By Clara Nwachukwu
Some of the operators who spoke with Vanguard exclusively in telephone interviews, expressed dissatisfaction that Nigerians are being taken for granted, as the aspirants are not identifying specific policies that will save the oil-dependent Nigerian economy from doom in the light of current realities of sliding oil prices.
The Managing Director/Chief Executive, Frontier Oil and Gas, Mr. Dada Thomas, said, “I’ve watched and listened to all the campaigns by the presidential aspirants in the different regions, and I’ve not seen or heard any issue based campaign from any of them.”
He added that such a development “…is a shame because what the private sector operators and Nigerians want to hear are: what are the issue, problems and challenges; what are the solutions and what we are going to do from level 1 to level 2; and what is the time bound for effecting these solutions?
“But they are not saying anything, and are busy attacking their personalities. Is this what Nigerians want to hear, or the aspirants saying that Nigerians do not understand the issues affecting their daily lives?”
While acknowledging that the election campaigns are not issue based, the President, Nigerian Association of Petroleum Explorationists, NAPE, Mr. Chikwe Edoziem, noted that the aspirants are playing safe by concentrating more on common place issues that will appeal to the electorates.
According to him, “Nobody is making any economic comments or in deed any comment on the industry (oil and gas), which is the bedrock of the economy in the light of global developments. Rather, they talk about roads and other basic infrastructures which is taken for granted in other climes that the common man can relate to.”
Edoziem, whose association is responsible for exploring and producing the oil, however, blamed the trend on lack of understanding, saying, “They, (aspirants) are not saying anything possibly because none of them is well grounded on economic operations, and may want to stick to what they know.”
All the operators who spoke with Vanguard were unanimous in their opinions that there have been no significant economic breakthroughs, particularly in the oil sector in the outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration.
In his assessment, Edoziem said, “The economy has been stable under the present administration; it is not going up, neither is it going down.”
He added that this is so because Nigerian governments do not make long term plans, but only concentrate on short term measures like five-year plans as opposed to 20 to 30 year plans as obtained in other economies.
Specifically, respondents identified the non-passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, as a big minus for the administration, which has stayed up to six of the 12 years the bill has been in the National Assembly.
In this regard, Professor Joe Nwachukwu, an erudite geologist at the Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU, Ile-Ife, put the blame squarely on the members of the National Assembly.
As far as he is concerned, “There is nothing that any of the presidential contenders can say now in the light of falling oil prices because they are not in control of the global market.
“But if the National Assembly had passed the PIB earlier during all the years it has been there, Nigeria would have been able to withstand the current oil price shocks. So the legislators have failed Nigerians and should explain to Nigerian why they have not passed the bill, which would have offered them some palliatives in the current realities.”
But Edoziem argued that the issue is not so much about passing the bill alone, but in what form the bill is passed.
He said, “The bill must be passed in such a way that it is a win-win situation for all. While offering government more in take home from oil and gas, it should also offer something for the operators.”
He further noted that the PIB had been stalled at the National Assembly for so long because, “There has been no total alignment between the government and the industry operators concerning issues contained in the bill.”
As a result, both Nwachukwu and Thomas are sceptical about recent promises by the Senate President, David Mark, to, “speedily pass the PIB, before the end of this legislative session.
For Thomas, who described the PIB as “a very important piece of legislation, which could have transformed the economy in general, also argued that, “Experience has shown that it is not possible to fast track legislative decision on a bill, especially one that has been a big problem for so long.”
Expectations from incoming government
While there may not have been super economic breakthroughs under the present administration, the President, Society for Petroleum Engineers, SPE, Nigerian Council, Mr. Emeka Ene, identified the Local Content Act as the biggest plus for the Jonathan administration.
To this end, Ene, who is also the outgoing Chairman of the Petroleum Technology Association of Nigeria, PETAN, expects the incoming administration to consolidate on the gains of the content law to build indigenous expertise in-country.
According to him, the little economic palliative Nigeria has had from the current oil price slide is as a result of the fact indigenous service companies are now domesticating technology services, hitherto, the preserve of foreign companies.
He argued, “There is the often over-looked fact that Nigerians are now exporting their services internationally, and have been able to demonstrate capacity in countries like Yemen, United Arab Emirates, India, Ghana, Congo and a host of others.”
As such, he argued that Nigerian companies, by way of deliberate policy pronouncement should be given priorities in oil and gas projects, adding that indigenous companies should also be given opportunities to access the Local Content Fund, in order to expand their capacities, while also offering economic value.
Thomas on his part, prayed that politicians will deepen the economic discourse to let Nigerians know what they perceive as the problems, what solutions they are offering and the time frame to realise them.