Change agenda in the petroleum sector
President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration came into office holding aloft the mantra of change. That one word, change, ignited a constellation of hopeful expectations among Nigerians who, for decades, had seen a mindless deterioration in every sector of their country. In fact, the Nigerian citizenry had been so used to political guile and institutional corruption that many were simply unable to contemplate the possibility of a change.
For those who embraced the message, however, the emotional investment was extremely high. The sense of expectancy was reminiscent of the emotional buoyancy that marked the birth of Nigeria as an independent country more than a half-century ago. The air of expectancy, palpable and comforting as they may be, has also been mixed with some sense of wariness about surface appearances, and about the nature and categories of change to come. The tension between the appearance and essence of change is rooted in the nation’s political and social history where, in the past, politicians were practiced hypocrites who preached one ethos but practiced a different one, who promised to serve the people, but instead became leeches and parasites, mindlessly and manifestly living off the misery of the Nigerian people.
One source of hope, if not optimism, has been the president himself. He was perceived by many as sensitive to the sufferings of deprived Nigerians, morally earnest, and a man who did not believe in ostentation. In addition, whatever criticism may be labeled at him, there is no question that, unlike his predecessor, he has shown no inclination to manipulate the legislative or judicial arms of the government. Having revealed himself as a believer in law-and-order, the president’s role in orchestrating change has become crucial.
It must be stated, however, that change can never be wrought by one man, however stellar his moral mettle or extraordinary his energy and political stamina. That is why it is essential that the president have the right team around him to sell and implement his ideas, his agenda of change.
There have been hiccups, no question, but it is also hardly disputable that President Buhari has been carrying out his duties with a measure of judiciousness. In his quite way, he is inspiring change across the populace. Nigerians’ subjection to decades of awful, indeed irresponsible, leadership has engendered a culture of anything-goes and bred a deep-rooted spirit of cynicism. The uprooting of these mental attitudes, alone, is a huge undertaking. And then President Buhari must tackle the task of creating national prosperity and an atmosphere of political stability.
What’s more, he is facing these gargantuan challenges at a time when the oil sector, for decades Nigeria’s cash cow, has become terribly embattled, with a glut in the supply of crude, occasioning a drastic drop in oil prices.
It is close to a perfect storm. Yet, it is in moments of extreme difficulties that true leaders distinguish themselves. Given the crisis in the crude oil market, President Buhari’s team and policies will either allay fears or raise concerns. There is no doubt that the president enjoys a large measure of international goodwill. Despite isolated criticisms of this or that policy, President Buhari is viewed around the world as a prudent and strongly motivated leader.
With regard to the oil sector, I believe that the President’s team is solid. His appointment of Dr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu as Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has been pivotal. I doubt that many people anticipated the winds of change blowing through the global oil market, spilling red ink in budgets and, closer to home, posing serious threats against Nigeria’s largely public and petroleum-driven economy.
At the recent 25th Oloibiri Lecture Series and Energy Forum, organized by the Society of Petroleum Engineers, Dr. Kachikwu made a landmark disclosure aimed at redefining the policy as well as institutional and commercial frameworks for Nigeria’s oil and gas operations. Envisioned as key to the nation’s economic security, the momentous restructuring of the NNPC into more than thirty administrative hubs and revenue streams, along with a rapid decline in the company’s monthly billion-dollar loss of revenue, is a rich and impressive move.
Boldly targeted at stemming mismanagement, theft and corruption, dismantling obdurate practices and objectionable structures within the oil sector, and, more broadly, repositioning Nigeria more competitively in the global oil sector in ways that engender accountability, stability and profitability, this development provides a profound basis for understanding the underlying confidence and optimism of the Buhari administration.
President Buhari’s political decisiveness has energized this development. The president’s appointment of Dr. Kachikwu to his team has ensured that the agenda of change in the sector has a ministerial driver with the impeccable credentials and managerial track record to focus on achieving desired results.
Oil prices have inched up a bit lately. Even so, last year’s massive slump in crude prices left producers’ economies stumbling. For Nigeria, the sharp drop in oil revenues provided lessons for the present and the future. Any meaningful push for change requires orderly exploration of alternatives and sound articulation of policies.
Dr. Kachikwu’s recent statements struck me as tangible signposts of things to come. The policies pronouncements clearly advocate and point to reforms aimed at generating revenues and platforms to boost and assure investor confidence in the economy.
This all appears to me to be a positive starting point for distilling, to use a petroleum industry parlance, a premium grade future for all Nigerians.
Maduekwe is a Nigerian lawyer and former private oil sector counsel.