Buhari, Kachikwu and the oil cabal

11 April 2016, Lagos – The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, has come under a blizzard of attacks from different interests these past weeks. The man who also doubles as the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has been given various options by his traducers: apologise to Nigerians, resign his appointment or flood the market with petroleum products particularly premium motor spirit(PMS) in a matter of days.

*President Muhammadu Buhari.

*President Muhammadu Buhari.

The agitation is understandable. There is anger in the land. There is crisis of expectation. The teeming Nigerians who voted for change are yet to experience the dream change they voted for. The same litany of ills that assailed the people during the years of the Peoples Democracy Party (PDP) has continued to haunt them a clear ten months into the life of this administration. Poor electricity supply, fuel queues, bad roads, high cost of living, growing unemployment and job cuts among others still signpost the daily grind of the people. In the midst of such pent up anguish, one man has been singled out for vilification. Dr. Kachikwu’s offence was that he told Nigerians the stark, unvarnished truth about the fuel situation in the country.

By his allusion to the fuel supply challenge not disappearing overnight, he unwittingly incurred the wrath of a people already incensed at the turn of events since May 29, last year. It was only natural that the people hit back at him in the most unkindest and cavalier manner. But it was not fair he has to take all the flaks for all the ills of the moment.

A critical examination of the criticisms against Dr. Kachikwu throws up two diametrically opposite groups. Those who are genuinely angry at the system that has denied them access to the good life and those who are railing at the minister because he has refused to do their bidding by allowing them to continue to cheat through the system; a practice from the old order. It is this cartel of crooks that has, unfortunately, dominated the media space. Though fewer in number, their collective voice is loud and because they possess the means and the money, they have not abated in their bashing even when it is glaring that the fuel supply situation is improving and tending to normalcy.

Yet, what is lost on most Nigerians is the intent of this few; the real reason why they are attacking a minister that is daily reforming Nigeria’s oil and gas sector which has a history of inefficiency, lack of transparency and corruption. Kachikwu is undertaking major reforms in the sector, he has arrested the shady, opaque processes that hallmarked operations at the NNPC in the past; he has trimmed the powers of some principalities in the sector who colluded with some staff of NNPC and adjunct Directorates to defraud the nation. The minister has dared the cartel of crooks in the industry and one should not be surprised that they are fighting back using the alibi of ‘fuel crisis’ to push through their agenda.

Nigerians should ask at this moment, why do they want Kachikwu to quit or to use the exact words of some of his denigrators, “resign now”? The answers are not far-fetched. Kachikwu since his arrival at the NNPC and as minister of state has never hidden his intent to stamp out corruption in the sector. He has not only stood in the way of these crude merchants but has also blocked the hitherto gaping holes through which this mafia of oil mandarins had siphoned the nation’s money over the years.

But Kachikwu must stay the course. The minister, a first class lawyer with long-standing experience in the global oil and gas sector, should know that it is the nature of man to resist change. It is even more so if these men are profiting from the system you are striving to change. In the instant case, just a few Nigerians had been profiting from the rot in the nation’s oil and gas marketplace. This was the rot that had been exposed by all audits, forensic and otherwise, carried out by KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in separate inquisitions. It was a rot deliberately created, sustained and oiled by a few money bags. This rot has thrown up fly-by-night billionaires who do little but earn so much.

To add to the desperation, a few politicians who felt a sense of entitlement to the national till as compensation for their contribution towards birthing the new government have added more fizz to the sizzle; they want Kachikwu out because he has not allowed them to take control of the sector.

To the ordinary man on the street, petrol crisis is the issue; but this is not true. Without the reforms of today, fuel queues will return tomorrow and the days after. Fuel crisis is historical, it has always surfaced at different times in the past. This happened because previous government failed to address critical issues; they failed to rein in some of the stakeholders who seized the opportunity of absence of good corporate governance in the system to commit monumental fraud that ultimately hurt the system and has kept the problem of petrol scarcity recurring. The fact that over 50 years of oil exploration in the country we are still stuck in the muddle of subsidy, forex shortage, fuel importation (for an OPEC member nation), and fuel scarcity is because in the previous years we failed to do what was necessary and germane. We failed to plan towards a possible future of drought. That future is now and the nation is not prepared for the attendant shocks hence it has been drifting in and out of one crisis or another.

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