By Lady Nkechi Odoma JP
It is usually tough explaining the intricacies of the business and politics of oil to everyday folks. For instance, people outside some major cities still have to buy petrol above the N87 belt announced by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr Ibe Kachikwu. The expectation had been that the years of maladministration in the sector will miraculously revert to perfection on account that a new minister is in charge. Those who hold such views do so without reckoning with the cabals that can only be dismantled over the course of time.
It is however obvious that machineries and strategies being put in place by the minister are beginning to yield results towards freeing the nation from these oil cabals and bringing normalcy to the oil industry. But these people behind the nightmarish scenarios Nigerians had lived through over the past one decade are not ready to go down without a fight. The dubious ways of doing business preferred by them bankroll their private jets, yachts, exotic getaways and out of this world lifestyles with spoilt mistresses and toy boys. It does not matter that they get these things at the expense of our own tears and blood.
Prior to the coming of Kachikwu, the reformer of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the oil cabals ran riot all over the place. They decide whether we get fuel or not. They decided the price at which we buy outside of Abuja and Lagos. They decide how long we spend on fuel queues. In addition to these holds they have on our daily lives, the cabal make us pay the interest for the bank loans they took for business, we paid or demurrage on imported products and also paid for when they stored products at tank farms – all these after they have collected subsidies and continue to hold the federal government to ransom over the same subsidy.
Kachikwu’s coming burst their bubble. We exiting the subsidy regime without the apocalyptic outcome they had always paid people to chorus around. Unlike in the past when they were able to browbeat the system, the Minister of State for Petroleum took the wind out of their sails with the concept of price modulation. Consequently, Nigerians have for the first time in a long while live through almost a month without the spectre of subsidy payment hanging over them. Prospecting in petroleum products by hoarders no longer hold promises of high return on investment as there is no more incentive for panic buying.
The stability, in part, can be attributed to the fact that the nation’s refineries, which were once described as mothball, are back to contributing products to meeting part of the daily national demand. These were the same facilities that were earlier unable to refine products despite the several billions of naira spent on Turn Around Maintenance, TAM. From the assurances the minister has given to Nigerians, it is only a matter of time before these refineries are able to scale up their daily output and further reduce the nation’s dependency on imported petrol and diesel – the largest leverage of the rent seeking subsidy predators. This will have implication for not just the consumers but also for the economy since the pressure of sourcing dollars to finance imported products contributed to wiping out the value of the naira. Our currency will thus be able to make significant recovery once Kachikwu’s reforms in the oil sector take further hold.
In the private sector, the confidence engendered by Kachikwu’s approach to managing the oil sector has seen the private refineries being built by the Dagote Group making progress. The opacity in the running of the NNPC and the oil sector in general had once been an obstacle for investors with interest in building refineries. Within the shortest time, however, it is glaring that the new refinery project is picking speed, which could also be on account of the reassurances that can only come from a competent and focused leadership.
It could be described as unfortunate that Kachikwu came on board at a time when crude looks like it is headed for the $20 mark down from over $105 just a few months ago. What is to be commended no doubts is the way he has been able to manage the affairs of the sector in such a way that there is no panic that could have stampeded the industry into destruction. He recently told Bloomberg TV that Nigeria will still make profit even if oil were to trade at $20 since the production amount is less than that. Such optimism, openness and transparency was not the case in the past. What would have happened was for members of the cabals to cash in on the situation and further loot the country blind citing global falling prices.
Another first for Kachikwu was the firmness with which he has addressed the other franchise of the cabals, saboteurs that vandalise pipelines to steal petrol and other products. These economic criminals had in the past had a free reign as they enrich themselves by destroying national infrastructure to steal products. Such was their reign in the past that they kill security operatives and government officials and tend to get away with it. Their activities have been linked with the huge cost of transporting products and some instances of fuel scarcity. The approach to this clear brigandage in the past was to treat the vandals, collaborators and accessories with kids’ gloves – there was that government’s indifference to the fact that vandals and host communities for the facilities were in cahoots. There is no way they can operate freely if the host communities do not give them cover or refuse to alert security and other relevant agencies of crimes in progress.
The warning from Kachikwu to indigenes of Tarkwa Bay, where the Atlas Cove Jetty is located, that their place was at risk of possible acquisition by the Federal Government if they continued to shield pipeline vandals and oil thieves, will certainly achieve something. This is the one approach that was never considered in the past while Nigeria hemorrhaged to thieves. Apparently, there would be no need to repeat this warning to other host communities.
It will be naïve to think that these steps being taken, to the extent that they disrupt the cabals and their minions, would go unchallenged. This is why it would not be surprising to any discerning mind that attempts have started in earnest to drag Kachikwu’s name in the mud. The strategy includes using groups that are claiming that his family members are meddling in the affairs of the NNPC even though no one has been able to publish any proof that this is the case.
The cabals will update and modify their strategies to retain their stranglehold on the oil sector at all cost. Kachikwu must accept this as a reality such that he must never succumb to the blackmail of this band of cutthroats. In addition to the popular mandate that President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption fights enjoys, the Minister of State for Petroleum has the support of citizens to cage these cabals and send them out of business. The tremendous support and goodwill that trail his stand on subsidy is enough indication that he enjoys such support.
Dr Ibe Kachikwu must dare the cabals some more. He should run them out of town. Nigerians support him.
Lady Nkechi Odoma, Chairperson, Africa Arise for Change Network contributed this piece from Abuja.