As Senators get closer to the passage of the first phase of the much-awaited Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), lawmakers have expressed their readiness to override President Muhammadu Buhari in the event that he declines to assent to the bill.
Lawmakers who spoke to newsmen at the end of a four-day retreat on the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), held in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital, said the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians must be put first ahead of any other thing.
The lawmakers, drawn from both the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), maintained that they were ready to explore every legal option available to ensure that the bill, when passed, is signed into law.
Chip Whip of the Senate, Professor Olusola Adeyeye, who also represented the Senate President at the event, said the bill is not about the occupant of the position of the President.
He said though he is a strong supporter of the President, he will however put the interest of the country first. He said the oil industry is too important to be left in the hands of foreigners to manage.
Senator Adeyeye noted: “I am not really afraid that the President will withhold his assent. The President comes from my own party. I want my President to succeed. I am not sure there is anybody in or outside Nigeria who is as committed to the President as I am.
“But this bill is not about Buhari. It is not about my party, the APC. It is about Nigeria. What we are trying to do is to give Nigerians a document such that if we have a good President in power, things will work.
“And if in the future we have a bad President, because of what we would have put in place, things will still work. This thing we are putting in place is not about the current President. Rather, we are trying to do what we believe will be in the best interest of Nigeria and Nigerians.
“In any case, if the President does not give assent, as it’s the case in every presidential system, the rules of the Federal Republic have given room on how you can exercise your power of veto over the President.
“I am praying that we do not come to that, but if that is the last option, we will put the interest of Nigerians first. In the end, its not about the President or the parliament. Its about the Republic we all love and sworn to serve.”
Senator Chukwuka Utazi who heads the Senate committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes and also a member of PDP, on his part, explained that the presidency must be separated from the occupant of the office.
He said the National Assembly is empowered by law to act in the best interest of Nigerians, noting that if vetoing the President will be the last option, he will support the move.
“I have always maintained that Nigerians must separate the Presidency from the occupant of the position of the President. They are two different things. The current situation where those serving in the presidency see everything we do as is against them is not good.
“Efforts have been made since 1999 to ensure that we pass this bill. I am an expert in energy law and I know the things happening in the oil and gas sector. If we pass this bill and the President refuses to assent to it, we will veto him,” Senator Utazi said.
Former PDP national chairman, Senator Barnabas Gemade, now a member of the ruling APC, joined others in maintaining that the National Assembly will exercise their veto power if the President withholds his assent.
Senator Gemade said: “I am hoping that we will not get to the level where we may have to override the President on this particular issue. I am a member of APC and I want to President to succeed. President Buhari is trying his best to fix the country.
“But I need to look at the bigger picture and also at the future of this country. We need to set a strong foundation for the oil and gas sector. If in the end the only option left is to override the President, I will support it. We need to safeguard the future of this great country.”
Senator Matthew Urhoghide, a member of PDP, said he will hesitate to support any move to veto the President in the event that he declines to assent to the PIGB. He drew an instance from the passage of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by the National Assembly in the early days of Olusegun Obasanjo as President.
He said if President Buhari declines to assent to the PIB, the National Assembly will replicate what it did with the NDDC bill, by vetoing the President.
“I am from the Niger Delta region. I know how the National Assembly has tried to ensure that this bill is passed. You do not expect us to go through this rigorous process and then just sit back and allow the President to decline his assent to the bill.
“We cannot allow that to happen. If the President does not append his signature to the bill, we will do what we did with NDDC bill and pass it into law. Today, NDDC is working and assisting the Niger Delta region. This one too will be handled like that,” he noted.
Meanwhile, Senators who were at the four-day retreat, have agreed to transfer every regulatory power in the oil and gas sector to the proposed Nigeria Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NPRC).
Lawmakers also agreed on the composition of the board and management of the new agency. Senator Gershon Bassey, while contributing to the discussion, said: “For somebody to sit on the board of the regulatory agency, we need to look at the relevant qualifications. Let us not gloss over irrelevant things. There are things that are more important.”
Senator Biodun Olujimi on her part, noted: “I have worked in NCC. You do not need to have only technical or legal or commercial experience. We need to have people from different backgrounds. That is what will make the commission function well.”
Lawmakers also sharply disagreed over the independence of the proposed commission. Many lawmakers who spoke, warned that the supervising Minister of Petroleum Resources should not be allowed to interfere in the day to day running of the agency.
They warned that if allowed, it will erode the independence of the commission, thereby jeopardizing the essence of setting it up.
The Senators made a daring move and recommended that the removal of members of the proposed board will be done by the National Assembly, specifically the Senate.
Chairman of the joint committee on Petroleum Industry Reforms, Senator Tayo Alaosoadura, told newsmen at the end of the exercise that the final report will soon be submitted during plenary at the Senate for consideration and passage.
By Ehisuan Odia….
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