Concerns about the provisions as well as the debates on the intended passage into law, of the Petroleum Industries Bill (PIB) which is currently before the National Assembly, have been voiced out in several quarters.
One of the major concerns related to the bill has been whether it will be beneficial to the generality of Nigerians or not.
The need to address these concerns around the PIB and the general problem of lack of accountability and transparency led the Center for Democracy and Development (CDD) to conceptualise a program titled Citizens Engagement of the Petroleum Industry Bill. The objective of the project is to enhance transparency and accountability in the oil and gas sector in Nigeria particularly in the petroleum downstream sector by ensuring that the content and passage of the PIB benefits Nigerians.
As part of implementation of the project, the Centre for Democracy and Development brought together a host of civil society organisations, the media, government agencies at Rock View Hotel in Abuja for an inception meeting and interactive debate. While the inception meeting sought to plan and devise strategies that would enable the effective implementation of the project, the interactive debate session was organized to enable Nigerians make their views in respect of the bill especially in view of the just concluded debates on the bill in the Senate, the proposed public hearing in the Senate and the upcoming debates in the House of Representatives.
During the inception meeting, a presentation on the PIB was made by Dr. Taiwo Ogunleye to enable participants have deeper insights to the various sections of the bill. Another presentation on the bill and whether or not it is beneficial to the Nigerian people was made by Dauda Garuba of Revenue Watch Institute.
The interactive debate created more space for a wider audience to make contributions, express their personal opinions and reservation with respect to the bill, the event was moderated by Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim, Director, Centre for Democracy and Development, while panelist included, Dr. Otive Igbuzor of Cnetre LSD, Innocent Edemhanria of ANEEJ, Ms Faith Nwadishi of Publish What you Pay and mallam Bashir Yusuf, a public policy analyst.
The debate was graced by the Chairman of the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Mr. Ledum Mitee, who in his contribution voiced his personal opinion that the 10% host community fund while having the right intention may end up in bureaucracies that will hinder its intended benefits on the ordinary people in the affected communities.
Generally participants during the two session were of the opinion that the PIB needs to be passed, but in a manner that will enable Nigerians benefit, the need to down size the powers of the minister of petroleum and president as contained in the bill also came up strongly, shaping the bill alongside other regulatory frameworks that exist would also be important some of the participants opined. For some other participants it was important that the politicisation of the debates be stopped and national interest put first.
Participants as a matter of consensus agreed that for the Nigerian populace to engage the process effectively it was important for CSOs to working on the bill to come together so as to have a harmonised front to make engagements with the relevant stakeholders especially the National Assembly more strategic and consequently more beneficial. In this respect CSOs groups present immediately set up modalities to make sure that this process starts immediately.