Citing Technical Deficiencies, House Of Representatives Returns The Petroleum Industry Bill To Its Committee For Amendments
Dyepkazah Shibayan, Abuja
House of Representatives yesterday suspended the consideration of the Ad-hoc Committee Report on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) following series of observations raised by lawmakers on legal technicalities of clauses considered. The 368-page document, made up of 312 sections, had only section 1 attended to, as issues arose questioning the validity of some clauses relative to provisions of the constitution. Deputy Leader of the House, Hon. Leo Ogor, was the first to raise an observation on clause 2 which deals with ownership of resources saying that; ‘’an Act of the National Assembly must not be subjected to addition or subtraction from the view expressed by the constitution regarding protection of territorial waters of Nigeria and mineral resources therein’’.
He argued that the provision of the clause is purely a duplication of the constitution and should be deleted. This was upheld by Deputy Speaker in chair, Emeka Ihedioha, who called on the Chairman of the Rules and Business Committee, Hon. Albert Sam-Tsokwa for a second opinion. Sam-Tsokwa, in his view held that the clause could not stand due to its inconsistency with a provision of the constitution which he said had already taken care of the subject matter. On his part, Speaker, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, who took his originally allotted seat in the chamber to participate in the proceedings, punctured both views as held by Ogor and Sam-Tsokwa. “I was expecting Sam-Tsokwa to show the contradiction as to where and how the clause runs contrary to the constitution; but he did not do that which confirms that it does not in any way contradict the constitution”, Tambuwal submitted.
Also in the argument, Chairman House Committee on Justice, Ali Ahmad, opined that ownership with respect to mineral resources could not be said to be blanket under which petroleum resources found in certain communities, with attendant negative effects, should be classified since its own only in deep sea that the resources are explored. The clause was however suspended following Ihedioha’s advice that Committee members meet with those who have issues with the clause and straighten out areas of disagreement in consultation with the said constitutional provision. Another fault line was clause 6 which deals with the powers of the petroleum minister to chair boards of agencies under the Ministry and also make recommendations to the President on issues of appointments as well as perform inspectorate functions. While some members argued that the powers of the minister are too enormous under the provision and must be cut down, others said the powers should remain so as to enable the minister to exercise inspectorate oversight over the industry since the President, as a politician, might not be well grounded in the technicalities of the sector and should not be burdened with responsibilities he could delegate. At this point, Ihedioha expressed the belief that “allowing the president to assume the inspectorate role of the Ministry is whittling down his status and reducing him to performing the role of appointees which will not be justifiable”.
The clause was eventually passed following a question for voice votes which adopted its provision upon an amendment. Another contentious area was clause 7 which also came under question given its alleged contradiction of section 305 of the constitution. The clause deals with matters of state of emergency in the oil sector with powers vested on the minister to suggest, or advise the President, on the need to declare same in the event of industrial crisis. Deputy Minority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila and Ayo Omidira also questioned the rationale behind a law that would take the powers of the National Security Adviser (NSA) to counsel the President on emergency issues of security implication and vest same on a cabinet minister. They argued that emergency is devoid of all connotations except national security. With that, the session was brought to an end as Hon. Sam- Tsokwa called for adjournment to allow the Ad-hoc Committee remedy contentious areas identified. The motion was carried by a voice vote with further consideration adjourned till Thursday.