From OLUSEYE OJO, Ibadan
FORMER Minister of Petroleum and Energy, Professor Tam David-West is not happy about the increase in the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) otherwise called petrol in Nigeria. He is particularly miffed by the latest increase from N86.50 kobo to N145 per litre by the Muhammadu Buhari administration, describing it as unjustified and nonsense. In this interview, he offers suggestions on how the pump price of PMS can be reduced from N145 per litre to N40, saying if this is done, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari would have made the Nigerian masses happy.
David-West also assesses the present administration in the last one year, expressing unhappiness with the course of governance. He warns Buhari to be wary of ministers sponsored by businessmen.
You were one of those who made a case for Muhammadu Buhari to be elected President. Why did you do that?
Well, let me start by saying I am forced to grant this interview. I have a time that I want to talk big. I have been waiting to see things well before I speak on the present situation. I want to say for my own respect or courtesy, but my honour is also involved, I must protect my honour. To me, my honour supersedes everything.
I supported Buhari and I have not regretted supporting him; not that I am completely happy with what has happened since. I am not completely happy but nobody is 100 per cent happy all the time. It may be quite philosophical. One singular thing that made me support Buhari is because he’s a man of impeccable integrity.
I am happy that I have been vindicated. Recently, when he was in London, you would remember the Prime Minister, David Cameron, in a private conversation with the Queen, which was unfortunately recorded. It has never been done before. He said Nigeria and Nigerians are “fantastically corrupt.” It’s a very unfortunate gaffe. But it is true, whether it is fantastical or not, we are corrupt. There is no question about that.
Why I said I was vindicated; I believe philosophically that everything in the world has a good part and the bad part of it. It’s good he (David Cameron) made that great gaffe in retrospect because he who came to the aid of Buhari, was no less than the Archbishop of Canterbury, who interjected and said, ‘Yes, Nigeria is corrupt, but this man (Buhari) is not corrupt.’ What the Archbishop said was more than what one million Nigerians would say about Buhari’s integrity. He is a man of integrity and I have worked with him very closely. I am very close to him and we did a lot of stuffs together.
So, I supported him and I am still supporting him because of his integrity. I am not saying in terms of governance, everything is right. No. If Buhari is described as a man of integrity in a situation where corruption is a style, it is a great credential. As he said, if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria. I did not only support him verbally, I wrote articles, granted interviews and I took advertisements to support him. If I discovered that what I wrote about him can be edited, if they have right to do so, I paid about N600,000 a page for the advertisement to get my voice heard. But I am being vindicated by the primaries and elections that produced Buhari.
People still say they voted for Buhari, not APC. So, APC gained because of Buhari, not that Buhari gained because of APC. APC is an umbrella. I am one of the people he graciously asked to be in the merger committee to form the APC. There’re great men there; people like Bola Tinubu and a lot of other great men.
But when it comes to the crunch of the election, I knew a lot of details of what went on. Some people are claiming today that they made Buhari President. They are talking nonsense. Nobody can say I made Buhari President as Rotimi Amaechi once claimed in a church in Port Harcourt. When I heard what he said, I asked people to tell him he did not make Buhari the President. Amaechi did not make Buhari President. Tinubu didn’t make Buhari President. Nigerians made Buhari President. It is as simple as that. Nigerians made Buhari President, not because of APC, but because of himself (Buhari).
I have gone into long history of corruption. Once, Nigerians have identified somebody that they can beat their chest and say: this man is not corrupt. That is Buhari. So, I have been vindicated by the Archbishop of Canterbury few days ago. So, anyone that says he made Buhari President is talking nonsense.
I have been writing articles upon articles on Buhari. Finally, I ended up publishing two books on Buhari: “Who is General Muhammadu Buhari?” and then “Sixteen ‘Sins’ of Buhari?” The books were launched at the Nigerian Institute for International Affairs (NIIA) Lagos, Kaduna and Port Harcourt. I made a lot of money. I announced at NIIA that whatever I get from the book, after I had taken my capital, I would invest 50 per cent in Buhari Project and I did. I won’t tell you how many millions, but I did. I have a letter of ‘thank you’ from him.
I said earlier that APC gained because of Buhari, not that Buhari gained because of APC. It is a very profound statement. That is a fact that can be proved.
With President Buhari’s performance in his one year in office, were you happy campaigning for his presidency?
