Vanguard News Nigeria

The Nigerian crude, media and agenda 2019

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By Sony Atumah

Politicking gets a kick start with the All Progressives Congress, APC organising a national convention this weekend to elect its national officers to midwife its campaigns. Other political parties would follow soonest. Scores of political parties and many politicos are jumping into the murky waters of 2019 electioneering that would be greatly influenced by critical national issues. The beauty of democracy is that it is determined by the majority. In essence, democracy is majority rule. In the Speech delivered by former United States Presisident, Jimmy Carter to the Indian Parliament on the 2nd of June 1978 he said that: “Democracy is like the experience of life itself—always changing, infinite in its variety, sometimes turbulent and all the more valuable for having been tested for adversity.” President Carter cannot be further from the truth as emergent aspirants and candidates mount the soapboxes in what would be expensive national campaigns.

Election campaigns as ingredients of democracy are more of political communication that involves the mass media. Is the mass media taking its rightful place of setting agenda in this year’s campaign?  The journalist’s roles in influencing the salience of attitudes towards political issues are germane for development. He should grab it for agenda setting effects which are relevant with regard to policy making rather than stereotyping and being used as public relations worker. The mass media as major sources of political information for voters should shape public opinion by bringing issues to the forefront of reporting. The time has come to tinker with policies, ordinarily designed to jumpstart an economy that appears to be ailing.

What are those issues that need to be addressed in the coming dispensation? The Nigerian crude and how best it can be managed for the betterment of Nigeria is worth bringing to the fore of national discourse in this electioneering.  We belong to a cartel (OPEC) an oil dependent group where the sale of crude is not to Nigeria’s advantage. Early this week there were reports of Nigerian crude in the glutted markets with no buyers. It quoted Platts survey of tenders for July loadings with Nigeria sitting on between 20 and 30 million barrels of unsold crude. It is surprising to watchers that this could happen in a season of global price rallies.  Many factors could be responsible in the volatile, roller coaster business of crude oil. Some have attributed it to the geopolitical tensions between the United States and China trade dispute over tariffs.

What would make the spread between Brent and the West Texas Intermediate, WTI wide enough to make WTI more attractive than the two Nigerian highest  grades (Akpo and Agbami)to warrant their being discounted and selling for the lowest prices in the international market by opportunistic refiners. No doubt at about this time it does happen in the Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp, the biggest global crude oil trading hub where inventories could be that high until we enter the third quarter, Q3. What would the politician do when the signals are there? It happened in 2015 that we had our crude floating in the ARA.

Rising crude prices lead to disruptions as happened in the last one year that forced government to reintroduce fuel subsidies. It does weaken the Naira against the dollar, which raises petroleum products prices further. Again, why have successive governments not been able to address our local refining question?  Appropriate pricing of petroleum products and investments in the industry are to be addressed in this electioneering. Other issues are subsidy that is becoming a burden to successive administrations, commercialisation and privatisation of our refineries, and legal and regulatory frameworks in the industry. How to tackle the security of oil facilities as critical national infrastructures, host communities issues, and crude oil theft that has been greatly addressed, but need to be  sustained is an issue. Others are the excess crude account, who the minister of petroleum should be and the Niger Delta question.

All these issues should now be brought to fore for the incumbent government to give reasons why it could not tackle them and what it could do different if given another opportunity. Rival political parties could be asked to address these thorny issues that have hindered our development. The mass media should be alive to its responsibility to ask all politicians mounting soapboxes on the electoral process may not be complete without the mass media. Section 22 of the 1999 Nigerian constitution as amended gives vent to the agenda setting role of the media. The constitution in the Obligations of the mass media: “The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.”

Nigeria has got to the level where campaigns should be conceptual and issues based.  Again, timelines on how to tackle problems in the petroleum sector should be demanded from politicians if we must make progress. The era of VOTE FOR ME FOR PROSPERITY without asking how should be a thing of the past. Nigeria must get it right in 2019.

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