The harmonised version of the Petroleum Industry Bill failed to pass at the House of Representatives on Thursday as consideration of the report by the conference committee on the bill caused a sharp division in the chamber.
Protests by members, especially from the southern part of the country, forced the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, to call for an emergency executive (closed-door) session, after which he asked that laying of the report by the committee be stepped down.
The lawmakers had protested against the alleged reduction of allocation to host communities in the PIB.
In the original version of the executive bill, five per cent was proposed as the share of oil revenue to the host communities.
The Senate and the House had passed the PIB last week Thursday, approving three and five per cent, respectively for the host communities.
Both chambers had set up conference committees to harmonise the differences in their versions of the PIB.
Thursday’s plenary began on a rowdy note as the protesters repeatedly said, “Give us five per cent.”
The protest continued as Gbajabiamila led principal officers into the chamber around noon.
The noise persisted as Gbajabiamila said the opening prayers, forcing him to order that the chamber and the gallery be cleared for an executive session.
The meeting, which started around 12.10pm, lasted till around 1.20pm.
After the meeting, it was observed that the frayed nerves had been calmed.
When it was time for Chairman of the committee and Chief Whip of the House, Mohammed Monguno, to lay the report, Gbajabiamila asked that the presentation be stepped down.
A source, who was at the meeting, told our correspondent that the conference committee was asked to review the report.
“The committee was eventually asked to go back and rework the report. We would not have agreed if that was not the agreement,” the lawmaker from the South-South geopolitical zone said this on the condition of anonymity.
The House had earlier rejected a motion seeking to include Bauchi State among the oil producing states.
A member, Yakubu Abdullahi, had moved a motion titled, ‘Need for the Federal Government to Declare Bauchi State as Oil and Gas Producing State’.
Abdullahi noted that oil and gas remained critical to the economic development of Nigeria and key to the implementation of budgets at all levels of government.
He recalled that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on February 2, 2019, signalled the spud-in of the Kolmani River II well drilling in Bauchi State and directed the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to extend its exploration to six basins in the country.
According to the lawmaker, it has become necessary to ascertain the fortunes at the disposal of the Federal Government in the Alkaleri Local Government Area of the state so as to hasten the process of giving effect to the provisions of the new Petroleum Industry Bill, 2021 just passed by the National Assembly.
The Speaker, who presided over the session, put the motion to voice vote and it was unanimously opposed.
Senate passes bill amid protests
However, the Senate, on Thursday, passed the Conference Committee report of the Senate and the House of Representatives on the PIB.
The passage followed the approval of the recommendations contained in its conference committee report on: ‘A Bill for an Act to Provide Legal, Governance, Regulatory and Fiscal Framework for the Nigerian Petroleum Industry, the Development of Host Communities and for Related Matters, 2021’.
The upper chamber adopted three per cent as contribution to the Host Communities’ Development Fund recommended by the committee.
While the Senate passed three per cent for host communities in the PIB, the House raised the figure to five per cent in its own version.
However, some Peoples Democratic Party senators from the South-South region, including Seriake Dickson and George Sekibo, protested the retention of the three per cent for host communities in the conference committee’s report.
According to them, their decision to speak against the recommendation of the committee is to register their support in a way that promotes nothing but the interest of the region.
Sekibo, while coming under an order, informed the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, and his other colleagues of his decision to abstain from voting, as doing so “will put my neck on the line.”
The conference committee report was, thereafter, passed after its consideration by the upper chamber.
Dickson, in rejecting the three per cent equity share for the host communities, said, “First of all, you were all here today during the consideration of the conference report and the observations and interjections that I made.
“The Senate President permitted me under privileges to make some comments and I made it clear that the three per cent is unacceptable; it is insensitive.
“It does not serve the national interest, because the opportunity cost that this two per cent difference will make in terms of security management of the region and of the communities is not helpful to investment inflow that people are portraying.
“In any case this is not coming from the Federal Government; that is why I cannot understand the basis.
“This money is to be taken out of the operational cost by the IOCs, and the IOCs are not complaining.
“Yet, this National Assembly and this Senate pegged it at three per cent. There was a time we went into conference and they still upheld the three per cent.”
He told the Senate President and the senators that in good conscience to what had happened to the community fund, he would not sit with them.
Speaking to journalists after the plenary, Dickson said, “I walked out with some colleagues initially the day this was passed and as I informed the Senate President even during the President’s dinner, when we were seated there to honour the President and we got the report of this conference committee, I walked out, a number of senators also left.
“Today, we left because I don’t want history to record us on the wrong side. Some of the senators followed me; I thank all of them.
“We don’t want history to record that we were part of this obnoxious decision against the oil producing communities and our people. It is also a decision that is not helpful to the national cause. This is a story that has just started and I hope that it ends well for Nigeria.”
PIB passage by Senate insensitive to N’Delta people – PANDEF
Meanwhile, the Pan Niger Delta Forum has slammed the Senate over the passage of the PIB, which approves three per cent of profit for the host communities, describing it as insensitive.
The National Publicity Secretary of PANDEF, Ken Robinson, told one of our correspondents on the telephone on Thursday said it was unfortunate that the upper chamber went ahead to pass the PIB without considering the concerns of the Niger Delta people.
Robinson said the action of the Senate confirmed the disregard and shabby treatment meted out to the region that produces oil, which is the mainstay of the nation’s economy.
He stated, “PANDEF condemns the insensitivity of the National Assembly in disregarding the concerns and outcry of the people of the Niger Delta over the paltry percentage approved for the Host Community Development Trust Fund.
“Paradoxically, 30 per cent was approved for exploration of oil in the frontiers. Meanwhile, those that are feeding the nation have been neglected and treated shabbily.
“We condemn the insensitivity of the National Assembly and we will meet shortly to have our response.”
Passage, further crack on Nigerian project – Ijaw
The Ijaw people have said the retention of three per cent equity revenue share for oil host communities in the harmonised PIB passed by the Senate is unacceptable.
The President of the apex pan-Ijaw socio-cultural organisation, the Ijaw National Congress, Prof Benjamin Okaba, and the Ijaw Youths Council leader, Peter Igbifa, said in a joint statement that the Senate had by its decision deepened the injustice, inequality and lack of fairness threatening the existence of the country as a united entity.
The statement read in part, “We totally reject the decision of the Senate. It cannot stand. But if it is allowed to fly, it is just proof that the entire Niger Delta, which has been at the receiving end of the activities of oil companies, sustaining the country economically, stands no chance of developing in this country.
“This decision will reinforce our agitation for resource control, self determinism and true federalism. In the interests of equity, justice and fairness, we appeal to the Senate to reverse its decision.
“We earlier considered 10 per cent as small, five per cent as manageable, but three per cent as a no-go area
“This insensitive position is yet another crack on the already failing Nigerian project that can only be cured by the adoption of true federalism and resource control. The ljaw nation shall resist this and other obnoxious state policies and laws legally and otherwise.”