June 3, 2023

How Tinubu can escape Buhari’s first booby trap

How Tinubu can escape Buhari’s first booby trap

By Emmanuel Aziken

It’s an irony that the fortunes of the Nigerian petroleum industry were at the worst under the longest serving minister of petroleum in the country’s history, Muhammadu Buhari.

Even more astounding is the fact that the last eight-year spell was not Buhari’s first time as minister of petroleum, having occupied that portfolio during the Olusegun Obasanjo military administration.

However, experience appeared to mean nothing as all critical indicators nosedived in the last eight years of Buhari as minister of petroleum and president of the country.

At a time when many producing countries were smiling to the bank following spinoffs from the Ukraine-Russia war, Nigeria, which at one time used to cry for increased production quota could not meet its 1.8 million bpd quota.

Indeed, Nigeria achieved its maximum production level of 2.486 million bpd in November 2005 during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration. The country, however, reached its lowest level at 1.015 million bpd in September, 2022 more than seven years into Buhari’s stint as president and minister of petroleum.

In 2015, the year Buhari took over, average production was 2.199 million bpd and the following year it decreased to 1.898 million bpd reaching a low of 1.015 million bpd in September 2022.

It has also been suggested that it fell below a million bpd at some point before Buhari’s hurried exit last month.

In the downstream sector it was no better as for the eight years, Buhari was minister he could not bring any of the four refineries to life allowing a system of importation of products that in itself bred corruption and depleted the country’s foreign exchange reserves.

While some would say it is superfluous to cry over spilled milk given that Buhari has gone, however, issues arising from his indecisions have turned into a booby trap for the successor foisted on him by fate.

The former president laid many booby traps for his successor among which were the embers of disunity he fanned, a bad economy, insecurity among others. However, the first booby trap that has snapped against President Tinubu is Buhari’s indecision on the issues of petroleum product pricing.

Despite singing the Petroleum Industry Act into law in 2021, the former president and minister of petroleum refused to implement the letters of the law as it pertained to the deregulation of the downstream market.

Days after Buhari left office, the Group Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited, NNPCL, Mele Kyari disclosed that the Buhari government did not pay the company the amount set aside for subsidy since last year.

Indeed, the first indication of the booby trap was when the Buhari government disclosed that it made provision for subsidy till June 2023. Pray, which government would with the desire of the good of the successor put such a new government in such a difficult situation of taking fundamental decisions on subsidy, which itself was not able to take in eight years.

As at Friday afternoon leaders of the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC were locked in a meeting in Abuja on how they would confront the government on President Tinubu’s unadvised Inauguration Day declaration that subsidy is gone.

Of course, the subsidy drama is not new. From the time in 2012 when Tinubu, Buhari, and others now in government waged a war against the removal of subsidy the same arguments have been rehearsed with none bold enough to tackle the fundamentals.

In 2012 Tinubu opposed the removal of subsidy merely because it was conceived by President Goodluck Jonathan.

Buhari in 2015 even declared that there was nothing like subsidy but his government went ahead to effect the highest subsidy payments in the nation’s history.

It is, however, saddening that the fundamental issue of local production which ordinarily should have been the top priority of the former regime was buried as the government encouraged a nebulous system of importation that drained the foreign exchange reserves of the country.

It was even odious that Buhari turned around to celebrate himself and Alhaji Aliko Dangote who within six years was able to construct a brand-new refinery when he was unable to manage refineries bequeathed to him by the citizenry.

Whatever is the opinion anyone may have on the way and manner President Tinubu came to power it is our responsibility to help him navigate the dangerous mines and booby traps Buhari has laid for him, at least for our collective good.

Organised Labour and the private sector need to be realistic in responding to the issues at hand because as we all know, petroleum is indeed an inflammable commodity that can not just combust physically, but can also tear down the fabrics of our nation.

It is a collective price we must pay to escape the booby trap that Buhari left aside while he waited to see his dentist in London in the last days of his better forgotten administration.