the National Assembly.
In fact, the passage of this Bill is long overdue as it has been unnecessarily over-delayed, and we believe that the assurances given by the members of the House of Representatives this time around would be good enough to see this all-important Bill see the light of day once and for all.
The first step, we think, is for the lawmakers to try as much as possible to harmonise the PIB, which has been split into four documents. This will enable the National Assembly to do a more thorough work on the Bill with a view to addressing all grey areas that may stand against it from securing the President’s assent, after it must have been passed into law.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the Bill, when passed into law and assented to by the President, would go a long way to bolster the interest and welfare of those who suffer the negative impact of oil exploration in the country. This is particularly so because the Bill is not only for the interest of the Niger Delta alone but also for the entire country, as it would help bring the much-needed peace in the region and facilitate development across the country.
We also lend our voice to the call by the lawmakers and other stakeholders on the Executive to cooperate with the National Assembly in the current move to make the PIB a reality. In fact, this time around, we should never allow primordial sentiments and other considerations for that matter to becloud and override the collective interest and zeal of bringing more investments to the country.
Indeed, in this matter, it behoves the current Federal Government to treat with the same passion the way it has treated Bills like the North East Development Commission, among others. Again, all that is required for us to move forward is for all hands to be on deck to give the PIB the expected push in order to give the country’s ailing economy a boost.
Recovered Assets’ Agency
Last week, the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, and Minister of Justice, Malam Abubakar Malami (SAN) disclosed that the Federal Government has approved a new bill, the Proceeds of Crime Recovery and Management Agency Bill, for onward transmission to the National Assembly.
According to the AGF, the bill, which was first conceived in 2007, and rejected by the Federal Executive Council, FEC, of successive administrations, including the current cabinet before it was eventually approved, is geared towards securing a legal and institutional framework that will assist in harnessing proceeds of crimes that are currently scattered across several government agencies and bring them into one agency.
The Tide views this development as a pragmatic strategy in the Federal Government’s fight against corruption and commends the move as a positive one in the right direction. The initiative, we believe, will breathe a measure of air of people’s confidence in the crusade against corruption, which has been the fulcrum of the present administration’s agenda.
We are also happy to note the recent launch of the Central Database on recovered asset and the Central Criminal Justice Information System by the government. The database and information system will, no doubt, ensure transparency and accountability in the management of recoveries from proceed of crimes.
That these initiatives would help promote transparency, better information flow and management is not in doubt, or the impact it would have regarding accountability and trust, as far as recovered assets are concerned.
It is an open secret that public distrust and suspicion have trailed the fight against corruption and the subsequent announcements of recovered or seized assets. Indeed, Nigerians could not whole-heartedly vouch for the sincerity of government and safety of such assets and the situation went a long way to raise more questions than answers over the operations and candour of the anti-graft agencies and their personnel.
There have been numerous questions and calls by Nigerians regarding the exact figure and status of recovered loot by the anti-graft agencies, especially, under the present administration.
That is why we think that the National Assembly should as a matter of national importance consider the Recovered Assets’ Agency Bill and ensure its speedy passage. Passage of the bill and coming into effect of the agency, we believe, will not only ensure uniformity of process and real time access and information feeding, it will put Nigeria on safe pedestal with her membership of international organisations, inclusive of financial action task force, and openness targeted at deepening transparency within the context of United Nations Convention Against Corruption.
In addition, we are convinced that such agency would help block leakages and promote transparency in government. Importantly, also, effective tabs would be in place to secure recovered assets without any room for happenstance, while information on such assets would easily be accessed by Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, Non-Governmental Organisations, NGOs, the media, researchers and ordinary Nigerians. This will, at all times enable the people, particularly, the CSOs to be on the same page with government as far as the status and management of recovered assets are concerned, thereby engendering mutual trust and confidence.
With the agency on board, Nigeria can be in more productive synergy with other developed and transparent countries based on the existence of world accepted best practices.
However, in establishing the agency and choosing the personnel, especially, the management cadre, it is pertinent to ensure that due diligence is observed. It must not be a job for the boys or an opportunity for political, selfish and sentimental considerations. The task should be for not only the eminently qualified and capable individuals, but persons with impeccable antecedents to be able to live up to the demands of the office.
We expect that the agency should be set up and empowered in such a way that it would have internal-check mechanisms, be professional, independent and strong enough to keep a leash on other anti-graft agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC); and others.
This, we believe, will make the agency effective, accountable and ensure that recovered funds and assets are not relooted one way or another. The Federal Government and the National Assembly must ensure that no effort is spared to put the agency in place within the shortest possible time with all recovered assets put under its custody.
It is indeed time to put the fight against corruption on the table and make sure that it passes through and survives integrity and transparency test in Nigeria.
