If I were offered the position of the Minister of State for Petroleum at the time the current occupant, Dr Ibe Kachikwu got the job, there is almost a guarantee that I would have found a non-offensive way of turning it down and “codedly” request to serve in a different capacity. Don’t get it wrong, like all average Nigerians wishing and working for improved quality of life, the perks of that office are attractive but I dare say they are not commensurate with the associated headache. This was why I would have offered to serve in another capacity; I get some perks and still got to serve the country.
For Dr Kachikwu, the burden of that office was made heavier with the decision of his boss, President Muhammadu Buhari, to hand the additional responsibility of being the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Those who understand the workings of the industry will easily recognize the fact that he must bear the heat for two positions that used to share the barrage of hostile reactions from often angry Nigerians.
Beyond the double barrel positions he holds, Dr Kachikwu’s greatest nemesis was the electoral promises made the then opposition that is now the government of the day. The avowal by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari, to end corruption, sanitize the various sectors (the oil industry got most mentions in this), stop the fraudulent subsidy payments and make petrol available and fairly priced. These promises relating to the oil industry and the APC’s other electoral promises were made in good fate, no doubts.
But they reckoned without a reality to which almost all Nigerians were blindsided: corruption had become institutionalized to the extent that it (corruption) was the main driver and largest sector of the economy and not the oil industry as was believed. Something that strong would not go away easily hence the second reality that was overlooked: that corruption and its beneficiaries would fight back and they do so now with unrivaled venom. A third overlooked variable was the glut in crude oil prices and the pressure it exerted on the naira. All these and other fundamentals combined to make the incumbent government’s electoral promises look untenable and the Promised Land a mirage.
While Dr Kachikwu is not alone, other ministers in the government face similar uphill task in their respective sectors, the sensitivity of his ministry however places him in the crosshair of the national anger spawned by a protracted fuel crisis. First, the national revenue is still heavily dependent on crude oil sales so the minister has the burden of ensuring we still get enough revenue even in the face of dwindling sales and falling prices. Also, our transport system, if it can be so called, is heavily dependent on privately operated cars so the bite of the fuel shortage is bitterly felt by Nigerians who wasted valuable man-hours on snaking fuel queues or risk buying contaminated fuel at four times the pump price. The third facet is the questionable coincidence that the nation’s electricity supply, which has been privatized anyway, collapsed at the height of the fuel crisis of all times and during a heat wave with Nigerians unable to get petrol for their generators.
But who said it would be a smooth ride to the Promised Land? Our options are clear, we could take this journey that has proven rough, torturous and unpredictable but we must not and cannot give up. The alternative is to remain the way we were and surrender our country and economy to the barons that have always run things.
To make that journey as a preferred option, Dr Kachikwu cannot be allowed to go it alone; he must know and actively see that he has the support of Nigerians. The comments, actions, reactions and everything Nigerians do should send a clear message to oil barons that something has changed and it is that we now want our country to stop operating as world renowned aberration that they had made it. That from here onward we want to see NNPC operate transparently and not the opaque entity whose books no one has ever been able to decipher.
Kahickwu’s unbundling of the monster that the NNPC grew to become is already yielding results as those that once hid in its huge shadows to loot subsidiaries are beginning to keep appointments with anti-graft agencies. The response of those who do not wish the nation well was to organize poorly articulated protests against what Nigerians had been yearning for. When these protests did not work, Nigerians cannot be fooled that easily, the next wave of attack was to drag the minister’s family into national issues. Seeing that even this will fail, they must be scheming another plan to attempt discrediting a man who is doing a good job but even this will fail like previous attempts.
This should be a lesson to discerning barons not to test the will of Nigerians anymore. Instead of mounting the attacks they are directing against Kachikwu, apparently to distract him, they should be able to psyche themselves to the realistic standard of living that legitimate ventures can afford.
If comments that one picks up on the fuel queues are anything to go by, Nigerians recognize that the obstacles to attaining the desired goals in the oil industry are real and they are willing to stick with the minister to make it work. As the obstacles are numerous so also is the joy of reaping the fruits of our collective sacrifice at the Promised Land and we are committed to getting there with Dr Kachikwu leading the way in the sector.
Agbese, a public affairs commentator, wrote in from the United Kingdom.