Nigeria should curb president's oil licensing powers, say lawmakers

Goodluck Jonathan, President of Nigeria

The Nigerian president’s power to grant oil licenses should be removed and the government should float 30 percent of the state oil company, lawmakers recommended in a report on a bill aimed at cleaning up the industry in Africa’s top crude producer.

An executive summary of the report by the Nigerian House of Representatives committee also said the new bill should not affect the “sanctity” of existing petroleum licenses, allaying industry concerns that it might be applied retroactively.

Drawing up the new National Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) – expected to be one of the biggest shake-ups of Nigeria‘s oil industry – has taken years, but politicians said completing the committee report was the toughest part of the process.

“Uncertainty in the PIB has constrained investment in Nigeria’s upstream oil sector for many years so any step towards clarity is a new positive development,” Roderick Bruce, principal energy analyst west Africa at IHS consultancy in London said.

“This can be seen as a step forward. However, it remains to be seen how far with so many political uncertainties looming large with the elections.”

The summary did not say when the report would be submitted to the lower house of parliament for a vote. National Assembly insiders said it would be taken when they return to their seats after April 11 state elections.

Besides a parliamentary vote, the upper house Senate must also complete a report and approve it by a vote. If the bill is not passed before parliament is dissolved on June 4 then the process will have be restarted from scratch.

President Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) will face Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at presidential elections on March 28.

The PIB has been under discussion since the early 2000s and was submitted to the assembly in 2008. The committee that produced the report was made up of 23 members evenly split between the PDP and APC. The chairman, Ishaka Mohammed Bawa of Taraba state, is a member of the ruling PDP.

In other recommendations, the summary said the government should start monitoring oil output by measuring at flow stations, rather than at the point of export, in a bid to bring clarity to production figures.

Ministerial powers would also be reduced in the bill. The report summary said powers to serve as chairman or recommend board members for new agencies under the bill should be removed “to ensure smooth running of the Agencies without undue influence, and guarantee independence”.

The affected agencies include among others the national oil company NNPC as well as upstream and downstream regulatory agencies. The summary also said the government should float 30 percent of NNPC on the Nigerian stock exchange.

Nigeria produced around 1.9 million barrels per day on average in 2014, according to the International Energy Agency.

Source: Reuters.com.

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