I don’t regret ever campaigning for him. At a time, I said if my father was contesting against Buhari for presidency, I would tell my father, you are a banker, go and take care of money. I would vote for Buhari, not you. I still stand by that conviction.
Am I regretting? No, I don’t regret. I feel proud of him as a friend. I feel proud of him because as a man of integrity, he has not changed. The assessment that made me support him is very constant and unique. Buhari is as straight as a needle, like himself. I have not changed my mind about his integrity.
Am I happy with everything that is going on? No, I am not happy with everything that is going on in the course of governance. Some of the things that are happening are not because of Buhari. It is because of some easy people, who have tried to derail him. And he has to be stopped from being derailed; that is my duty and other people that support Buhari.
The press have been phoning me to make statement on the situation in the country. I said if I make formal statement, I would be misunderstood. I was not minister of state. I was a full minister. In fact, Buhari made me a more powerful minister than any other minister in Nigeria. I was minister of petroleum and energy. I was the chairman of NNPC Board of Directors. He made me chief executive of NNPC.
He made an open statement in Port Harcourt, which was reported by ‘The Sun’ and I am quoting him verbatim: ‘Service to our country brought Tam and I together. The ideal we have for life – morality, made us friends.’ Buhari trusts my integrity. The people that are trying to derail him must be stopped from derailing him.
I will meet him and after that I will call a big press conference and do writings on why they are trying to derail him. This is not the time yet. I am not even sure if some of the people working with him want him to succeed. I have this strong feeling that some of them have split interests.
On May 29, this present administration will clock one year in office. So, how would you assess Buhari’s one year?
I have been a teacher all my life and I like scoring people. My students know that I don’t give marks frivolously. I am very strict with marks to the extent that somebody who was doing his Master’s under me left when he was told that he would not get enough mark because I was strict.
Now, how do I score him? Let me use the university grading system. I have been a professor since 1975. We grade on A,B,C. A stands for Excellent, B stands for Very Good, C stands for More than Average or Pass.
So, on that scale, If I do grade him, will I grade the one year as A? No, I will not. Will I grade it as B? I will not easily say B; it is going to be B-, which is C+.
What does your assessment translate to for a common man on the street?
To a common man on the street, it means that things are not going as I expected. If the common man is happy today, then the assessment will be A. Today, is the common man on the street happy? So, if Buhari is not scoring A because of the cause of common man, some people around him have made that possible. Government exists for the people. People are suffering.
When we are talking about people, we are not talking about millionaires, we are talking about the man on the street such as poor people. Any government that makes the poor people happy is a good government. Any government that makes the masses unhappy should be very careful. A government should give greater happiness to the greater majority. Based on that I will not say A.
Still on the assessment, on what percentage will you place the administration in the last one year?
A starts from 90. B starts from 80. C starts at about 60 or so. If I say overall, I will say B-, which is 70 or thereabout. But when you are assessing government, some people make mistakes that other people make saying one university is better than the other. Universities have faculties. A particular faculty in the university may be better than another one.
For instance, about 15 years ago, University of Leicester in London beat Oxford and Cambridge to second and third place. You know Oxford and Cambridge are topmost universities.
Why was the overall governance given B-? But there are areas we are giving A. In the area of anti-corruption, I will give him solid A without thinking about it. On management of petroleum industry in the country, it is C. But until I see him (Buhari), I will not make any critique of the management of the oil industry.
Buhari should be very conscious of ministers who are sponsored by people. They are businessmen; businessmen in control of oil business. When they get there, they will have split loyalty.
Since Buhari became President, have you ever held meetings where you could give some advice?
Since he became President, we have had one-on-one meeting at least two times. Until my next meeting with him, I will not make a formal statement. But we have met one-on-one; nobody else and that was last year. On some of the things we discussed, some are personal, some confidential. But what I gathered from those meetings was that he still has his focus. I left him believing that no amount of pressure will derail him.
Last week, the pump price of petrol was increased. Did you have pre-knowledge of this or were you consulted on it?
I have no pre-knowledge of it and I am not sure if Buhari had pre-knowledge of it. I will not say more than that now. He was not in the country. I don’t have to be consulted.
But what happened, I don’t support it. Petrol price hike is illogical. All the reasons they are giving, to me, are vacuous. Buhari knows better and I learnt a lot from him when I was the oil minister, because of his experience; he was there before me.
