Prof. Tam David-West was minister of petroleum and energy when President Muhammadu Buhari was head of state. He tells Punch that the office of the minister of state should be scrapped, among other issues
What is your comment on the recent $25bn oil contract controversy at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation?
When I first read it in the newspaper, I was flabbergasted. It is out of the question completely. I have said I will never comment on NNPC, but it would be irresponsible of me to keep quiet. It is dangerous. Despite the fact that I am no longer the oil minister, I know what is happening in the oil industry every day. I am still in touch with the system in Nigeria and even the North Sea Oil, Brent, I get the price every day.
I am interested in the oil industry just like any other Nigerian, for obvious reasons. Oil accounts for 80 per cent of the Nigerian budget and 90 per cent of its assets outside. The money we have outside and foreign reserves are mainly from oil. As someone from an oil-producing state, I am interested in what goes on in the industry. Thirdly, I have been there before and I know what is happening there.
I don’t know the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, or the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Maikanti Baru, but what is going on is very embarrassing to Nigeria. This has never happened before.
I had a misunderstanding with my managing director when I was oil minister, but it was well managed, although that case was different compared to what is happening currently. Fortunately for me, we both attended the University of Ibadan, so we were friends. But what is happening between Kachikwu and Baru is a misunderstanding over claims and circumstances that are beyond them.
When you say that a minister of state is the boss of the GMD of NNPC, it is wrong. That cannot be. People are making those claims because of misconception. The minister of state in the First Republic was a minister without a portfolio. He cannot be a boss of the GMD of an oil industry, who is the livewire of that sector.
Each time I read the newspapers about this issue, I am upset. An editor called me and asked me, ‘What is the duty of a minister of state?’ Some of these problems are caused by personality problems. Some of them have both bloated and ballooned egos. No one is indispensable in Nigeria because for every Nigerian holding a position, there are many others who are better qualified. No public servant can threaten the country. Nigeria is bigger than anyone, so whoever is in a top position should thank God and the country for the opportunity to serve. One million Tam David-Wests cannot threaten Nigeria.
When I read Kachikwu’s letter, I was flabbergasted. But I was relieved when the NNPC replied that nothing like that happened. There is a danger in having Kachikwu loyalists and Baru loyalists in the same sector. It is very dangerous for the nation.
When I wanted to recommend a managing director for Buhari as his minister when he was the head of state, three people who were qualified were vying for the position. I called them to my office at night after close of work and told them that they were all qualified but that I would choose Aret Adams.
Why did you do that?
One of them had contested the position and the other one was also interested in the position at a time in the past. They both had loyalists in the company. It would not augur well for the industry. That was why I chose someone who was fresh.
As a minister, Rivers State indigenes organised a reception for me, but I told them that I would not attend and that they should cancel it. I did that because I did not want to make myself a sectional minister. I was a minister for everybody. Buhari appointed me as a Nigerian minister and not as a Rivers minister.
Something must be done quickly before it puts the oil industry in jeopardy. The whole world is watching what we are doing in Nigeria. No one should do anything that will put the nation’s oil industry in jeopardy. If there is a problem in an industry, how can we attract foreign investors? They will be scared to come to Nigeria to invest in the country. No one wants to come to a country that is not safe. There must be a favourable atmosphere for them to come. If you give an impression that NNPC is not conducive, no one will come.
If you predict a bad thing and it comes to pass, you will be sad. But if you predict a good thing and it comes to pass, you will be happy. I am sad because I have predicted that something like this would happen one day.
When Rilwan Lukman was the Minister of Petroleum Resources and he carved out about 11 to 12 subsidiaries out of the NNPC, I said it was dangerous. I was supported by a prominent Nigerian oil technocrat, Chief Feide. I pointed out that what Lukman was doing was not good for Nigeria. I said it would be dangerous because what we are going to have are pockets of autonomies. Now it has happened. How can you refer to the NNPC as a parastatal? It is a parent body for all the subsidiaries carved out from it. It should not be under any ministry. Even now, it is not under any ministry.
But there is the Ministry of Petroleum Resource. Is the NNPC not responsible to it?
It is a ludicrous thing. The NNPC is a parent body. Was there a Ministry of Petroleum Resources in (Shehu) Shagari’s time and during Buhari’s first term in government? Let me clarify this, what we have is the ‘Department of Petroleum Resources’ and not a ministry.
