By Ojie Ejemhen
In the past one month, the Nigerian media space has been awash with incredible news, primarily about the politics of the recent revocation and reversal as well as the restoration by the Presidency of Oil Mining Licenses (OMLs) 123, 124, 126 and 137, operated by Swiss-based Addax Petroleum and run by Sinopec, a Chinese oil firm, in joint Production Sharing Contract (PSC) with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporate (NNPC).
Originally, the asset was projected to produce 130,000 barrels of crude daily. However, due to poor management by Sinopec and NNPC, its operation resulted in a major shift in the original production arrangement. The Federal Government was deeply upset with Addax Petroleum proxy over the poor management of the assets.
Besides, the government was equally upset by the fact that Addax Petroleum leased the assets to Sinopec without following due process and without the knowledge of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources.
Those familiar with the details of the contract said Addax Petroleum’s behind-the-scenes dealings over the oil concession robbed Nigeria of billions of dollars in royalty that should have been paid to the government.
As specified in Section 24 of the Petroleum Act, the Ministry of Petroleum Resources is empowered to revoke any license that contravenes the law against the interest of the country. Clearly, Addax Petroleum’s underhand dealings with Sinopec was a violation of the laid down petroleum law.
And since the revocation of the licenses, Chief Timipre Sylva, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, has been the subject of strident vilification by agents of those who have interest in the deal. The minister has been buffeted on all sides with all sorts of insults and innuendos.
He has been accused of allocating the Addax Petroleum-Sinopec OMLs to his friends, cronies and family members, until the revocation was reversed a few days ago by the President.
Sadly, Sylva has even been accused of sharing a whopping $100 million bribe from the winners of the new marginal fields with other Nigerians. Incredible!
This unfounded allegations and smear campaigns against the ex-Bayelsa State Governor smack of wickedness by the men with the tar brush. It is nothing other than to frustrate the reform agenda of the government in the oil and gas sector spearheaded by the minister.
In the first place, where can one possibly hide that amount of money without trace by the anti-graft agencies? But in a society where truth is scarce, anybody can believe anything. What do you expect in a country where no one trusts anything and anybody in government?
One thing that these fairytale-bearers are doing is hurting the psyche of our nation. They may think they are hurting Sylva or the President with their virulent attacks, but they are destroying the investment foundation of Nigeria. With the growing false and negative media narratives, no sensible businessman or country would want to come to Nigeria to invest, or bring his or her hard-earned money to a country where those in position of authority have been labelled thieves. No sensible businessman would do that.
In the long run who suffers? It’s not Buhari or any other Nigerian, but the Nigerian state. It will bleed for this callous and wicked promotion of falsehood.
One would have been surprised if Sylva was praised by industry players or some Nigerians who never see anything good in government, for the revolutionary steps he has taken since coming on board as minister of state for petroleum resources in about two years now.
The principled push for the passage of the PIB into law; the determination to remove fuel subsidy, as well as the gas revolution embarked upon by the Buhari government are key enough to draw the ire of naysayers and those who think it is still business as usual in the petroleum and gas sector.
Or do you think those who failed to win the marginal oil field bids would sit in the comfort of their rooms and cry? Hell no!
The attacks on Sylva and the others are the handiwork of those who do not want progress in the oil and gas sector. It is the handiwork of those who still want the sleaze and financial malfeasance in the oil and gas sector to continue. They are the ones fighting back and smearing the Bayelsa-born politician’s name.
It is sad that, despite the well-intentioned policies and programmes of the present administration to reform the nation’s oil and gas sector in particular and the entire petroleum industry in general, Nigerians have continued to criticize and engage in needless controversies. If it is true we cannot make an omelet without breaking an egg, then is it possible to have a turnaround in the oil and gas industry without making some painful sacrifices?
It is understandable that most of these criticisms and controversies are generally as a result of deep-seated negative perception about policies and programmes borne out of years of cynicism about their approach and handling by the previous administrations.
However, there must be a counter-poise to avoid the derailment of the objectives of these policies and programmes, which by all intents and purposes, could be disastrous for the country and the economy if the critics succeed.
A careful analysis would reveal that there is no viable alternative to the issue of deregulation of the downstream sector of the nation’s petroleum industry and continues overhaul of the rotten oil and gas sector, which previous administrations attempted and failed, because they lacked the political will to pursue it to logical conclusion.
For the nation to end the years of economic hemorrhage through the corruption-infested fuel subsidy regime, it is inevitable for the government to take the hard decision of deregulation, without which the nation would continue to enrich a few individuals to our collective detriment as a nation.
For those who believe in changes, there is no credible fallback position on the issue of rehabilitation of the nation’s refineries, since it is clear that the nation cannot afford to either continue to spend its lean resources on the importation of petroleum products, or building a new refinery at this time.
The government has assured the rehabilitation of the refineries would be different from similar programmes embarked upon by previous administrations.
The sane thing to do is not to criticise, but to bend backwards and support Sylva and the government’s effort to fix the industry for the benefit of all Nigerians.
•Ojie Ejemhen writes from Garki, Abuja