Monday, November 22, 2010

Nigeria oil bill not likely before election: lawyers


By Emma Farge

LONDON (Reuters) - Nigeria is unlikely to pass long-awaited oil reform until after elections as the government struggles to harmonise a final draft of the bill, two lawyers advising the government told Reuters at a conference.

While a swift passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) would be a potential coup for President Goodluck Jonathan ahead of elections, its progress has been marred by constant revisions by both government officials and industry stakeholders.

"I would give it a 20 percent chance of passing, (before January). Even within the legislative arm of government there are various drafts," said Aderemi Oguntoye at Nigerian law firm Babalakin at an industry conference on Thursday.

His firm was hired by the government's joint committee to review the legislation.

"If it's not in December it definitely won't be in the first quarter of next year," he added.

Polls are scheduled for January but look increasingly likely to be pushed back until April after parliament voted a constitutional amendment allowing elections to be held as late as April.

The PIB is now with Nigeria's Senate, a senior lawmaker said earlier this month.

Oil executives uncertainty over the legislation -- which could significantly raise the cost of operating in the west African country -- have put billions of dollars of potential investment on hold. Goodluck Jonathan's aide said on Thursday that a major oil licensing round was unlikely before the PIB is passed.

A second lawyer, Nicolas Bonnefoy, at French firm Gide Loyrette Nouel, about to start a review of the legislation on behalf of the government, was equally sceptical about it becoming law ahead of elections.

"If you asked me a year ago whether it would pass before the election, I would have said 'yes' as it would give the government leverage. But now I think it will be after," he said on the sidelines of the conference.

Asked if he had seen a final draft of the law, he replied: "Which one? There are so many drafts circulating."

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