By Tony Eluemunor
They say if you have a fight in you, don’t waste it on a paper tiger; save it for the dragon.
Unfortunately, the two “messiahs” Nigeria has had, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Muhammadu Buhari, fought paper tigers, leaving the lions, real sabre-tigers, bears, crocodiles, and black mambas to roam freely and continue their unchecked devastation of Nigeria.
Messiahs? I pray that after our two experiences with messiahs, not only self-proclaimed but so tagged by a large proportion of the populace, Nigeria should kill and bury that title. Yes, individuals can save societies, but such individuals are so few and far between that if every nation depends on them, only one or two countries can make real progress at any given time. We have so much focused on leaders and leadership that we have totally failed to notice the dreary followership that has bedevilled administrations in this country.
The result of Nigeria’s dependency on messiahs looms the largest in the petroleum sector. That is natural because Nigeria is a mono-product economy. The way the crude petroleum market goes is exactly the way Nigeria goes. But most importantly, the way the petroleum industry is run is actually the way Nigeria is run: simplicita.
So, it should follow that anti-corruption and reform-minded presidents should banish all opacity from all aspects of the crude petroleum industry. How many barrels of crude oil that we produce daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly should be ironclad, and not be a matter for conjecture. Right? Well, since 1999 (and the administrations of the country’s two messiahs fall with this Godforsaken time frame), Nigeria does not know its exact oil production at any given time.
On April 16, 2021, this tear-inducing news item mocked Nigeria: “We Don’t Know Exact Quantity Of Crude Oil Nigeria Produces — NEITI Boss”. Various versions of the story ran thus: “The Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Extractive Industries (NEITI), Ogbonnaya Orji, has stated that the exact quantity of crude oil produced in the country is unknown. He said this during a courtesy visit to Mansur Liman, director general of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN).
“According to Orji, the lack of information has persisted due to the absence of meters at wellheads and the inability to monitor deep offshore fields. We do not have the capacity to go deep shores to know how much we are producing. As we speak, it is very difficult for any Nigerian to ascertain how much actually we are producing,” he said.
He added: “This is one of the challenges that NEITI is dealing with because if you do not know how much you are producing, how would you know how much you are expected to earn? The companies that go deep shore that are involved in offshore exploration, none of them are indigenous Nigerian companies and they cannot really protect the interest of the country as much as Nigerians can.
“But we must concede to those companies, they are doing a great job here because without them there will be no oil industry.” The NEITI boss said the agency has consistently recommended that meters be placed on oil wellheads to measure the volume of crude oil produced in the country, in all its oil and gas audit reports.
“According to him, efforts to reform the oil sector have not been successful because those who benefit from the outdated law governing the sector are hindering the passage of the petroleum industry bill (PIB).”
Now, here is the part that actually enraged me. This is the part that truly insulted our intelligence as a people: Orji said: “The only law that governs the oil and gas industry in Nigeria currently is the Petroleum Act of 1958. If you use this law in computations of taxes and royalties based on a very old rate, Nigeria loses a lot of revenue. He noted that the country’s failure to update its laws in the sector means when prices go up, the country is unable to derive maximum benefit from the situation.”
The stark facts are these: Nigeria has no meters to enable it to know exactly the number of barrels of oil loaded onto crude petroleum freighters to buyers abroad, on any given day. So, Nigeria simply accepts as concrete facts whatever the oil majors, the producers, tell us that they have produced. Yes, our Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is being busy being big and strong and unnationalistic and paying hefty salaries to its staff.
Yet, who should we blame? The reform-minded late Gen. Murtala Muhammed died after just 200 days in office, two hundred days with immediate effect, in which what some administrations have not achieved in eight years were packed into just 200 days. And the man lived in his own house and drove his own personal car. So, the cost of maintaining a Head of State must have been the lowest under Murtala. May his name endure.
Then in stepped the Obasanjo-era of that Murtala-Obasanjo administration on 13 February 1976, when a beer-loving Lt. Col. Buka Suka Dimka assassinated Murtala. In more than a million instances, Murtala’s successor, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd), has boasted about his remarkable achievements for Nigeria in that gone-by era. So, too, Gen, Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), that era’s Petroleum Minister. Yes, they built some refineries.
Yet, should anyone be wrong to ask why any of them has not built one refinery despite Obasanjo’s eight years in office as civilian President and Buhari’s six out of a possible eight years?
Beyond that, just as Obasanjo was President cum Petroleum Minister, so is Buhari. They had had an uncommon focus on the oil industry from 1976 to 1979, so why did Nigeria not gain any profit from their past experiences? Or put it in another way, why did they insist on being their own Petroleum Ministers, if they had nothing to offer? The real offering, they could ever have given to Nigeria would be to make the oil industry transparent.