No To Water Resources Bill
Barely a week ago, an affiliate of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Amalgamated Union of Public
Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE), and a vocal civil society organisation (CSO), the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), rebuffed Federal Government’s plot to convince them, to support the controversial National Water Resources Bill 2020. This followed a meeting in Abuja between the Minister of Water Resources, Engr Suleiman Adamu, and his team with the leaderships of AUPCTRE and CAPPA designed to secure buy-in for pro-privatisation of all water resources in the country, and consequently undermine Nigerians’ free access to water and sanitation in line with the spirit of the United Nations resolution which recognises water and sanitation as basic human rights of citizens.
Addressing newsmen later, AUPCTRE’s National President, Comrade Benjamin Anthony, said: “Our meeting with the Minister of Water Resources was very frank. The minister advanced reasons why the Bill should pass but we drew his attention to the contentious clauses that must be addressed. We restate our opposition to this anti-people Bill and urge the National Assembly to trash it. The Bill fails to address human rights issues and does not enjoy the support of Nigerians. The Bill will dispossess Nigerian citizens of their inherited and cultural rights to water and should be discarded immediately”.
The CAPPA Director of Programmes, Philip Jakpor, was more succinct, “The contents of the Bill are against the spirit of the July 28, 2010, United Nations General Assembly Resolution which recognised in unmistakable terms, the human right to water and sanitation. Our position remains unchanged: President Muhammadu Buhari should use his good office to recall this contentious Bill from the legislative quarters and kick-start a fresh process which will entail consultation and input from Nigerians from the beginning through the entire process at the National Assembly.”
The Bill is titled, “A Bill for An Act to Establish a Regulatory Framework for the Water Resources Sector in Nigeria, Provide for the Equitable and Sustainable Redevelopment, Management, Use and Conservation of Nigeria’s Surface Water and Groundwater Resources and for Related Matters”. On July 23, 2020, referring to Order 12, Rule 16 of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives, 9th Edition, the Bill scaled Second Reading in the House, and was referred to the Committee of the Whole House for third reading and final passage even as its presentation breached the Rules of Procedure and legislative convention of the House and the relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution. Order 12, Rule 16 of the Standing Orders of the House states that “a bill from a preceding Assembly must be gazetted, with clean copies circulated”. But this Bill failed that test because its promoters are in a hurry to achieve a sinister agenda!
In 2017, the Buhari administration had forwarded this Bill, which seeks to transfer the control of water resources from states to the Federal Government, to both chambers of the National Assembly, with a request to pass it into law. But it failed to secure concurrent passage by the Eighth Senate, which threw it away at its first reading in 2018. Not satisfied, however, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Rules and Business, Hon Abubakar Fulata, and his cohorts, while ignoring due process, rule of law and standard procedure for reintroduction of any Executive Bill, flagrantly presented the rejected Bill to the Ninth House, and demanded its expeditious passage.
Since its re-emergence, prominent Nigerians and groups have expressed deep concerns at the purpose and intent of the Bill, and advised the Federal Government to jettison it in the national interest, just as they did in 2017 through 2018. In fact, both AUPCTRE and CAPPA, on September 3, 2020, jointly signed a damning letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, cataloguing the obnoxious sections of the Bill and how they posed grave danger to the attainment of Nigerians’ rights to water and sanitation.
The Tide agrees completely with millions of Nigerians that this Bill must not see the light of day because it represents a dark era in Nigerian history, some of which relics include the Land Use Act, Petroleum Resources Act, among others. We are disappointed that lawmakers from the South voted in support of this evil Bill. To be clear, Section 13, states, that “the Bill empowers the Minister of Water Resources to formulate national policy and water resources management strategy to guide the integrated planning, management, development, use and conservation of the nation’s water resources and provide guidance for formulation of hydrological area resources strategies under Section 94 of this bill”. It further states, “In implementing the principles under subsection (2) of this section, the institutions established under this Act shall promote integrated water resources management and the coordinated management of land and water resources, surface water and ground water resources, river basins and adjacent marine and coastal environment and upstream and downstream interests.” Another obnoxious content of the Bill reads in Section 2(1), “All surface water and ground water wherever it occurs, is a resource common to all people.”
This simply means that the Bill seeks to empower the Federal Government to control all sources of water in Nigeria. By implication, the Federal Government can permit anybody or group from any part of the country to go and possess any water resource in another part thereof without the consent of the local communities. How else do we explain an ambitious government’s desperation to consolidate age-long policy of enslaving a free people, whose liberties have consistently and brazenly been trampled on by a particular ethnic group, which see themselves as hegemonic overlords?
