Monday, April 19, 2010

Nigerian state oil firm wants oil bill passed


LAGOS, Nigeria — The newly appointed head of Nigeria's state-owned oil company pressed on Thursday for the quick passage of a bill he said will help residents of oil-rich regions who say they do not benefit from the country's oil wealth.

The bill will also make Nigeria's oil industry more transparent, gives the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. autonomy from government control and separates its regulatory and policy making functions. Those changes will allow the oil industry to operate more effectively, said Shehu Ladan, who was appointed the company's group managing director on April 6.

"The bill adequately addresses the long-term agitation of our oil-producing communities in a manner that is commendable," Ladan said in a speech to the Nigerian chapter of the Society of Petroleum Engineers.

"I, as group managing director, would be extremely happy if during my tenure I am left alone to run the business like any other international business without interference from government and without wasting my time in policy and regulatory formulation," he said.

International oil producers said they support the provisions to make the industry more transparent and give autonomy to the state firm, but also complained that the proposed legislation would impose more taxes on them.

"Some of the aims such as simplifying the taxes are not quite achieved. There are actually more taxes," said Andrew Fawthrop, managing director of Chevron Nigeria, speaking on behalf of oil producers.

Ladan said in response he will try and act as a bridge between oil companies and the National Assembly to see if their concerns can be addressed during parliament's debate of the bill.

Parliament is on recess and resumes work Tuesday.

"The door is not closed. We are going to meet with the leadership of the National Assembly before they pass the final bill so that the concerns of the stakeholders are incorporated," Ladan said. "Time is of essence. We want (the bill) passed, maybe in less than one month's time."

Nigeria's is the third-largest oil exporter to the U.S. But the country has lost its position as Africa's top oil producer to Angola because militant attacks in the oil-rich Niger Delta have led to production cuts.

The militants want the federal government to spend more oil-industry funds on their region, which remains poor despite five decades of oil production.

President Umaru Yar'Adua negotiated a cease-fire with militants with a promise of more government oil money coming to the region. The government also began offering cash payoffs to former fighters to keep them from carrying out new attacks in the maze of creeks and oil fields running through the delta.

That amnesty deal faltered after Yar'Adua became ill in November and former Vice President Goodluck Jonathan became acting president in February. The region's main militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, detonated two car bombs March 15 during a newspaper-sponsored discussion about the amnesty program, marking what appears to be the program's collapse.

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