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THEWILL EDITORIAL: Before Presidential Assent to Petroleum Industry Bill

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True to Senate President Ahmed Lawan’s promise, the Ninth National Assembly finally passed the much-awaited Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) on Thursday, July 1, 2021.

Introduced by late President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2008, the bill had been delayed for about 12 years due to the inability of past National Assemblies to come to terms with some of its provisions.

When presenting the bill, Yar’Adua told Nigerians that it was meant to reposition the nation’s oil and gas industry in such a way as to enable it compete favourably with similar sectors in the world.

According to him, the bill would also encourage the international community to continue to do business with Nigeria, particularly in the oil and gas industry, and restore the confidence of investors in the industry.

Prior to the passage of the bill by the two chambers of the National Assembly, the Senate and the House of Representatives, a provision, namely Section 240 of the bill, which recommends 3 per cent equity funds for host communities from oil companies, as against the 10 per cent in the original bill presented under the Umaru Yar’Adua administration, and 30 per cent to aid oil search in frontline states in the North, on the other hand, had attracted intense objections and condemnation from Nigerians, especially in the oil producing areas.

While the House of Reps went on to increase the mandatory fund for host communities from 3 per cent to 5 per cent, the Senate passed 3 per cent, thereby giving room to heightened resentment and dissatisfaction among the people.

It is obvious that in their haste to rework the bill, the authors failed to take into consideration the suffering of the host communities, the bulk of which are located in the Niger Delta, who have for many years since the discovery of crude oil in Oloibiri borne the brunt of oil exploration alone.

In case they have forgotten too soon, decades of oil prospecting and exploration has impacted negatively on the Niger Delta and caused untold harm to the biodiversity of the region. Oil spillages, gas flaring and exposure to harmful chemicals used in the production processes have resulted in the degradation of the environment and more.

Perhaps there is a need to draw the attention of the lawmakers to the fact that research has shown that continued exposure to hydrocarbons is detrimental to the development of the human foetus and this explains why infant mortality is on the rise in the Niger Delta.

Over the past decades,  residents of oil producing communities have been exposed to health hazards resulting from dermal contact with polluted soil and water; ingestion of contaminated drinking water, crops, fish or inhalation of vaporised products or partly burnt hydrocarbons produced by fires.

Apart from increasing the rate of environmental degradation, oil exploration in the Niger Delta and other parts of the country has given rise to food insecurity. The constant death of fish and crops, as well as loss of farmlands and viable rivers for fishing activities, means the people are left with no means of livelihood.

By apportioning a paltry 3 per cent of oil profits to host communities, the National Assembly has shown that it lacks understanding of their potential role in a developed and prosperous Nigeria.  As a matter of fact, it has failed to fully define what it means by ‘host communities.’ Is it lawful to lump a community where crude oil deposits have not been discovered, especially in commercial quantities, in such category?

While we find nothing wrong with prospecting for oil in any part of Nigeria, it is pertinent to note that reserving 30 per cent of the country’s earnings for oil exploration in parts of the country where no positive results have emerged after a 30-year search is, to say the least, counter-productive.

We maintain that oil producing communities in Nigeria deserve more than this. A deserved increase in the mandatory fund for the communities from 3 to 10 per cent and possibly more, will certainly go a long way to boost security around oil installations and strategic infrastructure, clean-up of affected commities as well as restore the people’s confidence in the Federal Government.