Efforts to pass the Petroleum Industry Bill into law may be scuttled at the National Assembly as findings indicated on Sunday that members of the House of Representatives from the North had resolved to “kill” it.
The PUNCH gathered that the lawmakers had reportedly taken a position to use the “majority block vote” of the region, cutting across political party lines, to defeat their colleagues from the South.
Southern lawmakers are the most vocal supporters of the bill, a signal to how they will vote when the contentious bill is debated on the floor of the House.
The North has a superior numerical strength over other parts of the country in the House.
The North-West, North-East and North-Central have a combined membership of around 191 out of the 360 legislators.
Members are already studying the bill ahead of an expected “stormy debate.”
However, The PUNCH learnt that the northerners would approach the debate with a “ready position” to oppose the PIB.
Investigations indicated that at least 51 lawmakers from the North travelled to Accra, Ghana, during the just-concluded annual recess of the House to hold a conference on the PIB.
“There were 51 members on the team that went to Ghana; one of them is a principal officer of the House.
“Their mission was to dissect the bill and take a position on it. Their position is simple, to throw out the bill”, a senior legislator, who knew about the conference, disclosed to The PUNCH in Abuja on Sunday.
It was gathered that the 51 lawmakers, said to be “outspoken”, were allegedly carefully selected to argue the position of the North during the debate.
Investigations showed that the northerners feared that the PIB was a ploy to deny them the benefits accruing from the oil and gas industry by “concentrating the sector in the hands of programmed private interest groups.”
He said, “They are also not comfortable with the messenger of the bill (Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Deziani Alison-Madueke), who has vested awesome powers in her office, using this bill.
“The PIB has given the minister so much power to decide everything that will happen in the proposed unbundling of the sector.
“Looking at the bill, the minister has more powers than Mr. President. In any case, they have never liked this minister.
This is coming on the heels of promises by the Speaker of the House, Mr. Aminu Tambuwal, that the passage of the PIB would be one of the major engagements of the House this legislative year.
“Consistent with the Legislative Agenda of the House, there are bills that the House should attend to expeditiously.
“Such bills include constitutional amendment bills on the budget; the Petroleum Industry Bill, review of the Police and Security Agencies Acts, Bills to deal with unacceptably high unemployment situation in Nigeria,” the speaker had stated in a speech to welcome lawmakers from the recess on September 18.
When the views of the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Zakari Mohammed, were sought, he said it was “not true” that northern legislators had resolved to kill the bill.
Mohammed told our correspondent that he expected that all members would comply with the speaker’s call to consider the PIB as a “very important bill to our economy.”
He added, “It is not true that any group has resolved to kill this bill; we have all agreed that this is an important bill that has to be passed.
“However, we won’t pass it the way it came.
“We will discuss it dispassionately and pass it, bearing in mind the fact that this bill is very important to Nigerians.”
It will be recalled that after facing several hiccups at the sixth Assembly, the PIB passed first and second readings at the House but was thrown out at the Committee of the Whole.
The highlights of the bill include the power vested in the Minister of Petrolum Resources.
For example Section 5 of the bill states, “The Minister of Petroleum Resources shall be responsible for the co-ordination of the activities of the petroleum industry and shall exercise general supervision over all operations and all institutions in the industry.”
Section 116 of the bill, which makes provision for the establishment of the Petroleum Host Communities Fund. The fund, according to the bill, will be used for “the development of the economic and social infrastructure of the communities within the petroleum producing area.”