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Buhari’s quest for patriotic petroleum minister

By Sonny Atumah

President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 took oath of office and oath of allegiance as stipulated by the 1999 Constitution, to signal the commencement of his second term in office. Buhari’s political re-embodiment no doubt has tasked and would continue to sap his sagging energetic and unflagging enthusiasm in politics and governance for the eight year period he has mandate with Nigeria, the covenantee. The authority bestowed on his government by the electoral victory, effectively authorizes it to carry out the policies for which it campaigned i.e. security, anti corruption and the economy.

Buhari
Buhari

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What is up his sleeve as he settles for his final term in office is the guess of every Nigerian that feels he should remove the Baba-go-slow toga in his leadership? As he keeps his cards close to his chest on who makes his cabinet, it ill behooves him to rev his patriotic zeal in his last lap of governance of corporate Nigeria that is in dire straits. President Buhari has one more chance to write his name in gold for posterity otherwise, throw it in the garbage can of history.

President Buhari exercised a span of control as Petroleum Minister in his first term in office. He took up the substantive ministerial portfolio casted doubt whether he got someone with a zealous devotion to love Nigeria’s interests in the petroleum ministry. Buhari’s thought was probably anchored on patriotism. Is Buhari indeed, a patriot? Yes, he is! A patriot is a proud supporter or defender of his or her country, and its way of life.  Was he proud about our way of life? Obviously not! His anti corruption and patriotism crusade coupled with an ailing search prompted his taking up the substantive petroleum ministerial portfolio four years ago.

Don’t blame the President! His office on assumption of duty was awash with complaints that the national oil company was riddled with corruption and needed iron brooms for clean sweep of the corruption rubbish. Some hard critics also hit out at him as a potentate with a pontificate posturing that in six months he found no capable hand as Petroleum Minister. President Buhari’s quest now for a patriotic Minister should equally not be on the premise of loyalty alone. Alexander Pope on patriotism is: He serves me most who serves his country best. That should be the attitude.

In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States:”Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.”

On the first anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States, Tamim Ansary, an author and columnist wrote that the concept of patriotism gets tricky in a democracy, as loyalty to your country does not mean loyalty to any particular ethnic, cultural, or political group, and it must go beyond ‘soil.’ At its core is a set of ideas.

What ideas? Ideas that remind the President that petroleum is the main foreign exchange earner for the country. That it provides the working capital for corporate Nigeria. That the President would not gloss over the issue of our wholly owned refineries those have not been rehabilitated in a quarter of a century and should work. That cumulative effect has afflicted Nigeria with what economists call Dutch Disease.

That in an afflicted economy, a resource boom attracts large inflows of foreign capital, which leads to an appreciation of the local currency and a boost for imports that are comparatively cheaper. That it sucks labour and capital away from other sectors of the economy, such as agriculture and manufacturing, which are very important for growth and competitiveness. That as these labour-intensive export industries flag, unemployment rises and the economy develops an unhealthy dependence on the export of natural resources.

Petroleum would continue to be an instrument of politics, tact and security globally. Our monomaniacal case has left local oil production to foreign drillers only to export crude. Our economy has become highly vulnerable to unpredictable swings in global energy prices and capital flight. Refining ordinarily adds value to petroleum which is the most important commodity nature has provided mankind with as many as 6000 byproducts and derivatives when a barrel of crude is refined.

Rehabilitation now will complement the Dangote refining facility coming on stream in 2020, to guarantee products stability and availability with no import of refined products in years to come. This will indeed, remove subsidy claims. It would also mitigate the pervasive security concerns in our land. The multiplier effect of local refining and ancillary businesses thereof will employ millions of distressed Nigerians, increase the gross domestic product, GDP as well as generate revenue for government. A patriotic Petroleum Minister is needed to harness all these for Nigeria.

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