True to his promise of reforming Nigeria’ oil and gas sector for optimum benefits to all stakeholders and the country, and encouraged by President Muhammadu Buhari, the country’s Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Emmanuel kachikwu has embarked on a series of initiatives that are turning things around. In this analysis, Emma Agu of NIGERIA INSIGNIA, a policy analysis group examines his effort against the background of the minister’s recent road show in China and concludes that sooner than later, the Niger Delta which is regarded as Nigeria’s developmental backwaters would become the latest frontiers of national renaissance.
It is not every time that a messenger has the ears of the master. When the messenger does not have the ear of the master what you get is a level of dissonance that leads to systemic dysfunction. That, in itself, either results in frustration of the messenger or outright displacement of goals.
In Nigeria, the muffled view, in some quarters, is that Minister of State for Petroleum and concurrently, group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, could be overreaching himself by his boldness and what I would describe, for lack of a better phrase, as ministerial activism. But why would anybody think that the minister is overreaching himself?
I can hazard a few guesses. For one, there is the feeling that his utterances on a number of issues do not represent the position of President Muhammadu Buhari who doubles as minister of petroleum resources. Here are some examples: while Kachikwu favours dialogue as a means of resolving the of militancy in the Niger Delta, Buhari’s body language and actions appear to favour smoking the militants out by the armed forces. While Buhari’s initial disposition was towards reducing the price of fuel by fiat, Kachikwu was said to have actively promoted a market determined rate.
The argument goes thus: Buhari, in keeping with his electoral promises was wary of anything that would compromise his integrity; Kachikwu, on the other hand, was keen to prove to investors, local and foreign, that government policy would be attractive enough to guarantee return on investments. The minister’s reasoning is simple: without an attractive policy environment, capital, the indispensable oxygen of industrial life will migrate to other lands, companies will shrink, employment opportunities will tumble and the change promised by the President could become a mirage.
However, it appears that we have now gone beyond the realm of conjecture: the evidence on the ground shows that both Buhari and Kachikwu have struck a rhythm that has turned the oil sector into the most vibrant and result-oriented segment of the Nigerian economy in the past year or so. They have achieved what was considered impossible by pulling off the fuel price magic, something previous administrations labored unsuccessfully to accomplish. Today, the issue of fuel scarcity has been put behind us. Nigerians can now drive leisurely into the filling station and leave within minutes. The nightmare is over. All, because the messenger had his master’s ears!
For those who were cynical about the ability of Kachikwu to drive the reform process to its logical conclusion and deliver on all key benchmarks especially the refineries, empirical evidence points to the man confounding his skeptics and moving at pace that could hardly have been predicted. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation’s (NNPC) road show in China, within the week, marked a significant milestone in this effort. Undertaken with the aim of consolidation on the gains of President Buhari’s earlier visit to China, Kachikwu’s mission turned out to be an unqualified success, indeed unprecedented in the annals of road shows in Nigeria. His Chinese hosts were no doubt swept off their feet by the presentation by the Nigerian delegation, ably marshaled by NNPC chieftain Anibor Kragba, culminating in the signing of several deals with reputable Chinese firms. At the last count, as reported by the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, Kachikwu had signed memoranda of understanding (MoUs) in the neighbourhood of fifty billion US dollars, with the expectation that this would hit sixty billion US dollars soon.
It is not surprising that Kachikwu’s delegation was able to pull off that feat. The main credit should go to President Buhari whose global stature and reputation are reminiscent of the high standing in which Nigeria was held when President Obasanjo returned to power in 1999. As a knowledgeable general, President Buhari leads from the front. Yet, his effort could simply go with the winds if he didn’t have an effective lieutenant in the oil industry. It is in this regard that Kachikwu and his NNPC teams share in the credit. It is axiomatic that one of the cardinal principles of national development is that no other person will develop your country for you. A consummate strategist himself, the minister is well aware that Chinese firms will not rush to invest in the country’s oil industry if high net worth Nigerian investors do not demonstrate enough passion for the country. It was the hallmark of strategic insight for Kachikwu to have embarked on the China road show with reputable Nigerian investors whose track record of performance and integrity lend credence to the Buhari Administration’s quest for global best practices.
Who else could have played this ambassadorial role more convincingly than Dr. Bryant Orjiakor, chairman of Seplat Petroleum Development Company Plc? His company is one of the foremost indigenous players in the oil industry. For the records, Orjiakor stands out as a highly disciplined, focused and courageous entrepreneur who has seen the highs and lows of playing in the oil and gas sector. Through adroit business principles, with his compatriot Austen Avuru, an outstanding oil industry professional, Orjiakor made history when Seplat became the first Nigerian company to be listed on the London Stock Exchange. Orjiakor has always believed that Nigeria can play the field in the oil industry, that forming strong conglomerates and partnerships hold the key to unlocking the vast potentials in Nigeria.
Kachikwu’s hosts would therefore have no difficulty believing Sir Bryant when he told them that the Buhari Administration was genuinely leveraging the oil sector to expand the economy and that investing in Nigeria was akin to tapping into a goldmine given that the large and growing population guaranteed a steady return on investment. It is noteworthy that he was on the China road show; it marks a significant endorsement of the Buhari oil industry reform program and gives Kachikwu the industry oxygen he requires to forge ahead in spite of the challenges that lay on the road.
Luckily, these challenges are being confronted headlong through a combination of disarming flexibility on the part of President Buhari and the principled commitment of Kachikwu to his strategy for engaging the Niger Delta militants. That was why he had the courage to forecast improved production. That was the source of his confidence when he assured his Chinese audience that President Buhari had authorized dialogue with the Niger Delta militants. Something tells me that this messenger has the ears of his master! Is it therefore not appropriate that we commend the President for shifting, if only temporarily, from his legendary zero tolerance for militant agitation? Nigerians and foreign investors alike should be thrilled by Kachikwu’s disclosure that production had been raised to 1.9 million barrels per day because of the ongoing dialogue with the militants. Behoove
It has become all too obvious that with peace in the country and focused leadership, Nigeria can and will surmount the present economic setback. But achieving peace is not a task for any one person, group or organisation. This is one challenge that all Nigerians must face and conquer. Therefore, it is incumbent on all well meaning Nigerians, including members of the opposition to plead with the militants to embrace the olive branch offered by the “born again” posture of President Buhari. More importantly, commonsense dictates that the militants and all indigenes of the Niger Delta take advantage of the favourable disposition of their kinsman, Ibe Kachikwu who has positioned his neck on the unsparing and treacherous guillotine of Nigerian politics even if that means that his political blood would be shed to catalyze the development of the Niger Delta in a strong, united and prosperous Nigeria under the leadership of President Buhari.
For me, the stakes are high, the prospects are enormous and the deliverables promising. In my mind’s eye, I can picture Nigeria, two years from today, awash with 50 billion dollars of Chinese investment in the oil industry, much of it in the Niger Delta, complementing and competing with the mind-boggling Dangote refinery. Somebody should tell me why the pump head price of petrol will not tumble to less than one hundred naira per litre or why millions of jobs will not be created directly or indirectly in the Niger Delta region or why the despondent and restive youth of the region will not regain their dignity and self pride or why the hitherto backwaters of development will not turn into the new coastal frontlines of national renaissance; why, why, why, why, why…!
Please let the Chinese come.
*Emma Agu, a veteran journalist is promoter of the FEDERAL INSIGNIA, a policy analysis group. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org.