Following the release of Nigeria’s ministerial list to the Senate, President Muhammadu Buhari has appointed himself as the Minister of Petroleum, with the assistance of a junior minister who will be in charge of day-to-day affairs. This role places him in charge of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
Buhari’s past experience with the oil sector, may be tied to the reason for his decision. He served as Federal Commissioner for Petroleum and Natural Resources from 1976 to 1978, under then Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo. Also, when the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was inaugurated in 1977, he was appointed Chairman.
However, there are a few reasons why Buhari may not yield much difference in the oil sector:
Buhari is not the first president to become Minister of Petroleum. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo during his tenure from 1999 to 2007 was Minister of Petroleum. However, the sector did not enjoy transparency at the time. According to ex-Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, the sector was cloaked in secrecy and it did not help with accountability and transparency in the oil and gas industry. “There was a time we were handed with a Ghana-must-go memo on the oil and gas and asked by the president for our input and I refused to support it”, says Atiku. According to him, Obasanjo took decisions to benefit himself. For instance, in 2005, he allocated four oil blocs, OPL 218, 219, 209 and 220 to Transcorp Hilton, a company where he had major shares, an action he couldn’t have taken if he didn’t have the capacity to run both offices simultaneously.
The real problem is the NNPC
Buhari has stated in the past that his desire is to ensure the clean-up of the sector as well as NNPC. While that is commendable, will he be able to sustain the drive to clean-up the petroleum sector, even with the appointment of a junior minister? In 2012, in a report, the Nuhu Ribadu-led Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force (PRSTF) showed that the NNPC could be using huge oil revenues for illicit purposes. The 178-page report revealed that the corporation was being used as a front for illegal dealings within Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA’s) as well as the Presidency. The report suggests a clean-up within the system is impossible, due to the secretive nature through which the corporation runs its procedures. With Buhari heading the corporation however, how can the Nigerian populace be sure that his clean-up will be transparent?
It underscores Nigeria’s neglect of other sectors
In appointing himself Minister of Petroleum, President Buhari does not necessarily emphasize diversification, which is critical for Nigeria’s economy. Nigeria generates about 70 percent of its revenue from oil. It is critical that Buhari’s administration implements policies which develop other sectors such as agriculture, energy, transportation, mining and steel, as they are critical to addressing critical issues in the economy. This in turn, will create employment and open up a wider market for investments and growth for Nigeria’s economy.