But Kachikwu is today the chairman of the NNPC Board. Is there not a mix-up?
Buhari made him the chairman of the NNPC board. The chairman of that board does not have to be a minister.
Is Buhari not doing too much as a president and minister of petroleum?
People have forgotten what he said when he resumed as president. He said that he would hold that position for 18 months, during which he intended to straighten things up in the place. Actually, Buhari should be the chairman of the NNPC board and not Kachikwu, who is a minister without a portfolio in reality. It would be better if we scrapped the ‘minister of state’ which is superfluous and redundant.
Shouldn’t Buhari step down as minister since the 18 months have passed?
He will decide when to take that decision but that title of minister of state should be scrapped or called ‘minister without portfolio.’
Would you recommend he choose a substantive minister?
Buhari is a competent man when it comes to the oil sector. I learnt a lot from him when I became minister.
Don’t you think that based on his complaint, Kachikwu has been sidelined?
If he is complaining about being sidelined, maybe there is a clash between what he expected and what he has found. There is a fundamental problem there. But are his expectations valid? There are a lot of misconceptions and lies.
Another important thing is that you cannot be oil minister or the GMD and be an oil merchant. The two individuals should search themselves. Is there a conflict of interest in their activities? Baru said that Kachikwu recommended eight companies to lift oil but Kachikwu said it was a lie. The President must set up a panel to investigate this. In my time, I was offered things by oil companies that I rejected. King Ado Ibrahim in the Ebira land can bear me witness.
What is your comment on the restructuring agitations?
I am writing an article titled, ‘Restructure, constitution and scapegoatism.’ Fear is the cause of this agitation. (Charles) Darwin’s theory of organic evolution underscores that God restructures from time to time by restructuring the animals that inhabit the world from time to time. I am fully in support of restructuring. My only fear is that those who are clamouring for it are not sincere. They cannot define clearly what they mean by restructuring. It is hypocrisy and stupid.
People blame Lord Lugard for amalgamating the southern and northern protectorate. The company he represented asked him to do so because of administrative reasons. He executed the amalgam and it is left for us to form a nation. There is a difference between an amalgam and a compound. Lugard did the amalgam but it is left for us to create a compound out of it to form a nation. He has done nothing wrong. He did not come to create a Nigeria. If what he did was so bad, why did we celebrate 100 years of amalgamation?
Will the Petroleum Industry Bill see the light of day and will it have positive effect on Nigeria’s oil industry?
The PIB will make foreign companies investment in oil business in Nigeria difficult. The bill is meant to correct the oil industry but there are lots of taxes in it. It will not encourage what we call joint venture partnership. The taxes will chase investors away. They may not tell us the truth but the reality is that many oil companies are divesting from Nigeria secretly. They are taking their assets out of Nigeria without making a noise about it. Before now, many oil companies objected to a lot of clauses in it. They inject a lot of money into the industry, they pay royalty, they pay taxes and now you want to add more burden on them. The PIB has clauses that are burdensome. If you consider the politically unfavourable atmosphere in Nigeria, the electric car issue, alternative source of energy and so on, the future of oil business in Nigeria is in jeopardy. We will suffer more because we depend on oil. Nigeria depends only on oil. We only talk about diversification without acting on it.
What is your view on the search for oil in the northern part of Nigeria?
This is the typical Nigerian factor. They have made this issue political. Kachikwu assured the North that by January, he would strike oil in the region. I will continue to mention his name. Before I became minister of petroleum, a lot of money had been spent on the search for oil in the North and the search stopped. When I came, I called Aret Adams and told him that we should try again. He said a lot of money had been spent without getting even gas in that area. Adams was in charge of exploration at the time. I insisted that we try once more in 1984. I gave him six weeks to get me a rig. In four weeks, he got a rig for me and I bought it and took delivery of it at the Port Harcourt harbour. I took it to Gaji Gana to begin the search all over again. We started digging but we could not find anything. On my way to Maiduguri (in Borno State), I had an accident and almost died. I told Buhari what happened.
Before we left Gaji Gana, someone wrote in the newspaper that oil had been discovered in the North. I told my personal assistant to counter the report that it was not true. I said it would be better to use the money to build schools and hospitals for our people instead of wasting that money. That was the background to the search for oil in the North. I was shown two wells that were drilled but which were closed because they could not find oil there. It was like a wild goose chase. The search for oil has been made political. On the French side of Chad there is oil so, they said there should be oil on the Nigerian side. I alerted the nation that foreign countries were not willing to go to the North and start looking for oil. If there was oil there, they would have rushed to the place. Some read conspiracy theory to it but I said I and Adams are from the Niger Delta and we made so much effort to find oil in the North.
