The Ijaw Professionals Association (IPA) has made a strong recommendation for an amendment of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) currently before the National Assembly to remove the discretionary powers of the President and the Minister of Petroleum Resources, and also expunge the compulsory acquisition of resources by the federal government in Section 2 of the reform bill.
The group also described as curious, the section of the bill, which provides that the cost of repairs of vandalised oil and gas facilities involving any member of an oil-producing community should be deducted from the 10 per cent Petroleum Host Community Fund (PHCF), saying this provision should also be expunged.
The Ijaw professionals said when the bill is eventually passed with some modifications that reflect vital stakeholder interests, the credit would go to President Goodluck Jonathan and the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison Madueke, two of the most illustrious personalities from Ijaw-land, for putting back the PIB on an irreversible track.
In his briefing note on the PIB and the Niger Delta, Mr. Iniruo Wills, said at a recent general meeting of IPA in Lagos that Section 2 of the PIB, which declares that the ownership of oil and gas is vested in the Government of the Federation ?repudiates the age long, vociferous claims that our communities are the rightful owners of the mineral resources embowelled in them?.
?The continued compulsory acquisition of these resources by the Nigerian State, starting from the colonial Crown government to its successor federal government, is a running violation of the historical property rights, fundamental human rights, collective dignity, cultural heritage and future development of mineral bearing communities, whether in Ogoniland or in Zamfara State in Northern Nigeria or in Gbaramatu Kingdom of Delta State,? he said.
He however said ownership could only lawfully change to the Nigerian State through a due process of mutually agreed terms, compensation and safeguards between the original owners and the prospective owner.
Wills argued that ownership was yet to lawfully change hands as the federal government's claim to ownership was enacted in complete disregard of fundamental tenets of the due process of law, and also lacked any organic, legally valid root of title.
On the excessive powers given to the Minister and the President, Wills said ?for now, viewing through monochromatic Niger Delta lenses may downplay or overlook the implications of these powers, as both the President and the oil minister are from the region?.
But the impact of these excessive powers, he said, may however hit home when those he described as new 'pharaohs' head the presidency and the ministry. According to him, in such a scenario, the wide discretionary powers in the bill mean that they can award oil blocks in a flagrantly unbalanced manner.
?More importantly, it means that the regulatory powers given to the Minister to make regulations on the PHC Fund may be exercised in a way that in practical effect reduces the benefits and entitlements to beneficiary communities, most of which are in the region,? he added.
Wills said the section of the PIB dealing with PHCF, which provides that ?where an act of vandalism, sabotage or other civil unrest occurs that causes damage to any petroleum facility within a host community, the cost of repairs of such facility shall be paid from the community's PHC Fund entitlement unless it is established that no member of the community was responsible,? was antiquated and also stretched the limits of credulity.
He stated that the 10 per cent PHCF in Nigeria?s PIB compares favourably to Ghana?s 20 per cent; Peru?s 20 per cent; India?s 26 per cent; Niger?s 15 per cent; Kenya?s five per cent, as well as the Brazilian model of paying a percentage of royalties from oil and gas ?to municipalities where the production takes place, municipalities where pipelines and other oil installations pass through and also municipalities either closest to or affected by the landing or shipment of oil and gas?.