Against popular expectation, Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari on Monday, August 16, 2021 signed the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) into law.
The Petroleum Industry Act provides a legal, governance, regulatory as well as fiscal framework for the Nigerian Petroleum Industry, the development of host communities and related matters. To the people of the oil producing communities of the Niger Delta region, the PIB is one of the most important legislations because of the far reaching impact it will have on the region and its people.
The PIB, who’s tortuous journey to actualisation started some 13 years ago, was eventually passed by the Nigerian Senate on Thursday, July 15, 2021 while the House of Representatives followed suit the next day, July 16.
The anticipated jubilation that ordinarily would have followed the passage of the all-important bill was however cut short. The people of the Niger Delta were shocked and stupefied by the vexatious three percent that the National Assembly allocated to the host communities development trust fund while at the same time setting aside a whopping 30% for exploration of frontier basins.
The allocation of 30% for further exploration of oil is not only unfair and unreasonable but a slap on the face of the marginalised, neglected, deprived and long-suffering people of the host communities, who bear the brunt of oil exploration and exploitation activities and the attendant environmental pollution.
The disappointment of the Niger Delta people following the passage of the bill was understandable because, during the pre-passage public hearing, which took the lawmakers to all the oil producing states, both the people and the federal legislators agreed on five per cent for the host communities.
Passing the bill with three per cent allocation to the host communities after the five percent agreed during the public hearing, was therefore like a betrayal, a stab in the back and a rude shock to the people.
The passage of the bill elicited severe attack and criticism of the Senate by well-meaning individuals and groups from across the Niger Delta. During the session when the bill was to be passed, Senators from the Niger Delta region requested for a re-think of the three per cent and recommended five per cent instead and when the request was turned down, the Senators, led by Senator Seriake Dickson, representing Bayelsa West, stormed out of the Senate in protest.
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The bill, with the three per cent was variously described as oppressive, insensitive, unjust, satanic, embarrassing and unacceptable. Reacting to the passage of the bill, the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) and the Ijaw National Congress (INC) in a joint statement described the three per cent as “grossly inadequate” and warned that the Ijaw Nation will strongly resist the three per cent allocation to host communities. Some ex-agitators in the Niger Delta threatened fresh crisis in the region if President Buhari does not heed the call of the people by upturning the injustice against the host communities.
After the condemnation of the passage of the bill with the three per cent allocation and the public outcry that followed it, the least that was expected of Buhari was to refuse assent and send back the bill to the National Assembly for an upward review to five per cent, which is the minimum benchmark acceptable to the people of the Niger Delta.
Assenting to the bill as it presently is, amounts to an insult on the collective sensibility of the people of the Niger Delta. It shows how the federal government does not take account of the yearnings and sufferings of the people producing the oil resources of this country.
The threat by the IYC and INC to resist the three per cent allocation as well as the ex-agitators’ threat to resume fresh hostilities in the region should not have been taken lightly because of the consequences of such an action. Should the ex-agitators actualise their threat, not only will there be tension in the Niger Delta, the country’s economy will be crippled with our near-total dependence on revenue from oil. We have been down that road before and would not want a repeat.
Buhari had the opportunity of etching his name in gold and at the same time winning the trust of the people of the Niger Delta region by refusing assent and sending the bill back. If he had done that he would have been seen to be standing on the side of history.
Buhari, instead chose to sign the bill as it is presently, an action which may plunge the Niger Delta region into avoidable crisis and the attendant economic backlash.
President Buhari could have averted the looming crisis but he chose not to. Maybe he had forgotten the tension that gripped the entire country when the 7-day ultimatum given by Government Egbomopolo, better known as Tompolo, following the failure of the federal government to constitute a substantive board for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), was to expire.
By signing the PIB, President Buhari has unwittingly ignited a keg of gunpowder.