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President Buhari’s Change Agenda In The Petroleum Sector

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

– Chike F. Maduekwe

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. I would argue that 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. As the Bu- hari administration pledged to jumpstart a new dawn in which character, vision, and progress, rather than charade, manipulation and deception, are defining elements, many Nigerians became interested in the outcome, cleaving to the mes­sage of change.

As I already noted, 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.

It is to the president’s credit that he entrusted the day-to-day management of the oil sector to a man like Dr. Kachikwu, who was far from the ranks of opportunists falling over each other to establish footholds in the present administration. In asking Dr. Kachikwu to serve, President Bu- hari showed an admirable readiness to entrust arguably the most critical portfolio in his admin­istration to the best person for the job.

To appreciate the significance of the appoint­ment, one needs a grasp of Dr. Kachikwu’s in­trinsic capacities, as a global management expert, having worked in the global oil industry at key levels. It is also important to see the appointment in the context of the decades-long centrality of oil to Nigeria’s economy, Nigeria’s political his­tory and culture as well as the country’s standing as Africa’s largest economy. Seen in this light, the minister’s extensive qualifications stretchbe- yond individual merit and national politics into key global economic institutions, petroleum in­dustry circles, and strategic-planning essential to realizing the nation’s fullest potentials.

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. It would be an oversim­plification to assume that one individual, wheth­er it is President Buhari or Dr. Kachikwu, can, in one swift abracadabra moment, conjure up change to lift Nigeria out of economic, social or political quagmire. However, President Buhari’s discipline and commitment to change in the way business was carried out in Nigeria’s oil sector have found a perfect team player in Dr. Kachik- wu’s experience and devotion to the president’s reform agenda.

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.


•Chike F Maduekwe is a Nigerian lawyer and former private oil sector Counsel

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