What they have done is so simple that I don’t like it. I have been convinced over the years and my positions can be justified with what Buhari has said before. What they are doing is embarrassing to him. Buhari has said it repeatedly that there is no subsidy. I stand by him that there is no subsidy as such. If you come out to say you have removed subsidy, will you remove what does not exist? This is a very difficult position, but because of my honour, I must speak out. Kachikwu, for instance, I don’t know him and I have never met him before; he is brilliant from his Curriculum Vitae. I respect him for his CV. He has got a very beautiful CV. But sometimes, he says things that are, to me, outrageous.
Buhari has said there is no subsidy. I said there is no subsidy. Even the current crisis, the Vice President said what they have done is not subsidy, but forex. Minister of State for Petroleum said it is subsidy removal, even the national chairman of APC said it is subsidy removal. These two positions are contrary to what Buhari has said over the years, even before he became President. Are you helping him? No, you are embarrassing him.
Kachikwu also claimed he saved N1billion from subsidy removal. Where do you save the N1billion. The Senate set up a committee to look into the subsidy. They discovered hundreds of millions of naira that were fraudulently claimed. To me anybody that looted public fund should go to jail.
Kachikwu also claimed that he repaired damaged pipelines with N103billon. I am not saying he is not correct. But I would like to be convinced. I am not convinced. Who is subsidising what? When a government subsidises a particular commodity for its citizens, the citizens should be more comfortable than before.
Another thing that is, to me, fraudulent is that they are trying to say that deregulation and price increase are the same. They are two different things. Deregulation of the downstream of the economy means government is not controlling it again. Under deregulation, you can have either increase or decrease in the price of petroleum.
Then, another basic problem is they give different figures of the subsidy. The figure of the accountant general is different from the one given by the CBN. Who is deceiving who? Why are they changing price of petrol all the time like amoeba?
You were quoted as saying that Buhari will make price of petrol N40 when he became President. Now the price has been raised to N145. What is your reaction?
People who are quoting me are actually lazy or physically indolent. Somebody is being fraudulent and he puts it in quotation marks that I said petrol would be dispensed at N40. I did not use the word dispense. I said it would go down. I have corrected it many times. I am saying this to protect my honour. I never said Buhari will make petrol N40.
What I said was this and I still maintain it. Apart from the other thing that makes it, if they are sure that the figure they are giving us is the correct figure after a rigorous calculation. Why do they change it so often if they are sure. Why do they change regularly. What they are using to quantify or fix the price of fuel, there are a lot of fraudulent items there. Let me start with bridging or Petroluem Equalization Fund (PEF); that normally if you take petrol from North to South, the difference in the haulage, they add it to the consumers to pay. Government always pays that. Why should the consumer pay for bridging or what you will call PEF? That was always paid by government during my days.
When I became minister, the Petrol Equalization Fund, had N400 million untouched. When Babangida’s government came, he wanted money, he asked parastatal to donate money to him and I gave him N200 million from the PEF account. I have the paper still with me.
When they import fuel from abroad into Nigeria, the cost of transportation is paid on the fuel by Nigerians. Why? So, private businessmen got the licence to import fuel in Nigeria, then go abroad to pay the refinery to bring fuel to Nigeria. When he goes there, you’ll pay for his margin and transportation. If a vessel comes to Nigeria and it cannot offload because of safety problems demurrage is paid in dollars and would be counted on petroleum price. It is cheating the public. Demurrage is put on the petroleum price in dollars. It is only when it is locally refined that it is in Naira. When a vessel comes from abroad and cannot offload for no fault of theirs but of Nigeria, and if it stays one week or a month on the Nigerian lagoon or waters, what is paid for demurrage in dollars falls on the fuel price.Why?
The Nigerian Ports Authority charges are added on fuel price. So, what are we talking about? Jetty and depot charges are paid on fuel price. A businessman brings petrol to the country, he has his own depot and puts it there. If he doesn’t have, he hires one and puts it on the petrol price. I have listed about 14 items. We have retailers’ margin, transporters’ margin, maintainers’ price, smuggling across border, that is the most ridiculous.
When I heard the petroleum minister for state (Ibe Kachikwu) saying they smuggled our petrol across the borders and that was the reason for the increase of fuel price to N145, it is nonsense. I used the word nonsense because during my time, we closed the borders. If I could do it, he can also do it too; and fortunately, it is the same head of state (Buhari).
