- Nigerians are groaning in the face of lingering fuel scarcity in parts of the country. The APC led government under Buhari had promised to address the shortfalls in the oil sector, but nothing has change almost a year now. In this piece, DOZIE EMMANUEL asks should Buhari still retain his portfolio as petroleum minister?
Even before President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated his cabinet on November 11, 2015, many knew that he will oversee the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources because of the perceived monumental corruption going on at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC. Secondly, he is a person who would not want to toy with a sector where the country gets its highest foreign exchange earnings. For the fact that he is a man that abhors corruption, assigning himself that portfolio did not come as a surprise to Nigerians.
While many have argued that Buhari lacks the requisite knowledge and experience to turn around the sector in view of the lingering fuel scarcity in the country, others insisted that the president is experience enough having held similar positions in the past.
This latter school of thought recalls that in March 1976, the then Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo appointed Buhari as the Federal Commissioner (position now called Minister) for Petroleum and Natural Resources.They pointed out that when the NNPC was created in 1977, Buhari was also appointed as its chairman, a position he held until 1978. They said during Buhari’s tenure as the Federal Commissioner for Petroleum and Natural Resources, the government invested in pipelines and petroleum storage infrastructures; government built about 21 petroleum storage depots all over the country from Lagos to Maidugiuri and from Calabar to Gusau; the administration constructed a pipeline network that connected Bonny terminal and the Port Harcourt refinery to the depots; signed the contract for the construction of a refinery in Kaduna and an oil pipeline that will connect the Escravos oil terminal to Warri Refinery and the proposed Kaduna refinery.
According to them, “if you talk of experience, Buhari has it because he also served as the Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF; a body created by the government of General Sani Abacha and funded from the revenue generated by the increase in price of petroleum products, to pursue developmental projects around the country.
“Buhari’s wealth of experience and passion for the oil and gas sector might be among the motivating factors why the president took personal interest in overseeing activities of the ministry”.
However, those who question his capacity as petroleum minister said it is quite disturbing that Buhari, having served in these capacities before, the country is still experiencing protracted fuel scarcity.
Going by the current fuel scarcity biting hard in various parts of the country, the question in the lips of an average Nigerian is: is Buhari still competent to drive the needed change in the oil and gas sector? Has he any moral justification to still hold onto the position of petroleum minister in view of the lingering fuel scarcity in the country?
Ironically, Nigerians are witnessing the third fuel scarcity in 10 months under Buhari’s watch as president and minister. First, it was in December 2015. Then came another fuel scarcity in February 2016. The latest is that of March, which has continued unabated. In fact, the argument in some quarters is that fuel scarcity has continued because Buhari has devoted a major chunk of his time fighting corruption, thus neglecting the fundamental issues of governance. Of course, his government is dissipating so much energy on corruption while socio-economic issues are given little attention.
Ordinary Nigerians, who are always at the receiving end of this fuel crisis, have been subjected to untold hardship and suffering by Buhari’s government.
Perhaps, this is why the Trade Union Congress TUC, has asked President Buhari to relinquish his position as the Minister of Petroleum. President of TUC, Comrade Bobboi Bala Kaigama, made the call at the “Save Nigeria Oil and Gas Industry Round Table Conference in Abuja. Kaigama was of the view that the office of the minister of petroleum is very important and cannot be combined with the duties of a president.
“There is a cogent need for appointment of a substantive Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources. The ideal candidate for this should be someone who has the necessary knowledge, experience and competence, and who would directly oversee the affairs of the ministry and report regularly to the president.
“That position is too critically important to the economy to be subsumed as one of the many offices or portfolios of the President and Commander-in-Chief. Of course, the position of Minister of State for Petroleum and Mineral Resources should continue to exist as a junior minister in the ministry.
“A separate Group Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation should also be appointed to directly supervise the affairs of the NNPC,” he said.
Being a monolithic economy, the country solely depends on the proceeds from oil to service other sectors of the economy. As a result of this, any crisis in the sector always has a spill-over effect on other sectors. Therefore, it is not surprising that any time there is fuel scarcity, Nigerians loses huge sums of money and precious man hours on queues. Lo and behold, many small and medium enterprises have been grounded simply because they could not afford buying fuel and diesel on daily basis to power their generators.
Even the Minister of State for Petroleum and Mineral Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, who also doubles as the NNPC’s Group Managing Director, is not finding the job any easy. Kachikwu has been criticised severally by stakeholders in the industry when he told state house correspondents that he was not a magician to eliminate fuel queues with a magic wand. He added that despite the efforts being put in place by the Federal Government, fuel queues might not be completely eliminated until about two months (May).
But the national leader of APC, Bola Tinubu took a swipe at the Kachikwu by insisting that the minister is answerable to Nigerians and not the other way round. While saying that Kachikwu has strayed from the progressive calling required of Buhari’s administration, Tinubu maintained that no economic matter more difficult to unravel and more sensitive to the purse of the average person than the current fuel scarcity.
Nevertheless, if government feels subsidy is no longer working due to unscrupulous activities of some oil cabals and rapacious marketers, perhaps it should consider liberalising the energy sector by removing the fuel subsidy. Many believe that the country’s refineries are not working because of subsidy.
Essentially, what Buhari needs to do now the sector is wobbling is to get a trusted and competent ally who is bold and courageous enough to take far reaching decisions that will address the challenges in the oil sector and thus bring the shortage of fuel to a lasting end.
Again, Buhari should also appoint a professional and expert to run the affairs of the NNPC so that Kachikwu can concentrate in his portfolio as a junior minister.
Obviously, there is no better time than now to make the Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna refineries work optimally. After all, it is part of Buhari’s campaign promises to Nigerians.