Beyond the Petroleum Industry Bill
By George Eze Emeghara
At last the Petroleum Industry Bill has been passed, some twenty years after it was conceived and fourteen years after it was tabled in the National Assembly.
The Bill has been dogged by controversy even after being passed.
Some of its contents have not gone down too well with some interest groups and sections of the polity.
Over the years there were many who blamed all the woes and poor performance of the petroleum sector on the absence of the PIB.
The PIB seeks to “enable the exploration and exploitation of petroleum resources in Nigeria for the benefit of Nigerians, liberalize the downstream sector, foster sustainable peace and prosperity as well as provide direct social and economic benefits to host communities.”
While the nation was dragging its feet and squabbling over the PIB the Petroleum Industry , especially the Downstream part of it, has gone to the dogs.
It has become a sector of anything goes, endangering the lives of ordinary Nigerians in the process.
Those who are charged with regulating or overseeing the sector have refused to do their jobs and the consequences are glaring.
There is hardly any day one does not hear about adulterated kerosene blowing up somewhere, maiming people, taking lives and burning homes.
Complaints about vehicles and equipment including generators being ruined or damaged by adulterated petroleum products are legion.
The problem of adulterated products is major Nigeria imports virtually all its petroleum products through numerous importers, this makes maintaining standards a bit more difficult.
A study conducted last year discovered that the quality fuel produced by the illegal refineries was better than much of the fuel being imported into the country by these fuel importers.
The study found that the importers buy cheap off spec products from refineries in Eastern Europe and bring them into Nigeria.
One can’t help but wonder why is the fuel consignments are not inspected or tested before they are allowed into Nigeria.
The pumps from where these products are dispensed in the filling stations are usually manipulated or adjusted to defraud the customer.
Gas plants and fuel stations are springing up everywhere even in densely populated areas and other where they should not be located.
This is especially so for gas plants. Already there have been several incidents with gas plants leading to numerous fatalities and destruction of property.
Most of the tanker trucks that convey these products are rickety and overloaded.
It is not unusual to see a truck whose maximum payload is 40 tonnes or 40,000 litres dragging a tank containing as much as 70,000 litres or 70 tonnes of petroleum product.
Is it then a surprise that there are frequent reports of these ill maintained and over loaded trucks crashing and kill people?
In some parts of the country the environment has been destroyed by people stealing products from pipeline and the numerous illegal refineries all over the place.
For example residents of Port Harcourt and other parts of Rivers state where illegal refineries abound complain about “black soot” which stains their handkerchief whenever they wipe their faces. The black soot in addition to causing respiratory problems and other illnesses is said to be carcinogenic.
Let us not forget the long existing problems created by gas flaring and pollution water for of drinking and fishing by the oil companies. Apparently, the punishment for degrading the environment with their gas flares if any, is much less than the cost of investing in equipment to capture the flared gas and convert it to liquefied petroleum gas or LPG.
There is no doubt that those who are supposed to oversee or regulate the industry and ensure that all is well are aware of these issues and more.
They receive complaints and , reports from members of the public in addition to seeing these thing themselves.
Yet nothing gets done. They look the other way. For obvious reasons.
Those Nigerians who are celebrating the passage of the PIB which they see it as a panacea to all the problems facing the petroleum industry may be in for a huge disappointment.
The Bill will not implement itself. The human factor is important.
Is it the same persons and organizations who have been unable to maintain standards in the industry who are supposed to implement its provisions?
The Petroleum Industry as it is presently is in great need of stricter regulation. There is too much lawlessness on display. It is almost as if no one is in charge.
The people and organizations charged with overseeing this crucial sector should wake up to their responsibilities and do their jobs.
George Eze Emeghara is a Nigerian journalist, writer and public affairs commentator based in the southeastern city of Owerri. Money Palaver is his column for Nairaweb.ng