Now, another illogicality of the argument is that if you sell petrol for N150 per litre, the people across the border will prefer to pay N160 per litre; if you sell for N200, they are ready to pay N210. So, there will still be smuggling. So, increasing petrol price in Nigeria does not stop smuggling.
We went to Benin Republic and other neighbouring countries, we discovered smuggling was rampant and we closed the border against them. We in government negotiated with the government of Benin on how much petrol they use a day; next day they said “x thousand”. And it was between government to government so there was no more smuggling.
A businessman runs his business to make profit. So, government should encourage businessmen to be in business by not running at a loss. Government also has the responsibility to make sure that the businessman does not exploit the people. Right now, we are interested in the businessmen making profit, while closing our eye or turning our back to the common man suffering by being exploited.
The fuel price increase is confusing. A government official said it is subsidy removal, which is not. Another one says smuggling, which is untenable. Foreign Exchange (Forex) was also mentioned, which is partially tenable because the country’s foreign exchange has gone down drastically. So, it is so difficult now to source forex to import fuel.
“If I am into managing of oil and foreign exchange goes down, why should a man on the street pay for it? No matter the reason, N145 per litre is not justified. If they removed all the unnecessary additions on the price of petroleum such as bridging or Petroleum Equalisation Fund, dealer’s margin, transporter’s margin, retailer’s margin, storage, depot margin, and NPA charges, petrol price will come down to N40 per litre.”
If the vessel arrived and it is too big and it cannot come in or that it is spoilt. They use smaller vessels to bring it, you are paying for it and that transaction is also added to petrol price.
What Kachikwu did in the management of oil sector is not new. We have six sectors approved by council and even the oil journals in Nigeria agree with what he has done. If a tanker goes to a refinery to load and waits for a week to load, but if the owner of the tanker gives them bribe, they will load his tanker immediately and that money will be added to the price of petrol. The government should not import fuel but should just make our refineries to work. The past government deliberately killed the refineries so that they can import fuel. We can build a refinery within 18 months and produce 150,000 barrels a day. Most of this oil importers are sponsored by businessmen.
Low crude oil price at the international market should not translate to higher fuel price at the local market.
Also they always complain about low price of crude oil, throughout my tenure oil price was not more than $30, even at a point we sold it for $10 and we still never imported fuel, we even exported. The long and short of it is that the oil industry is badly managed. Building more refineries will solve the fuel problem.
If all these hidden charges are removed, how much do you think they can sell petrol?
I still stand by N40. According to a Professor of Petroleum Engineering, Prof Rzen, when this type of controversy occurred during President Jonathan’s administration, he made his calculations. It is the factor that should be tackled. I still stand by my words. All the figures they are giving us so far are political figures and not scientific.
Jonathan came and changed Yar’ Adua’s figure. Why should they be changing the price anyhow? Babangida came and changed the price to N5 per litre, Abubakar made it N30 per litre, Obasanjo changed it to N22 per litre, Jonathan changed it from N65 to N97.
I do not believe that N145 is President Buhari’s figure. He was not in the country and they rushed it to N145. It is this same government that is closing filling stations that are selling fuel above N86, but now they changed it to N145 overnight. Why are they closing them down before if their figure is scientific.
The amount that has been spent on subsidy fraud would have built 12 refineries. What we should do is to build new refineries. We should also improve our capacity in the provision of crude.
Two weeks ago, Angola produced more oil than Nigeria, I nearly wept. When the French left Angola, they spoilt everything. I went to see President Santos of Angola then, he gave me audience and sought my advice. I told them to send their representatives to NNPC to be trained, and today they are producing more oil than us. It makes me cry.
The Petroleum Industry Bill has faulty words attached to it. It is not a serious bill. They are rushing it and I have warned them not to rush and pass it. The oil companies are complaining but I am warning them not to rush it. They need to provide a conducive atmosphere for them to operate, otherwise they will pack out of this country gradually.
The same thing I am warning and telling my brothers in Niger Delta that our grievances are valid but we should be very careful. If we make life unbearable for oil companies to operate in Nigeria and they pull out, we will also suffer. These oil companies are operating all over the world, and if one country is not conducive, they will pull out to another and we will lose and die because 90 per cent of our life depends on oil.
