With the NNPC replying the Independent marketers who threw a bombshell two days ago deconstructing the narrative that they are to blame for the current fuel crisis, it seems Nigeria is back to another round of intra-elite bickering in the oil industry. It tallies with a harvest of ruptures in intra-elite relationship over control and management of oil resources in Nigeria, perhaps more than other countries even though oil is a strategic national endowment. Why is the oil industry in Nigeria essentially a history of intra-elite bickering and when would that be over?
Some would say that it is probably not surprising that intra-elite bickering defines the oil industry in Nigeria. One, unlike many other oil-producing African countries, Nigeria is not in the pocket of any one kindred, mafia or ethno-religious group. Three powerful regions initially counterbalanced each other before ethno-religious and regional sensibilities were added. The negotiation for accommodation among these contending interests has made controversy natural almost. Questions of who should be what remains a key realm of contention. So also the question of the policy direction – what to do with oil vis-a-vis the economy!
Mr. Oladapo Odebiyi, the author of the 1997 book Philip Asiodu: A Pillar of Nation Building tells us of the different levels the rifts developed and about the struggles between contending interests over which direction to go. The technocrats, in tandem with their ‘Third worldist’ or anti-dependency and pro-statist ideological orientation wanted the Nigerian State to be in control of the sector. Foreign interests and their local agents wanted a neoliberal or so-called free market arrangement. But it was not long before rifts arose within the government itself. One of it was General Gowon’s considered suitable candidate for the NNPC in 1974 but who was opposed by others in power. Those who know would say that the rift over that appointment was part of the grudges that underpinned the 1975 putsch. And every subsequent ones, including the Nigerian Civil War that preceded the putschs! The bitter struggle seems not to have abated.
President Buhari has once said those who overthrew him in 1985 did so because they wanted to have free access to government money and to do whatever they wanted with it. This is a position he restated in 2012 when members of the then Congress for Progressive Change, (CPC) from Katsina who paid him homage during Eid-el-Fitr festivities. As reported in most Nigerian newspapers on August 28th, 2012, Gen. Buhari accused the then incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and ex-military President, Ibrahim Babangida, of being behind the destruction of the oil industry because, as he said, corruption in the petroleum sector began during the era of Gen. Babangida, continued during that of ex-President Obasanjo and the administration of President Jonathan whom he said had the mindset to cheat the Nigerian masses.
Having been a key player in the industry, many took his words seriously. This serious reckoning climbed to outer space when he told Abuja based Daily Trust before being sworn-in on May 29th, 2015 that he did not know what fuel subsidy meant. He implied that it was a fiction. Not surprisingly, the decision by a government under him removing fuel subsidy by jerking up pump price from about N87 to N145 per litre was a muted controversy. Was that the ‘agreement’ between him and those who contributed to making him president, internally and externally? Or was he compelled to accept such a position which was coming after a similar tariff rise for electricity?
His second, Yemi Osinbajo, had said then that they had to convince him to accept devaluation, etc. It was not surprising Prof Osinbajo is saying there is nothing like subsidy anymore because a subsidy regime would contradict what he had said before. Critics are, however, asking why a gulf might exist between the Vice-President and the NNPC on such a simple issue when they are all under one government? Could it be that nothing is that easy when it is about oil, the same reason why Dr. Ibe Kachikwu would only come to grips with a Dr Maikanti Baru after a fight?
Now, it is the independent marketers versus the NNPC. When would these bickerings be over in Nigeria for the real development to begin? Is it in the nature of the industry or in the nature of the Nigerian power elite and their unusual tendency to keep quarreling, even over very strategic issues? It all reminds us of Terisa Turner’s thesis of oil and instability in Nigeria. But, is it not time to have moved from that spot? Many would say it is overdue actually for Nigeria to have moved.