First, they came with the chameleonic Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) initiative, the deceptively designed expansionist programme, aimed at gifting Fulanis ancestral lands belonging to other peoples, all over the country, in ‘new town’ settlements that would have looked more like Government Reserved Areas than herdsmen’s redoubt, complete with Fulani paraphenalia. When RUGA was rejected across board, they coyly and cleverly packaged National Livestock Transformation Plan, which was RUGA by another name. That too, was ferociously rejected by Nigerians. Now, they think they can hoodwink Nigerians to accept a draconian National Water Resources Bill that takes away their rights and freedoms? This is not possible. It won’t work!
We are gladdened by the fact that in its 17th teleconference meeting since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), promised to take a position on the National Water Resources Bill 2020, after their State Attorneys-General and Executive Councils of States have brainstormed on the proposed bill and other similar relevant laws that have been generating controversies in the country. We urge the NGF to reject the Bill in its entirety, especially when they realise that the Water Resources Minister had clarified that the new bill is consistent with the vexatious Land Use Act. Even so, we task Senators from the South-South, South-East, South-West and North-Central not to capitulate but to unanimously vote against this Bill for the general good of the people and posterity.
Not Time For Power Tariff Hike
As the economy of the country continues to tether (as indeed the global economy)
and living condition of the average Nigerian takes a suffocating bashing from the novel COVID-19 pandemic, electricity distribution companies (DISCOs) in Nigeria shocked consumers of electricity with a 100% hike in tariff effective September 1, 2020.
Labelled ‘Service Reflective Tariff’, the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) was said to have approved the increase on August 31, granting DISCOs the permission to raise the amount of money charged for units of electricity consumed according to hours of supply made available in a day.
By this development, electricity consumers who get supply for 12 hours and above in a day are to pay between 80% and over 100% more than their previous bills while consumers who receive less hours of electricity supply will not be affected according to the categories determined by the regulators.
To this end, consumers are categorised into Service Bands of A to E with A comprising those who enjoy up to 20 hours of power supply, B with 16 hours, C with 12 hours, D with 8 hours and E made up of those who see only 4 hours or less of electricity in a day.
While those who fall within the Service Bands D to E have their tariff frozen at N30.23 for one kilowatt unit of energy per hour (kwh), those in category A are to pay as much as N62.33 per kwh.
NERC explained that it approved the new tariff, taking into account the following: iInflation rate (the cost of living in Nigeria); Global Gas Price (that has increased since 2015); Naira exchange rate; Average Kilowatt sold by the DISCOs; Unit cost of power generation and Aggregate technical collection and commercial losses.
According to the minor review of Multi-Year Tariff Order (MYTO) 2015 and Minimum Remittance Order for the year 2020 for distribution companies published by NERC on its website, the commission has set projection for the cost-reflective tariff to begin January 1, 2021.
Of course, as expected, the increase in electricity bill has since elicited varied reactions from various stakeholders and interest groups in the country with most of them condemning, rejecting and describing it as a move that will neither help the economy nor the already traumatised mass of the Nigerian people.
The Nigerian Electricity Consumers Advocacy Network, accused the government of a policy summersault and inadequate consultation with a wide range of stakeholders in the sector before the announcement of the increase. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has vowed to resist the hike even as the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) has said that the hike could precipitate economic recession in the third quarter of the year.
The NLC, in particular, has described the development as an ill-conceived agenda to further impoverish Nigerians, arguing that “Each hike in electricity tariff in Nigeria is trailed by huge leap in the hours of darkness, de-metering of more Nigerians, exponential rise in incidences of estimated billing, and increased burden on citizens for the procurement of equipment and facilities for public electricity supply amidst other devious methods by DISCOs to cheat, exploit and despoil poor Nigerians”.
While The Tide acknowledges the validity of the reasons proffered by NERC for the increase, we believe that the timing is wrong as it will only add to the yoke of already COVID-19 induced economically distressed, socially disorganised, physiologically disorientated and materially challenged citizenry.
We think that the new change in electricity tariff should be reversed and no increase contemplated or effected until all electricity consumers are metred, appreciable qualitative, stable power supply achieved and estimated billing completely eliminated with the provision of prepaid metres at affordable cost to all electricity consumers in the country.
It is believed that Nigeria’s investment in the sector is in the neighbourhood of $20 billion with the Federal Government still prepared to sink in another $6 billion while the power companies have failed to invest but continuously steal from the people through outrageous estimated billing, sale of pre-paid metres at exhobitant prices, poor electricity supply, poor response to customers’ complaints and incessant tariff hike.
Any attempt at resolving the abysmal energy supply situation in the country must be holistic as the current piece-meal approach to fixing the problem will never work in the interest of the people and, therefore, will continue to be resisted.
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