Most of the promises Buhari made are not being met, Boko Haram is still there. Corruption is still there and the budget was padded under him. The Nigerian economy is bad. Are you happy about this?
I am not. Let’s start with budget. How the budget was padded was quite unfortunate. The Minister of Planning, Udo Udoma, is very good and efficient. We have worked together before and I know what he can do. He is very organised. I do not know how such a thing could happen under him. I am sorry for him. There are some people working for him that are not interested in his success.
For Boko Haram, if I was Buhari, I wouldn’t have given Nigerians a deadline on it; but he is a General. If I was him, I would have just said we will tackle it. Like President Obama did concerning ISIS; he just said we are going to degrade them and destroy them. When you are fighting terrorists, it is a difficult thing.
Electricity supply has dropped and government is giving the same excuse as former President Goodluck Jonathan – vandalisation. What then is different?
The thing that is different is honesty. The important thing I believe is that Buhari meant well for this country. When Buhari said he would do something prior to his election, he was not saying it because he wanted votes. But most of the things Jonathan said were for the gallery.
The war against corruption is on but some believe it is selective. Are you satisfied with it?
I am satisfied with it. It is not selective. They accused him of prosecuting only the opposition. The question should be, are the allegations false? The selectivity would have held water if when they go to the tribunal or court, EFCC collapses, the commission could not prove it’s case. I heard some things that startled me.
If the fact they are bringing to support the cases are frivolous, then I would say it is skewed. But if what they are bringing out is valid, then it is not. Buhari can make honest reservation, not mistakes. But the moment he realised that some of the people he has trusted are not what he thinks they are, I know he will be very drastic with them. He will get them away with ignominy.
Buhari knows very well that if he is selective in applying his anti-corruption crusade, it is going to affect his integrity. I don’t think he will take that chance.
You were a minister before and know how things work. Now, we hear that ministers have to apply to Buhari five days ahead before they can travel. How do you react to this?
It is not new. The problem is that most of the people that are criticising the stance are lazy to go and research. During my time, the same thing happened. You could not leave. In fact, I could not go to Port Harcourt without getting approval. Of course, you cannot travel out of the country without, not only approval, but approval from Central Bank of Nigeria. How would you get estacode to travel? I support it.
How would you assess Buhari’s cabinet?
When I see him personally, I will tell him what I feel about his cabinet. Like every cabinet, there are some good ones. But before he appointed them, he must have done his homework. But am I happy with all of them? The answer is no. Has he made the right choice? If he appointed you and you disappointed him, it is not his fault. He appointed you for your credentials. When Buhari appointed me, I did not know him. I had not met him before he appointed me a minister. After he saw me on January 28, 1984, he gave me the reason he appointed me. He told me he had read every article I wrote in the papers. But he should be careful of ministers sponsored by business people in the oil industry.
I must say that palliative as attractive as it seems is never a solution. The basic problem should be solved. They said Kachikwu is very courageous. There is no courage in increasing petrol price to N145 per litre.
The merger of ministries of power, works and housing under one minister has been criticised. What is your view?
It is big. It is very heavy. But Babatunde Fashola is a very good man. With time, there will be improvement. He is a very knowledgeable person. This is just the beginning.
With Buhari’s performance so far, if the presidential election were to take place today, will you campaign for him?
If he is interested, I will. But I have to talk to him too. It will not just be blanket like before. I still have a lot of respect for him and his integrity and judgment. If he talks to me that he wants to contest, I will tell him, I will support him, but certain things must be considered first. Whatever he says, my honour is involved.
If you meet Buhari now, what will you tell him?
It depends on what he asks me. If he asks me the same question you are asking me if he has done well, I will say let’s discuss it in details.
What will make you prescribe resignation for Buhari?
There is no reason to resign. Buhari will not make so terrible mistake that will make me take a stand that it is time for him to say bye bye. But I don’t see it happening and I pray it will not happen. I still insist, he has to be very careful.
It has been said many times that Nigeria is broke. Do you really believe Nigeria is broke?
Yes. If Nigeria is not broke, why can’t it pay salaries? The evidence that Nigeria is broke is there. Can the country pay our contractors? A country that is not broke will be able to pay salaries regularly. Some state governments are owing five months salaries and more.
Buhari is still maintaining the large presidential fleet he inherited. What are your views on this?
I will tell him when I see him. I have my view on it. I know I am going to see him not long from now. I am equipped with a lot of information.