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STRAIGHT TALK: THE OIL SECTOR REFORMS

By NBF News
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By Timeyin Ejoor
The attempted removal of fuel subsidy by the Federal Government last January and the attendant crisis it engendered may be a blessing after all. It has kick-started much activities in the petroleum sector lately and everyone has girded their loins to prove us wrong that Nigerians can expect better things from that all important sector of our beleaguered economy.

When Petroleum Minister, Deziani Allison-Madueke, shortly after the petroleum subsidy imbroglio, invited the EFCC to probe the activities of her ministry and parastatals, many took the move with mixed feelings. But when she went ahead to set up committees to overhaul the entire industry despite the criticisms that followed the move, everyone began to believe she may honestly have noble intentions and eager aspirations to clear the Aegean stable. The composition of the various committees set up is commendable and indicates a desire to put things right.

The terms of reference, if properly carried out, are such that you need to ensure transparency and probity. For instance, one of the committees has the enthronement of corporate governance principle and best practices in all the parastatals under the ministry as part of its terms of reference.

I dare say there may be hope for a sector which many believe is almost beyond redemption. Good corporate governance is one culture that is completely alien to the Nigerian public service. The minister seems to be working assiduously and quite rightly so to ensure that years of malpractice, decadence and unwholesomeness that have crippled the sector, are addressed and redressed without much delay.

At the inauguration ceremony of the Special Task Force to revive our four ailing refineries last week, the Minister gave the task force, headed by renowned economist, Dr. Idika Kalu, a 60-day window within which it must ensure that our refineries are put back on track.

I was particularly startled by the short period given to the committee within which it must achieve this Herculean task, given the current state of the refineries and several interests which continuously make them work far below installed capacity.

It looked like a tall order, but I have since come to terms with the fact that it can be done, if the desire is there and the right atmosphere exists. A success of the exercise would be a huge boost and a reference point for the Federal Government's much touted Transformation Agenda.

It would mean we would no longer spend huge foreign exchange on petroleum products importation. It would mean the smaller allied petrochemical industries would come back on stream and create more job opportunities. Are these not the kind of initiatives we have been advocating for? In the light of these, I think the minister and the committees need all our encouragement to succeed. If they do, it would serve us all better.

Paradoxically, I have read not a few criticisms of the minister setting up several committees which they claim are not only duplicitous but run contrary to the operations of NEIFTI. I find this argument rather lame. I don't know what the objectives of the critics are but I never support criticism for its sake.

Each step she takes seems to only generate negative comments from certain quarters. All the damning allegations against her are yet unproven. If the minister is trying to introduce best global practices which will result in transparency and good corporate governance in a sector for which such concepts are alien, I think we should encourage her and offer suggestions that would make the job of the committees easier.

It would be to our collective good if, for instance, the Idika Kalu committee can ensure that our refineries are working within the time frame given. For me, I would liken it to a miracle given the Nigerian factor and the several beneficiaries of fuel importation who would rather we continue to import.

The government would be able to save a colossal amount in foreign exchange from such efforts. I am surprised that the CBN has since not identified the huge amount spent on fuel importation as one major factor putting pressure on the naira.

The CBN governor in fact said categorically during the labour strike that the refineries cannot work hence we must continue to import petroleum products. So, if the Minister in charge is now putting things in place to ensure the contrary, I am more than happy to support such initiative. It is noted that since the subsidy probe by the House and the ongoing reforms, the naira has enjoyed some stability at the foreign exchange market.

Of equal importance is the task force on revenue accruable to government from petroleum resources headed by former EFCC chairman, Nuhu Ribadu.

This committee, no doubt, has its hands full and only a dogged team such as the one in place can achieve meaningful result.

It has to dig deep into a rot orchestrated over the years. I had written severally on the need for government to plug the leakages in the system rather than seek funds from unnecessary sources which adds to the debt burden. It is a known fact that no fewer than 150,000 barrels of crude oil is stolen out of Nigeria daily.

With current prices at about $103pb in the international market, this translates to outrageous revenue loss of $1.56m per day. The situation has often been blamed on the activities of Niger Delta militants.

However, available facts, according to WikiLeaks, indicate that less 15 per cent of the oil theft is committed by the militants. The larger percentage is allegedly the handiwork of top politicians and the military.

This is one of the challenges before the Ribadu led committee and will need to unmask those Nigerians and their foreign collaborators whose activities not only deny the nation of its due resources but also impact negatively on the environment. This is just a peep into the whole part as the committee is bound to unravel several other unwholesome practices in this very vital sector of our economy.

I implore Nigerians who have vital information on some of these activities to provide same to the committee and let us wait patiently for the result. Fortunately the committee, just like others, is constituted by people who have a reputation and integrity to protect.

Ribadu, Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Pastor Ituah Ighodalo and others who have proven their worth over time can not afford to compromise. Those vilifying Ribadu for taking up the challenge, particularly the opposition Action Congress, should hold their heads high that their presidential candidate is considered among the few credible Nigerians to carry out such timely national assignment.

The goal to make Nigeria a better place should transcend political lines and petty parochial considerations. Rather than criticise the minister or members of the various task forces and committees, pressure should be made to bear on them to ensure that the objectives are achieved. Particularly Ribadu who has to prove that he is not only good at hounding politicians but quite adept at bringing economic saboteurs to book.