Nigeria’s minister of state for petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, has no one but himself to blame. The man thrives on deception and propaganda. There is a limit to both, and it’s a matter of time before reality intrudes and forces you to do a mea culpa–directly or indirectly, voluntarily or involuntarily. He said the NNPC was back in black thanks to reforms he was carrying out. But only cosmetic, ineffectual changes had occurred at the NNPC and the fundamentals of collapsed refining capacity and other systemic problems remained unchanged.
Later, the NNPC’s own monthly report (I give him credit for releasing the monthly report as he promised) put a lie to that assertion, showing clearly that the oil giant was stilling losing billions each month. The new spin is that at least the loss is no longer as big as it was.
Then Kachikwu said the refineries were back in shape and were producing at 70 percent capacity. Many pro-government propagandists gleefully shared this news as evidence that change had come to the petroleum sector. Later it emerged, and the minister himself admitted, that the refineries were either not producing at all or that they were producing near the 20 percent mark.
Early in his tenure, Kachikwu insinuated that once the refineries were refurbished and put to work, they would more than meet Nigeria’s fuel consumption and that Nigeria would even begin exporting refined petroleum products. But just a few days ago, he said the refineries were obsolete and would never be able, even with a full turnaround maintenance, to produce at their optimum levels.
Even more shockingly, he now says that even if the refineries started working at full capacity, which he says is virtually impossible, they would only be able to produce 50 percent of Nigeria’s fuel demand. He is basically saying that importation is inevitable, meaning that we will be at the mercy of the importers for a long time to come, or at least until Dangote’s refinery project starts producing and hopefully makes importation unnecessary.
And yet, he boasts about no longer paying subsidies to importers. With oil prices creeping up a bit and with a volatile set of variables governing the business of importing fuel and thus raising the business overhead of the importers (or landing cost), what’s the incentive for them to keep importing when the NNPC insists they must sell at N86 per liter? These are fundamental contradictions that have to be resolved as long as domestic refining remans comatose and importation is our only source of fuel.
At least Kachikwu is now coming clean, walking back all the big boasts and empty assertions he made in the first few months of his tenure. This is a classic case of over-promising and under-delivering. In some respects, I compare him to Soludo, the very corrupt former CBN governor. Both of them like to hide behind polished grammar and industry jargons to confuse and deceive Nigerians.
The case of Dr. Kachikwu is particularly pathetic because in nine months of superintending the oil industry, local refining has remained where it was before he took over and fuel shortages have persisted, even worsened.
Whatever he is doing is not working. In fact it is clearly making things worse. Insulting Nigerians with glib comments about not being a magician only compounds his predicament. Even more painful is his failure to explain Why the current fuel shortages will persist for another two months. What is causing the shortage? He will not say. How will that causative factor be overcome in two months? He will not say either. So, the sleek deception continues and is now bookended by arrogance.
At the beginning of his tenure as GMD of NNPC, the minister was either being clever or naive. Either way, he created the impression that he is capable of “magically” solving the problems of the oil sector within a very short time. That’s on him, not on Nigerians. In Nigeria, it is better to under-promise and over-deliver than to over-promise and under-deliver. Hopefully he has learned lesson from his folly.