Why then is the search still going on?
Let us assume that there is oil there, is it in commercial quantity? If you say technically you have oil there, the only reason for anyone to go there and dig is if it is in commercial quantity, else, it is a waste of time and money. Some years ago, northern governors came together and said they would explore the possibility of getting oil in the North. It was a good move to jointly look for oil there. I have the record. They thought NNPC was not serious enough about it.
I wrote a three-page article titled, ‘Ankali, Ankali (be careful)’. I gave them the history of oil search in the Chad basin, the record of failures, how much was spent and how I bought a rig and took it there. I advised them to spend the money on education and health instead of spending it on the search. A professor from Maiduguri said I was wrong so they continued. I knew it was a chase that would not be fruitful.
More than a decade after giving refinery licence to investors, none has been built. What could be wrong with the initiative?
This is an interesting country. The first thing is that during Babangida’s era, they (the government) proposed to sell our refineries and (people) kicked against it. They changed it and said they wanted participation whereby someone would come and manage them for us. I said it was a risky move. They wanted to buy a refinery for Nigeria abroad and I wrote to Babangida (speaking) against it. They were beating about the bush. I said we were not facing the music. If we bought a refinery abroad, would it help our workforce at home? NNPC has competent staff in Nigeria.
Are private refineries the solution? They can only complement our own refineries. I wrote an article and said our refineries were sabotaged. Many years after, the Senate confirmed my claim. If our refineries are working, no one will import fuel. Fuel importation is a fraudulent business. The cabal and the unpatriotic people behind fuel importation know why our refineries were sabotaged. I conducted a study and found out that each time the refineries broke down, the same part would break down from each of them.
How can Nigeria stop the sabotage?
Except we stop importation of fuel, it will not stop. We had three refineries in my time and we never imported a litre of fuel. We were even exporting it. Private refineries are good but not the solution.
Why do you think those already handed licences to run private refineries yet to begin operations?
It is capital intensive and after you have built it you will have to get the crude from Nigeria. That is where the problem is. Our quota according to the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is about two million barrels per day. Many with the licences did not study the implication. Is Nigeria ready to cut its exportation of crude and prefer to sell to the private refineries? Can we satisfy both markets without exceeding the OPEC quota? I once told the late MKO Abiola that with all his wealth, he would not be able to start oil business alone. You need foreign partners. It is attractive but when you get to the details, you will slow down.
But we have people who locally refine crude in the creeks. How are they finding it easy to do?
I am happy you brought that issue. The militants refine few litres for their daily use. That is not the type of quantity we need. They talk of modular refinery but even though that is easy to build, it cannot solve our problem. When we sit down to face the problem really, we will find a solution.
Can private refineries bring down fuel price in Nigeria?
The answer is yes and no. It will bring it down if the investors have enough crude to refine massively. But the question is that will they have enough because of the OPEC quota that we cannot exceed.
More than $153m has permanently seized from former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke while $9.2m allegedly was found in the home of former GMD of NNPC, Andrew Yakubu. Is Nigeria actually monitoring its oil business the way it should be managed?
I am happy and I am sad over this issue. I am sad that a Nigerian public officer could have such amount of money at home. This is a country that cannot pay N18,000 minimum wage to its workers. I am vindicated because I have always challenged anyone to come out and prove me as a corrupt minister. I never took money from anyone I awarded a contract or involved myself in oil business. A former Inspector General of Police once told me that Babangida was always sending spies to trail me anytime I travelled abroad to know how I got money. He said Babangida suspected that I was making money outside. I have forgiven him. He jailed me for life for taking a wristwatch (as a gift). If I wanted to be corrupt, will taking wristwatch (as a gift) be my target? I occupied top positions and never corruptly enriched myself. All the charges were lies. As a minister, my signature could command multimillion-dollars. It is not how much wealth you amass but the legacy you leave behind.
I know Dieziani very well. She was in Shell before; so I was surprised that she did what she did. How could she enrich herself so much? The PIB that was proposed was personalised. It gave the minister more power in the sector and she made sure it was so while she was there. If without the PIB, she made billions, with it, she would have stolen trillions.Punch