And such transparency should begin from Nigeria’s knowing how much oil the country produces at any given moment. And only meters installed at the relevant loading points could ever give the right answers. Yet, those meters were not installed by … our messiahs. Why then did we tag them, and do still tag them, as messiahs?
I know that Orji said that the laws governing the industry were made in 1958. Yes, 1958. Even if a cabal had ensured that no new laws were passed to regulate the oil sector, that should not, in any way, have stopped the purchase and installation of meters in the relevant points.
Just a few weeks ago, I wrote in this column about the efforts of the 1999-2003 House of Representatives under the Speakership of Ghali Umar Na’Abba, over the non-transparency in the oil industry. With the help of documentary evidence, I showed that the members of the House of Representatives of that era were bent on cleaning up the NNPC.
But that was the time Obasanjo was strutting on the stage as President and Nuhu Ribadu was the so-called anti-corruption tsar. Both Obasanjo and Ribadu were praised to high heavens. Mr. Azu Ishiekwene and many others wrote Ribadu-boot-licking books. Others fell over themselves in praising “hurricane Obasanjo” who fought corruption. Anyone who opposed Obasanjo, and for whatever reason, was demonised as terribly corrupt.
The powers that be ensured that in the 2003 election, those members of the House of Representatives that were seen as Obasanjo’s opponents were denied re-election. And Nigerians clapped. Our leading columnists have written millions of scripts eulogising Obasanjo and Ribadu. To them the only people that deserved to be crucified on the anti-corruption gibbet were the state governors such as James Onanefe Ibori, who were not in the “I like master too much” Obasanjo boys camp.
Yet, all the while, nobody knew how many barrels of petrol Nigeria was producing daily. And Obasanjo was the Oil Minister. And that was not, and is not, and may never become, an evidence of ridiculous failure. Remember that Nigeria has remained a mono-product economy. So, if corruption reigns within the garden of the goose that lays the golden egg, how could anybody claim to have fought corruption in Nigeria?
Instead of fighting corruption, Ribadu was playing stark politics and the so-called leading journalists were falling over themselves to pay tribute to him and to acclaim him as though he was an Angel doing a duty tour of Nigeria. And those journalists have not seen it fit to apologise to Nigerians. They were and remain conscience-less bullies who corrupted the minds of the simple Nigerians. They wrote nonsense, launched their useless books, made their money, and were regarded as heroes. But they had simply spewed outright falsehoods.
As though the Obasanjo disaster was not unkind enough, we were informed that another messiah was on his way, and his name: Buhari. Trumpeters mounted their pulpits. Six years later, the most important jobs that Nigeria demands, the metering of the crude petroleum that is loaded into the freighters bound for foreign markets, have still not been installed. And Buhari, just like Obasanjo, has been his own Oil Minister. This becomes more irritating, infuriating and even maddening when we recall that Buhari had actually been an Oil Minister in the mid to late 1970s.
Ensuring that Nigeria gets every kobo from the crude oil that the oil majors lift from Nigeria, should have been the first task for Buhari as he was assuming office as President and Oil Minister. But has he done it? And this is what makes the matter more disappointing. This opaqueness relating to the amount of crude oil that Nigeria produces has been decried before. For instance, the same NEITI cried out on May 14, 2017, over the same accursed issue, “How Nigeria lost N2 trillion to poor metering of oil wells in two years”.
That was four years ago. Buhari was in government then. He is still in power now. And the greatest anti-corruption fight has not taken place. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives of today cannot take the stout and nationalist and independent stand which the 1999-2003 one assumed. Today’s National Assembly sees itself as part of the Executive. Even as Nigeria reels drunkenly under its incapacitating debt load, neither the Executive nor the Legislature has for once thought of lessening the cost of governance and thus loosening the burden on the average citizen. Instead, the government keeps increasing the load on the citizens through tax increases (VAT), petrol pump price, etc. Abuja is re-introducing street parking payment just for the heck of it, because there is money to be made by milking the citizenry the more.
One day, we have to internalise the lessons other people have since learnt; that when you have strengthened a nation’s crucial political and administrative and security institutions, that nation does not need messiahs. A goat could be American president and, yet the US would not falter beyond a certain point.
So, let anyone who is contemplating how to designate anyone as the people’s messiah come 2023, please perish the thought.
Mr Eluemunor a celebrated and highly respected journalist and communications expert can be reached via email@example.com