As widely reported in the media, President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari is under intense pressure to retain the controversial Petroleum Resources Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke in her portfolio after he takes power next May 29. Those lobbying the president-elect argue with emphasis, that Alison-Madueke should be allowed to complete her term as president of the oil producers’ cartel; the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). At a time of global economic uncertainty amid dwindling oil prices, they argue, it certainly will not be in the national interest to ditch her, and rob Nigeria of the OPEC presidency and the power of heading the most powerful decision-making body in the political economy of oil matters.
But her detractors counter that the OPEC presidency is not beneficial to ordinary Nigerians who voted massively for change. The oil sector like the whole nation is mired in corruption and winning the war against corruption cannot be done by maintaining the status quo.
Pro-Madueke apologists also point to her impressive credentials and track record of accomplishments as Nigeria’s first female Oil Minister. Besides being the first female OPEC president, she is also the first woman to be elected President of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF). She is no neophyte in oil politics or complex modern administration. She has been grilled for leadership at the highest levels through her various ministerial positions in government. Besides her stewardship as Oil Minister, she made her bones in the oil industry, where she rose to become the first female Executive Director on the board of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) in 70 years of the company’s existence in Nigeria. Given her credentials, she certainly is no push-over; her guts, prideful aura and patrician sophistication are as impressive as they are intimidating.
Few will deny that under her watch, the Oil ministry has recorded significant achievements, not the least of which is the rehabilitation of non-functioning petroleum products depots in Benin, Enugu, Gombe and Port Harcourt as well as the Warri-Benin pipelines. She also mid-wife the re-draft of a comprehensive Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) currently under review at the National Assembly, and which, when passed into law, shall be the first of its kind to reform and revolutionize the petroleum industry. In furtherance of the Nigerian Content Act 2010, she maximized local value addition by encouraging the manufacturing of equipment components and parts in Nigeria, thereby building local human resource and growing capital for the economy.
She has also pursued gas-flaring with purposefulness and unrivalled patriotism. In this regard, she kicked off the ongoing 1,860km gas pipeline infrastructure traversing the south and an ambitious network linking Calabar-Ajaokuta-Kano. She commenced the Front-End Engineering Design (FEED) of the 850MCF/D gas processing facility to support domestic supply of gas to power the Ogidigben Industrial Park and also initiated a critical gas-flare down campaign which in 12 years has seen gas-flaring reduced considerably. She also successfully introduced Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) to Nigeria with over 2,500 taxi cabs now running in Benin City and many more being converted daily.
Uneasy as the position of Oil minister is, Nigeria’s most powerful minister is an awesome assignment and a platform of authority and economic leadership. Madueke mustered courage to go after the oil majors with doggedness that ruffled feathers and earned her few friends. Notwithstanding, detractors view the OPEC presidency as a non-achievement, against the persistent fuel shortages, that have marked her tenure. Cynics refuse to see the OPEC presidency as a national assignment which demands the cooperation of Nigerians. Rather, they see it as a personal accolade tied to Madueke’s person, and therefore, to unduly extrapolate its importance would be a great disservice to Nigeria. It does not help that she has often been in the spotlight for negative reasons, and has found herself at loggerheads with the National Assembly over corruption and misappropriation of funds in her ministry and her alleged profligate lifestyle.
Critics also point to the waning influence of oil in the global economy. With increased discovery and exploitation of oil, and the United States, hitherto the world’s largest importer, becoming self-sufficient, OPEC is gradually losing its relevance. While OPEC is an influential cartel in the global oil market, when compared with non-OPEC oil producing countries, its clout in oil production and price control is insignificant. In this circumstance, Alison-Madueke’s OPEC presidency can do little to manage oil supply and improve price stability. The times demand new leadership with administrative ingenuity and professional experience to spare Nigerians the horrors of embarrassing fuel scarcity, in Africa’s biggest economy and largest oil-producer.
By design or otherwise, too much opaqueness has characterized operations of the oil sector with the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) still acting as agent and customer for Nigeria crude; selling crude for domestic refining to itself through one of its subsidiaries – the Petroleum Products Marketing Company (PPMC.)
The latest audit report by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) said Nigeria lost a whopping N1.960,108 trillion to crude oil theft and sabotage in 2012.
Within the same period, Nigeria also lost N31, 771,108,795 to pipeline theft and vandalism. These losses compound the unresolved billions of subsidy paid to oil marketers, which remains the source of much controversy and anger. Much more fundamental is the determination of where the truth lies on the subsidy regime that impinges directly on the welfare of the people.
There are other fundamental questions. Why is it that a large part of the contentious subsidy paid on fuel imports allegedly services demurrage, which has gone up in sync with Naira devaluation associated with drop in international oil prices? How much does it truly cost to produce a barrel of crude oil for export? More importantly, why has government found it so laborious to turn around refineries to run full steam and go a notch higher, to attract private investors towards re-engineering local production and building capacity? Surely, the Nigerian people deserve better than what they have gotten under Madueke. Never again, however, must Nigerians be made to endure the hardship of fuel scarcity.
Undoubtedly, the President has the prerogative to hire and fire, but it will be difficult to convince Nigerians that re-appointing Alison-Madueke as Oil Minister will not be detrimental to the nation. Besides sending a wrong signal about the temperament of the new President, that will leave much to be desired; such an action will merely advertise the politician, not the statesman in the president. Above all, re-appointing Alison-Madueke as Oil Minister will be the moral equivalent of the presidential pardon Jonathan granted to his political mentor, DSP Alamieyeseigha, which attracted global outrage. There is no redeeming value in such a decision and it serves no rational public policy purpose, and should therefore not even cross the remotest contemplation of the President-elect.