The Petroleum Industry Act 2021 (“PIA”) was signed into law by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency, Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR on 16 August 2021. The Act is to provide legal governance, regulatory and fiscal framework for the Nigerian petroleum industry and the development of host communities. Prominent amongst the many innovations of the PIA is the creation of the Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (“NNPCL”) which was officially unveiled on Tuesday, 19 July 2022.
Prior to now, the Nigerian petroleum industry had become so synonymous with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (“NNPC”). The NNPC has been the government’s main entity primarily vested with the responsibility of managing the joint venture relationships between the Nigerian Government and multinational companies licensed to carry out exploration, exploitation, production and distribution of petroleum in Nigeria. It was by its creation and structure, a state-owned entity/corporation devoid of any ownership of shares.
However, the NNPCL based on the provisions of the PIA was designed to be a limited liability company and to succeed the NNPC with its specific objectives enumerated in Section 64(a)-(m) of the PIA. The NNPCL was to be incorporated within 6 (six) months from the commencement of the PIA and was eventually incorporated on 21 September 2021 in accordance with the Companies and Allied Matters Act 2020.
- HIGHLIGHTS OF THE PIA AS IT RELATES TO THE NNPCL
The PIA makes extensive provisions for the formation, structure, objectives and governance of the new entity “NNPCL” in Sections 53 to 65 of the Act. The referenced sections are contained in Part V, Chapter One of the PIA. The major highlights of the provisions are:
- Ownership and Non-Transferability of Shares
- Ownership of shares of the NNPCL is to be vested in the Government at incorporation and held by the Ministry of Finance Incorporated and the Ministry of Petroleum Incorporated in equal portions on behalf of the Federation. One peculiar point to note as regards the shares of the NNPCL is that the shares are not transferable except with the approval of the Government and endorsement of the National Economic Council on behalf of the Federation.
- In the event that the said shares are transferred, it shall be on equal proportion basis of the shares held by the Ministry of Finance Incorporated and the Ministry of Petroleum Incorporated.
- The NNPCL is set up to operate as a commercial entity without reliance on government funding and it is mandated to expressly state the restrictions in its Memorandum and Articles of Association. It is also required to pay its share of all fees and taxes or other form of payments to the Government under any lease or license.
- Limitation of Action upon Transfer of Assets, Interests and Liabilities of NNPC
- Upon the conclusion of the transfer of the assets, interests and liabilities of NNPC to the NNPCL or to the Government or extinguishing of same within the stipulated period of 18 months from the commencement of the PIA, the NNPC shall cease to exist and all pending actions commenced by or against NNPC with regards to the assets, interests and liabilities of NNPC before the transfer shall be enforced or continued by NNPCL. However, the PIA places a limitation on the commencement of any action against the NNPCL with regard to the transferred assets, interest and liabilities where the time for instituting such proceedings would have expired had such transfer to NNPCL not occurred.
- The transfer is not in any way deemed to have created a new cause of action for the Creditors of NNPC or any party to a contract with NNPC which was entered into before the date of Transfer.
- Appointment of NNPCL to Act as Agent of NNPC
- The Minister of Petroleum upon due consultation with the Minister of Finance shall appoint the NNPCL as an agent of NNPC for the sole purpose of managing the process of winding down the assets, interests and liabilities of NNPC and the cost is to be borne by the Government.
- Automatic Transfer of Employees
- The provision of the PIA mandates that all employees of the NNPC are deemed to be employees of NNPCL and the said employees are to enjoy any related entitlements as specified under any applicable law and to also take benefit of terms and conditions not less favourable than what they enjoyed prior to the transfer. The NNPCL is required as a matter of law to fulfil all statutory obligations in terms of Pension owed to the employees by NNPC. This in effect means that the employees do not lose their jobs merely by reason of the transition.
- The PIA provides for the composition of the Board of the NNPCL whose members shall be appointed or removed by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Board is required to carry out its responsibilities as enumerated under Section 63 (1) of the PIA in line with applicable principles of corporate governance and best practices.
- Establishment of Incorporated Joint Venture Companies
- The PIA makes provision for the restructuring of any Joint Operating Agreement (“JOA”) as an Incorporated Joint Venture Company. This option is solely on a voluntary basis as may be agreed by parties to the JOA in respect of any upstream petroleum operation.
It is clear from the highlights in the foregoing paragraphs that the NNPCL is structured to run as an independent company based on commercial objectives in line with best practices and standard principles of corporate governance. These are indicators that the NNPCL is primed to compete at the world international level with other major operators in the Oil and Gas sector.
It is the hope of Nigerians that with the unveiling of the new NNPCL, Nigeria will be able to attain global relevance in the Petroleum Industry.
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