We should go beyond this uproar over Rilwanu Lukman’s recent appointment as petroleum minister, which is, in my view, diversionary.
Before I go into the substantive issues that I believe should engage us Nigerians at this moment, let me say, by the way, that I see nothing wrong with this appointment: We should allow President Umaru Yar’Adua choose whomsoever he believes will help him deliver on his campaign promises. We need to pull back a little from constantly second-guessing Mr. Yar’Adua, as if he is some kind of nincompoop.
Why do I see nothing wrong with Lukman’s appointment? Despite everything done to move Nigeria away from its sole dependence on oil, our country has unfortunately not developed alternative source of income for her development. Therefore we continue to watch closely not only the security of mining and selling crude, but also the politics of negotiating sufficient quantity to sell at the international market.
No petroleum minister is going to re-invent the wheel on how to produce and market crude oil. Where the challenges are, for Nigeria, are how to ensure that the Niger Delta is secure and peaceful, oil companies meet their full tax obligations, continue to deal honestly with Nigeria on joint ventures and production sharing contracts, and our country gets her due from OPEC quota negotiations. The first two – Niger Delta and Tax – are not primary responsibilities of a petroleum minister. On the last two, Nigeria needs a steady, old, experienced hand to keep an eagle eye on our JVs and PSCs, as well as continue to negotiate the vital quotas at OPEC conferences, a ritual that has become the cornerstone of our mono-crop economic development.
On the relevant issues, no other Nigerian comes close to the local and international experiences that Dr. Lukman brings forward – as former OPEC Secretary General (and president of OPEC Conference for eight consecutive terms), Federal Minister with experience spanning three portfolios (Mines, Power and Steel, Petroleum Resources, and Foreign Affairs), Presidential Adviser on Petroleum and Energy, Chief Executive of Nigerian Mining Corporation, chairman Boards of old NNPC and old NEPA, and current chairman of a leading independent exploration and production company. He is also academically qualified, with degrees in mining engineering, mining economics, a doctoral degree in chemical engineering.
It is hard to find another Nigerian with this breath of professional experience in the industry! Therefore, if a Nigerian President does not appoint Rilwanu Lukman as a minister or special adviser, such a president would nevertheless seek his private counsel on critical issues in that sector. It is therefore up to incoming presidents to decide how Lukman can best serve the nation.
The controversy over the current appointment of Lukman as petroleum minister is, in my view, unnecessary. My position is that we should rather look beyond petroleum, and begin to ponder what will happen to Nigeria after the last drop of oil is lifted and sold.
I identify three issues that the country needs to urgently discuss and take action on within the two to six years that is left for President Yar’Adua at Aso Rock.
First, we need to reposition our domestic production priorities, taking a cue from what western world leaders are saying about their “addiction” to our oil. The world faces its current energy challenge from the development of other sources of energy, and from protection of the environment. From Downing Street to Pennsylvania Avenue, the new policy talk is about developing alternative energy sources through solar power, biofuel, wind energy, and clean coal.If these leaders jumpstart the development of alternative energy sources, the struggles of the Niger Delta and the desperation of Nigerian politicians to come to power would suddenly be in vain – because the value of the black gold would plummet.
We need to move towards renewable energy sources. I am therefore not concerned about the current portfolio of Rilwanu Lukman. I am intrigued as to who the President is appointing to advisory or ministerial position on New Energy.
Is this the schedule that Diezani Allison-Madueke is also handling, or shall we wait for another?
Second, we need to seriously consider developing our industry and technology to boost local wealth. The world has moved towards the creation of new wealth through Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and we are not making much progress in this direction either. The richest nations and individuals in the world today come from countries that research, develop, produce and sell ICT.
Therefore I am not concerned about Rilwanu Lukman at the Petroleum Ministry. I am rather intrigued as to who the President is appointing to advisory or ministerial position on ICT.
Is this the schedule that Dora Akunyili is also handling, or shall we wait for another?
Third, most countries depend the most on taxation of their citizens (individual and corporate) to fund infrastructure and socio-economic development. Thus far, we have failed to use tax as an alternative and sustainable source of public financing. Despite the frenzy of reforms at the federal level, Nigerian citizens and businesses are yet to experience relief from an oppressive tax regime empowered by law to tax business capital and impose arbitrary assessments. The reforms offer a vista through which Nigeria could join progressive nations to develop this important revenue source. But even these reforms and the laws they spun have not succeeded in extricating the tax authority from the Ministry of Finance.
I am not concerned about Rilwanu Lukman as such. I am intrigued as to who the President is appointing to advisory or ministerial position on Taxation.
Does Dr. Mansur Mukhtar bring to the position, the relevant academic, professional, and political experience to make taxation serve the socio-economic development needs of the nation, even as it encourages citizens to vote for voluntary compliance?
These are vital issues of the moment which go beyond petroleum, and beyond who was appointed as minister of petroleum.
I would suggest that, if we must heckle the president, we push him to privatize the industry, abolish NNPC and the Ministry, pull out of OPEC, and put in their place a new Ministry that conceives and creates the required energy matrix that stimulates industrial and technological development, even as it renews our environment.
Beyond Rilwanu Lukman’s Appointment