By Ifeanyi Nwoko
As Nigeria gravitates towards full implementation of the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), the Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva says the Judiciary holds the key to the success of the Act and the oil sector.
Sylva who spoke at the opening of the 2021 National Workshop for Justices and Judges organised by the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF), said that the judiciary has emerged as an integral part of the oil industry.
The workshop had as its theme: “Petroleum Industry Act: New Legal and Fiscal Regime in the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry”.
Speaking on the plan by many oil companies to exit the nation’s onshore industry, the minister stressed the numerous and incessant litigation has forced them contemplate such line of action.
He identified the judiciary as a weak link in the oil and gas sector, pointing out that unnecessary cases and long periods of concluding them had become a major challenge, thus making the workshop apt.
The minister narrated how upon his appointment as Minister of state, a player in the industry came to him to appeal for assistance in resolving over 200 court cases which he had pending.
“What he discussed with me was quite disturbing. He said that he had a lot of cases in court on matters relating to the oil industry and he wanted us to support him. He had over 20 matters in court.
“I then realised that the judiciary is another industry that has grown out of the oil industry – the industry of taking oil companies to court.
“Unfortunately, it has impeded the growth of this industry.
“Today I can tell you that a lot of oil companies are seriously contemplating leaving the onshore in Nigeria and one of the biggest problems they have is incessant court cases and the judgments that come out of these cases.
“So I thought it was always the best for the industry and the judiciary to partner and to understand ourselves,” he said.
The minister stressed that there was no better place to begin discussions on the implementation of the Petroleum Industry Act than in the Judiciary.
He commended the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the President of the Court of Appeal as well as other justices for personally being present at the event, stressing that their presence showed the importance they attached to the workshop.
On the PIA, the minister said that the Act was coming at a time the Nigerian petroleum industry faces challenges arising from both the domestic environment and the international scene.
He said that apart from te COVID-19 pandemic, the plan by many countries to comply with the Paris Agreement 2016 to become carbon neutral by 2050 or 2060, meant that the use of fossil fuel will diminish.
Sylva added that all of these will impact on the ability of industry players to access needed funds with which would in turn impact the demand for crude as well as the revenue and profits accruable therefrom.
“The above scenario provides the context within which your Lordships will preside over cases that are brought for adjudication in your respective courts.
“Our current realities necessitate that cases be treated with dispatch and urgency as the luxury of time is no longer available.
In this regard, your Lordships will have a crucial role in ensuring that counsel do not defeat the intent, spirit and letter of the law,” he said.
Declaring the conference open, the Chief Justice of Nigeria Tanko Muhammad said that the workshop would better expose the justices and judges to tenets of the new Act.
He said that it would build their capacity on the relevant governing laws in the oil and gas sector.
“As we are all aware, the PIA 2021 was signed in August 2021, the Act was enacted to provide for the legal, regulatory and fiscal framework of Nigerian petroleum industry.
“The Act has become the new reality for Nigeria’s oil and gas industry and the innovation introduced is quite significant,” he said.
He said that it was the expectation that the act will improve transparency in the sector, adding that the judiciary was not aware of the fact that the new reforms are bound to provoke conflicts in the area of interpretation.
“This will require te judicial officers to have a proper grasp of the content and this workshop will bring to the front burner the imperatives for correct judicial interpretation iof the PIA.
“This will boost our national economy,” he said.
The CJN stressed that he was convinced that the content of the workshop would be beneficial to the legal professionals. (NAN)