Buhari May Keep Petroleum Portfolio For Himself – Olusegun Adeniyi

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Former Presidential Spokesman Olusegun Adeniyi seemed to posit in his This day Column that President Buhari won’t appoint a Minister Of Petroleum but instead would keep the portfolio to himself as Obasanjo did, Adeniyi is normally always accurate and his sources informed so i’m inclined to believe him. So is this the right decision or is it better to appoint a Minister, cc lalasticlala

Whether it is the downstream sector or the upstream sector of the Nigerian oil and gas industry that you want to examine, what you see is nothing but doom and gloom. And the evidence is there right on the streets where petrol is now being sold at scandalous prices and in the number of hours Nigerians who would not patronise black market spend at fuel stations. Very soon, the people will also begin to feel the pinch in their pockets, assuming many are not already doing that. So we can safely conclude that for our country, the “years of plenty” are over without having had a “dreaming Joseph” to prepare us for the “lean years” that now lie ahead.

What complicates the situation is that we are in a period of transition with no certainty as to the direction the next administration will take on critical issues. That perhaps explains why many Nigerians are waiting for the president-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, to make his first critical appointments which could then serve as a window to peep into how he would lead the country. And if there is any appointment that stakeholders in the oil and gas industry are waiting for, it is that of the Petroleum Minister.

I understand Buhari may play the Obasanjo card by retaining the Petroleum Ministry portfolio in which case he would only appoint a minister of state and a special adviser. I do not think that would be the best approach for the sector, especially at such a critical period like this. Buhari should not imagine he is the only honest man in town for a sector that needs a hands-on professional to deal with serious issues. That, however, does not suggest that Buhari should take a cue from President Goodluck Jonathan who has, for the last five years, imposed on the Petroleum Ministry a Sole Administrator!

The challenge within the sector is enormous with several idle depots around the country because of the limited use of the pipelines due to vandalization; a plethora of largely ineffective regulatory bodies (DPR, NOSDRA, PPPRA, PEF etc.) and a regime of over-regulation that sees government controlling supply, margins, transportation rates etc. There is also an absence of a level-playing field; inadequate investment due to the regulatory environment and the waste called local refineries that keep gulping billions of Naira annually in the name of Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) despite performing at sub-optimal level.

Whichever direction Buhari eventually goes, what is not in doubt is that the petroleum sector is one area where he would have to make what would be his first major calls. And one that is already waiting for him is the issue of fuel subsidy.

All factors considered, it is going to be a tough call, especially given recent experiences. I recall that early in 2009, as a presidential spokesman, I decided to publicly intervene on the issue, based on my experience in government and the information I was privileged to have at the time. I wrote a piece titled “Deregulation: If Not Now, When?” and syndicated it for publication on Sunday 8th March 2009, in virtually all the newspapers in Nigeria. Not surprisingly, many people attacked my position which was interpreted to mean that I was no longer “with the masses” even when some government officials did not exactly like what I wrote.

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