9th December, 2014
By Okachikwu Dibia
Twenty three years after Nigeria’s independence was an era that witnessed huge capital investments by the Federal Government to lay the foundation for a strong and vibrant economy. Such investments were in all aspects of the economy: oil and gas (including refineries and depots and petro-chemical plants), mines and steel, infrastructure especially inter regional roads, electricity and telecommunication, vehicle plants, building and development of seaports and airways, building of financial institutions, post offices, textile factories, river basin development authorities, etc. These investments were estimated to be over five trillion naira. Almost at about that time, it was discovered that most of these investments were going down the drain largely due to poor management. Thus the enterprises were not able to provide the economic and social services for which they were established. The accumulated result was that Nigerian economy became comatose and so sick it needed a surgeon’s attention immediately.
So, the federal government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari consulted the World Bank and the IMF who, as usual to the economic challenges of Third World countries, recommended austerity measures which included deregulation and devaluation of the naira. Devaluation was devastating because it led to very high cost of the prices of goods and services, just like the Udoji era in 1975. Inflation due to Shagari’s austerity measures were well captured by Jimmy Conter, the Eze Agala 1 of Ikwerre in his song titled “Austerity Measure”. According to Jimmy, before the austerity measures, a cup of garri used to sell for twenty kobo in Port Harcourt, but had to rise to one naira due to Shagari’s austerity measures. Such unprecedented 400% rise in the price of garri and indeed other goods has continued since then.
After Shagari, came the Buhari government which threw the issue of IMF-World bank’s recommendation open to Nigerians for debate. At the end of the debate, most Nigerians rejected the IMF-World Bank prescriptions and so the government refused to buy the drugs. When Babangida came as leader of the government, he welcomed the prescriptions and bought the drugs. The prescription was re-christened Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) whose key recommendation was deregulation of the Nigerian economy. So in 1988, he formed the Technical Committee on Privatization and Commercialization (TCPC). The key objective was to open up and liberalize the economy such that the private sector will lead the economy and enable the enterprises deliver the services for which they were incorporated. So the TCPC was to privatize or commercialize selected government enterprises found to be inefficient. This was why the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was commercialized in about 1988. As we talk today, staffs of the NNPC are happy that the corporation was commercialized and indeed they would prefer that it be privatized.
What this means is that all is not well with the management of the NNPC. That was why the law establishing the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) listed NNPC for privatization. The BPE metamorphosed from the TCPC. It is the key and authentic deregulation agency of the Federal Government of Nigeria. With the support of the World Bank, DFID etc, the BPE remains the most capable institution in Nigeria that can reform an enterprise, all things being equal.
This is why all the reform bills that later led to the privatization of government owned enterprises originated from the BPE. It was the BPE (while acting as the Secretariat of the OGIC) which drafted the first and original Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, that was approved by the FEC but never saw the light of the day after it was deposited with the lawmakers. That was the draft that was redrafted several times to a point there was no true copy of the original draft because there were then over ten species of the PIB. This led to the current government doing a new and clean draft now before the NASS for passage.
BPE, like all such institutions across the World, has been having it rough with the powers that hate privatization and can influence government decisions in Nigeria. While BPE will always uphold due process, these enemies of true capitalist progress would always want to arm-twist the BPE and the government to have their way. They are mostly in government and some in the private sector. They are the ones that have frustrated the privatization of NITEL/MTEL, PHCN and now they have succeeded in preparing and smuggling in a Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) that may not serve the interest of Nigerians.
It is now common knowledge that out of the 122 enterprises privatized by the BPE, about 65% of them are doing excellently well while the rest are facing one challenge or the other arising from policy environment. If this is a testimony of good performance by the BPE, why should the current PIB seek to delist NNPC from being reformed by the BPE? This is the question Nigerians are asking the Minister of Petroleum Resources and the NNPC. Why should the current PIB provide for the NNPC to reform itself and at the end still retain itself with a new name National Oil Company? Why should all the key decisions to be made in reforming the oil and gas sector be made by the Minister of Petroleum Resources? Is it reasonable for the Minister to be in charge of the reformation of NNPC under her? Knowing full well that the Minister was a staff of Shell who has been against true reform of the sector, who said that there is no correlation between Shell’s interest and the current PIB? Again, can what will be in the interest of Shell be favourable to Nigerians?
The new PIB before the NASS is too cosmetic and may not lead to a true reformation of the Nigerian oil and gas sector.
Mr. President should quickly recall the PIB from the NASS and throw it open to Nigerians for detailed discussion. Comments emanating from the House of Representatives show that the PIB is like the proposal for the printing of the N5,000 currency note by the CBN. As at today, a good number of opinions from Nigerians are against the PIB. Indeed as a mark of respect and honour for the Nigerian peoples for which the PIB was meant to serve, it is absolutely reasonable that in a democracy, an important document like the PIB should attract a rich public debate before sending it to the NASS for passage.
•Okachikwu wrote from Abuja.