It's finally happening! The most eagerly-anticipated piece of legislation in the tumultuous history of the oil and gas sector in Nigeria is moving forward. Like a steam train pulling out of a station, it has taken a seemingly infinite amount of time to start but it now looks as though Nigeria's senate is going debate the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill – a piece of legislation so ancient it doesn't even have the same name as it did when all this started 10 years ago!
For readers that are new to this discussion, or those who have understandably lost a bit of interest in proceedings, the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, or the PIB, is a long-awaited oil industry reform bill, that is the latest step by our government in their efforts to overhaul Nigeria's energy sector. It was first proposed by the Obasanjo government back in the mid-2000s and has stalled and stalled, been changed and changed and ultimately fallen a the final hurdle. But now, that looks like it's really about to change. Because the Senate has received the draft bill, so the debate can commence.
And what a debate it may be. Firstly, let's consider the opportunity that awaits Africa's largest economy if this law does finally pass. The legislation is part of a series of proposed reforms that make up the meandering and wide-reaching Petroleum Industry Bill. As we know, it's been in discussion for well over a decade and redrafted more times than we can keep count of. Passing it into law would be a massive step forward not just for Nigeria's oil and gas sector, which certainly needs the help, but for Nigeria itself. With power diluted slightly away from the NNPC, more autonomy can be given to the local content providers within the grassroots of the sector. With recent news of ambitious targets and with impressive gains being made over the IOCs by indigenous firms, this can only be good news for Nigeria. Oil sales account for two-thirds of government revenue in Nigeria, and the more ability that local companies have to maximise yield within favourable conditions, the better it is going to be for the economy.
But what if it doesn't pass? I hate to be the cynic here, but there must be a reason that every single government since Obasanjo has failed on this score. It's only realistic to suggest that it may get caught up in the lower chamber of parliament and end up ping-ponging around until 2019 when it becomes someone else's problem. But there's a really good reason that I don't think this is going to be allowed to happen. It will be a huge embarrassment for President Buhari.
This is a president, remember, who ran on a ticket that promised 3 things: to strengthen the economy, to end the militancy in Nigeria and to stamp down on corruption. Well, here's the thing: the corruption measures look more like a witch hunt than a serious anti-graft drive and the Acting Head of the EFCC is so unconvincing that even the Senate won't accept his candidacy. So no real progress on corruption. Sure the President has overseen a programme that has reduced the militant attacks on the oil system, which has helped improve our production levels and their reliability, but there are problems that remain in the North that are being fuelled by militancy still. So that's not really progress either. President Buhari has the best opportunity of any President in Nigeria in recent memory to strengthen the economy by passing a PIB that actually does the job. And what's more, the Senate actually wants it to pass as well! Senate President Bukola Saraki said yesterday that "I think we are all proud that we have gone this far and we have finally broken this jinx."
There will never be a better opportunity to pass this bill and the President deserves every single scrap of praise when he gets it over the line. This is serious reform in a time of desperate need. I know Nigerian politics though, and I know how even the simplest bits of legislation and decision making somehow transform into a complete riddle. So go down to the shops, buy some popcorn and sit back to watch what I deeply hope will be a historic moment in the history of our oil and gas sector.