The President and the Minister of Petroleum Resources may be stripped of power to allocate oil blocs, even as the Petroleum Governance Bill (PIGB) is undergoing legislation before the Senate.
According to New Telegraph, the chairman, National Assembly’s Joint Committee on Petroleum Industry Reforms, Senator Tayo Alasoadura, confirmed the development on the sideline of the ongoing Nigeria Oil and Gas (NOG) conference in Abuja.
He said that oil allocation would, henceforth, be executed by the Nigeria Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NPRC) subject to ratification by the National Assembly. He said that the bill would be passed “by March or latest April”.
Alasoadura added that the aspect of the petroleum law, which gives the president and the minister the absolute power to singlehandedly give oil blocs to people, has been reviewed with the PIGB.
“What we are proposing is that the board of the Nigeria Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority to be formed through Senate legislation will meet, assess and recommend people for oil blocs and other things to Mr. President through the Minister of Petroleum Resources,” the senator told New Telegraph.
Corroborating Alasoadura’s view, a member of the PIB re-drafting committee told this newspaper that the Senate had successful removed power of the president and oil minister to award oil blocs.
All the oil blocs in the country had, since independence, been allocated by the president and or Minister of Petroleum Resources as the case may be. He said: “The law that guarantees the president and/or the minister this authority is being revoked through PIB and the only reason that this will continue is if the President refuses to accent the bill.”
He said that what “we are to have is subject to ratification by the National Assembly!” Besides stripping the President of the power to allocate oil blocs, the Senate had on paper, through the PIGB, scrapped the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) and Petroleum Inspectorate (PI), thereby creating a new body, the Nigeria Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NPRC). The NPRC would take over the functions of PI, DPR and PPPRA.
Many senators had said that the PIB, which is currently before them, would support the creation of this new commission that is expected to administer and enforce policies that are related to all aspects of petroleum operations in the country.
Also, if the new policy sees the light of the day, two new companies; the Nigeria Petroleum Assets Management Company and National Petroleum Company (NPC), would be established. The NPC would be vested with certain assets and liabilities of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), just as the NPC, for instance, will operate as a full independent commercial entity.
Also as part of moves to unbundle the NNPC and the petroleum industry, the PIGB is proposing that the Ministry of Petroleum Resources be renamed as Ministry of Petroleum incorporated, while 30 per cent of the NNPC stakes would be sold through Independent Public Offer (IPO).
Senators at a four-day retreat on PIGB in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital, last year, were however, sharply divided on the powers vested on the president and the minister to take certain decisions on issues relating to the petroleum industry.
Alasoadura, who maintained that every action taken must be in tandem with the provisions of the constitution, said: “We cannot go outside the constitution. If we cannot do that, we must ensure that whatever we do is in tandem with the provisions of the constitution.
We must be careful about semantics. A ministry was created to supervise the oil industry. We must not take away the entire powers of the ministry.”
Alasoadura’s position was countered by his cochairman, Senator Bassey Albert Akpan, who warned against arrogating too much power to the president or the minister.
Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Emmanuel Kachikwu, had earlier confirmed plans to sell 30% of the NNPC’s assets subject to the passage of PIGB.
Kachikwu said this was part of the cleaning up process, maintaining that the plan is to sell NNPC’s shares in its refining and distribution business and “select” exploration and production assets to the public. NNPC manages Nigeria’s stakes in joint ventures with international oil companies that pump the country’s crude.
It also operates refineries and a distribution network of depots and pipelines across the country of about 180 million people.
The PIGB, on the other hand, is proposing that when the commission is created, it shall be vested with all assets, funds, resources and other movable and immovable properties, which immediately before the commencement of operation of the new commission, were held by the PI, DPR and PPPRA.
The new commission, among other things, will also “administer and enforce policies, laws and regulations relating to all aspects of petroleum operations, which are assigned to it under the provisions of the Act.”
Meanwhile, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has reportedly asked all international oil companies operating in the Niger-Delta region but with head offices in other parts of Nigeria to relocate to the zone.
It is believed that this is the first time such order would be given by the presidency since 1999 when Nigeria returned to democratic rule.
Vanguard reports that Osinbajo gave the directive at a town hall meeting in Uyo, Akwa Ibom which he visited as part of efforts to end the Niger-Delta crisis.
Osinbajo asked the minister of state for Petroleum, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, to begin the process of engaging the international oil firms to ensure the directive is adhered to since it was the right thing to do.