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Why Buhari may revisit dissolution of NEITI board

President Muhammadu Buhari has one of two decisions to make, and quickly too, if Nigeria is to escape the hammer of the global Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) over the recent sack of the Board of the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI).

The sack of the 15-member National Stakeholders Working Group (NSWG), which is the NEITI Board, among 247 other Boards of Federal parastatals and agencies dissolved by the president last week, has stirred a storm within the agency.

PREMIUM TIMES’ investigations revealed that the president may have inadvertently overlooked a key provision in the NEITI Act 2007 that requires strict compliance with the Board’s tenure, in view of the sensitive nature of its mandate in the oil and gas industry.

Section 7 of the NEITI Act states: “A person appointed as a member of the NSWG shall hold office for 4 years and no more.”

NEITI’s primary mandate is to monitor, promote and regulate transparency and accountability in the management of Nigeria’s oil, gas and mining revenues.

To exercise this mandate, the agency conducts financial and process audits of the extractive industries’ operations every year, to ensure compliance with due process and transparency in revenues paid and received by government as well as their applications.

In performing these critical roles, the law expects that the annual audit processes are not disrupted and the work of NEITI jeopardized, by ensuring that its board is always in place to give necessary approvals on a timely basis.

Consequently, no government is allowed to take any action that could be construed a threat to the work of NEITI, particularly the sack of its governing body responsible for the formulation of policies, programmes and strategies for effective implementation of its mandate.

Close industry watchers say in the face of the ensuing crisis, the president must move swiftly to either reconstitute the dissolved Board, or reverse his decision by reinstating its members to enable them complete their tenure in August 2016.

Politicians on the board would be excited to support a reinstatement. But, 15 civil society groups working for the promotion of transparency and accountability in the country’s extractive industries, are already rooting for the immediate re-constitution of the Board.

The groups had on Tuesday distanced themselves from calls alluding to the need to prevail on President Buhari to reverse his decision, describing such calls as “a distraction, self-serving and unilateral”.

The Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative and Advocacy Centre, Auwal Rafsanjani, who led his colleagues to sign a petition to the EITI International Chair on Tuesday, said Nigerians want to see a board consisting fresh and non-partisan technocrats, with deep knowledge, competence, experience, integrity and vision that align with government’s determination to fight corruption and pursue total reforms in the extractive industry.

Mr. Rafsanjani said the former Board had lost its capacity to act independently and neutrally on issues of transparency and accountability in the industry, as most of its members were card-carrying members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), with little or no interest in EITI/NEITI.

Regardless, the board of the International EITI appears to be keeping an eye closely on how the crisis is resolved, with the crucial global EITI compliant re-validation exercise schedule for Nigeria in January 2016 a few months away.

Revalidation is an independent evaluation process to assess the level of compliance by EITI-member countries with the implementation principles and standards to promote transparency and accountability in the management of extractive industries revenues.

In her response to PREMIUM TIMES’ enquiries on the crisis on Wednesday, EITI Chair, Clare Short, said the global transparency agency would stress the need for all parties in the industry to come together to resolve the issue to avoid possible sanctions against the country.

“I assume that the first step will be for NEITI to inform the Presidency that the NEITI Law requires that full terms of the NSWG are served and that company and civil society representatives must be selected by their own constituencies,” Mrs. Short said via email.

“Then, depending on the response we (EITI) can consider next steps. I feel sure that the government will not want to destabilise NEITI. I do hope you can all sit together and sort out the misunderstanding.”

A suspension by the EITI may tar the image of a new administration hoping to project transparency and accountability.

A former Chairman of the Board of NEITI, Assisi Asobie, who told PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday that the issue was all about law and due process, apart from the need to ensure that the Board was in place to work to ensure that Nigeria received revalidation next year as EITI compliant country.

“If the annual audit report is presented today by the auditors, the Executive Secretary has no power to approve it. Only the Board does. The implication is that in the absence of the Board, the work of NEITI is technically automatically stalled,” Mr. Asobie explained.

Mr. Asobie recalled a similar experience in 2011 when the then president, Goodluck Jonathan, also dissolved the Board and had to rescind his decision when his attention was drawn to the implication, so as not to jeopardize the work of NEITI.

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