A leading contender in Nigeria’s presidential election next month has pledged to privatise the country’s oil industry, but that’s a promise that might prove hard to keep, some observers say. Atiku Abubakar, the main opposition party contender, has vowed to break up the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), which he called a “mafia organisation”.
The NNPC and other state-run organisations have been widely criticised as becoming slush funds for successive governments, particularly around election time in the African OPEC state.
Abubakar, who served as vice-president to Olusegun Obasanjo between 1999 and 2007, made his latest remarks at a conference on the economy in Nigeria’s economic capital Lagos last week.
“I said unless we dismantle these mafia organisations, we cannot progress, let’s privatise them,” he said. “I am committed to these privatisations, as I have said. I swear even if they are going to kill me, I will do it.”
Sitting president, Muhammadu Buhari, who is running for a second term in office, made the fight against corruption a keystone of his first election campaign.
His junior minister for oil, Emmanuel Kachikwu, told AFP: “In terms of corruption, he (Buhari) has done his very best.”
But it was Kachikwu himself who in late 2017 denounced what he called the “climate of fear” at the heart of the NNPC since the president appointed one of his close associates, Maikanti Kacalla Baru, as group managing director. Last April he also spoke out against the state subsidies to cut the cost of petrol for motorists, saying it cost the government $3.9 billion every year.
Every year, the NNPC allocates a series of traders to handle crude oil exports. And every year, with each successive government, new names or new companies, sometimes completely unknown, appear on these lists. This get-rich-quick scheme could be limited with the creation of a new local refinery, one repeatedly promised by Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote, as that would cut the exports of crude oil.
The refinery, first announced back in 2013, would produce 400,000 barrels of petrol a day — compared with the 100,000 currently produced.
“But the traders’ lobby is so powerful that one can even doubt that the project will see the light of day,” said Auge.
That example of the strength of the oil lobby — vasts sums of money at stake — casts doubts on politicians’ claims that the NNPC can be dismantled quite so easily as they would have voters and investors believe.