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Monday, October 2, 2023

Transforming Nigeria’s oil and gas industry on Buhari’s watch

The managerial run of the second term of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration will begin this week with the announcement of portfolios and swearing in of ministers-designate.

Clement Agba
Clement Agba

As important as petroleum, together with its derivatives, is to the Nigerian economy, being the biggest revenue earner to the country, a very competent and untainted hand should be assigned to the Ministry of Petroleum Resources in order to effectively supervise the critical sector.

Putting a round peg in a round hole should be the concern of President Muhammadu Buhari in this regard. Considering the predilection to assign only those with the requisite savoir faire to the petroleum and gas position, the conjecture by Nigerians as to who should be saddled with the responsibility of minister of state for petroleum is as good as mine.

Assuming that Buhari decides to assign to himself the position of substantive minister of petroleum; he will likely consider either Prince Clement Ikanade Agba or Prince Godwin Jeddy-Agba for the position of mister of state. Clement is from Edo State while Goddy is from Cross River State.

A run through the antecedents of both men will validate appropriate recommendations and consideration. However, there is something that appears more unique about Clement Agba and presents him as an ideal petroleum and gas expert, to wit: his about 30 years of solid work experience in and outside of the country with Chevron Nigeria Limited, an appendage of American provenance and a ubiquitous multinational firm, that is into upstream and downstream petroleum and gas operations in Nigeria.

In addition, he had had eight years’ leave-of-absence to serve as Commissioner in Edo state. He comes to all of these jobs with a solid education background as a trained economist, business administrator and also a specialist in some other areas. He attended the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State (B. Sc. Economics); University of Benin (MBA in Business Administration) and another MBA in Supply Chain Management from the American-based Arizona State University, etc.

Although, there are “striking semblances” between the two Agbas-Clement and Godwin – as both have identical surname, royal birth and proficiency in the oil and gas sector, there are more realistic and dispassionate evidence indicating that Clement appears to have the sector under his belt in comparative terms with the other ministers-designate.

If professionalism, competence, resourcefulness, suaveness, energy, industry, accountability, clean records of previous public service, sans controversy and the zone of origin are some of the parameters, since the oil-producing geo-political zone of the South-South is usually given the preference, then Clement Agba fits the bill.

The country needs to achieve increased earnings from petroleum and allied products and services. As a journalist, with about 35 years on the twin-beat of energy (including oil and gas) and environmental reporting, I understand the intricate dynamics of the management of the oil and gas sector.

For instance, “economic recession” is a bitter pill Nigerians will not like to swallow again at this juncture or subsequently. Clement Agba could be the malleable instrument, needed to rejig the Nigeria’s oil and gas strategic sectoral needs, with practicable policies and execution of needed reforms, which key national extractive and global oil and gas institutions, such as NEITI and OPEC, etc. had always prescribed.

As an ally of President Buhari, he should be sounded out about his vision and intended drives to bail the country out from the woods of the mono oil and gas economy and how to reflate the national economy.

Clement Agba is an engaging technocrat who readily captivates with his ideas and proclivity to deliver the common good or dividends.

A great performer and an effective communicator, Clement Agba once dazzled President Buhari during his inauguration of projects in Edo State, one of the things which might have made Buhari to nominate him. As Commissioner in the Ministries of Environment and Public Utilities as well as Lands, Survey and Housing, his was a superlative performance so much so that he set a performance benchmark for successive commissioners.

His hallmarks of creative policy making, managerial and supervisory skills led to public infrastructure delivery, as with his exploits in urban renewal, beautification, flood and erosion control, etc.  He also ensured forestry protection, environmental conservation, effective cost control, revenue generation, procurement, human resource management and strong team building.

This third party endorsement of Clement Agba, a keen environmentalist and Fellow of the Nigerian Environmental Society, as a petroleum minister, is believed would greatly assist in mitigating the obnoxious oil exploration activities, wildlife and ecological spoliation, which have impacted negatively on the environment and livelihood, with attendant restiveness, especially in the oil-producing areas of the Niger Delta region.

Clement Agba would evolve a lasting strategy to recommit the federal government to the cleansing of Ogoniland and other communities of the region that continue to groan under neglects, even though the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Federal Government had instituted a clean-up activity for their cleansing, under HYPRES.

Having passed through the mill of a meticulous Chevron, a multinational that has a strong tradition for incorruptibility and diligence, especially among its management and staff, Clement Agba is bound to bring that to bear in his cabinet position.  In the saddle, he should be easily disposed to a radicalized, painstaking and lasting reformation agenda for the industry through effective regulation strategies like the smooth passage and implementation of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).

In addition, he should be committed to the repairs and functioning of existing refineries in the country and curbing of losses through the needless bottlenecks of crude exportation and importation of refined products.  He is said to subscribe to a liberalized market and the subjection of products’ prices regime to the binary forces of demand and supply-by market fluctuations and not through price fixing.

He is also said to be sold to the idea of bringing more investments to the country’s stressed petroleum and gas industry with the Ease of Doing Business policy. Foreign investments inflow, going by his idea, could only be tenable where both public and private institutions are at their best and government lives up to its billings by creating the enabling environment.

By and large, in the global oil and gas business and products marketing, intricate and ruthless manipulations are the watchwords, where a petroleum minister is supposedly suave, well-equipped and shrewd at negotiating in the interest of his country’s people. Clement Agba, the technocrat and Nigerian “nationalist”, who is known for this in the local and international circles, would be handy to again act out his salient beliefs.

And in the present-day industry, where oil prices tumble and its fortunes dwindle, his international exposures would be helpful, more so that the United States, once the largest buyer of Nigeria’s crude, may reconsider its decision to resume bulk-buying. The Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), is only a downstream oil and gas entity, which, however, largely restricts it to that realm devoid of applying other activities of the upstream operations. Obviously, a Clement Agba as petroleum resources minister would be instrumental to success by bringing his vast expertise in the upstream and downstream sectors in Chevron to bridge the wide gap.

A Clement Agba, with the upstream, midstream and downstream expertise, would form a formidable tag team and “cross-breed” with Mele Kolo Kyari, current boss of NNPC, a governmental corporation that is largely in the downstream, with little or near-absence in the critical upstream sector, for maximum benefits.

A situation where two professionals of NNPC pedigree are at the same time oil minister and NNPC GMD may be counterproductive in a sense that the development may not add new values to the system. It could be likened to two men in the same sitting position who struggle endlessly to put a load on the head.

At the level of South-south politics, the animosity among core oil producing states, which somehow impacts negatively on revenue flow from oil and gas, should be considered as a factor in the choice of a minister of petroleum in whatever capacity. In the circumstance, it would be preferable for a minister-designate from the fringe oil producing state of Edo to attain the position and create a stable balance.

By Tony Erha, energy and environmental journalist, Abuja

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