Oil Production Up as Buhari’s Man Friday Re-engages the N’Delta – ThisDay

Kachikwu

The improvement in oil production testifies to the effectiveness of the Buhari administration’s Niger Delta engagement campaign led by the Minister of State, Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu. Nantim M. Joseph canvasses the vigorous implementation of the campaign and seven big wins in the new oil master plan on which it is anchored

It’s clear that Dr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, a man known for his passion and irrepressible can-do spirit is taking his job as the President’s Man Friday for the Niger Delta very seriously indeed. In addition to his many other responsibilities within the critical oil and gas policy space, the Minister of State Petroleum, along with other members of the Buhari team, has embarked on a frenetic, multi-pronged and multi destination campaign in the region.

The campaign has many facets. One week, he is leading peace missions to dialogue with key militants in the region. The next he is playing the role of a vocal insider-advocate for accelerated development of the region as a baseline for peace and stability in the region. Slowly but surely, the ongoing Niger Delta re-engagement strategy is having a positive effect on the initial negative perception of the Buhari administration as hostile and insensitive to the very important region.

And the results are becoming increasingly visible. The incidence of pipeline attacks and vandalism has dropped significantly. As a result, oil production has increased from a low level of 1.5m barrels per day (bpd), according to Bloomberg reports, to 2.1m bpd last week. This represents a very significant 40% increase, very good news for the battered and depleted national treasury. Hopefully, as the implementation of the recently launched oil and gas industry roadmap that gives priority attention to the Niger Delta region gathers steam, a new phase in government and Niger Delta relations may just be on the horizon. Largely thanks to the leadership of Kachikwu and the strong political support of President Buhari.

Much of this will of course take time to bear sustainable fruit with a lot depending on policy consistency and speedy translation of the good talk to practical action. Both factors being scarce decimals in the long history of the federal government’s relationship with the Niger Delta, a relatioanship fraught with broken promises, distrust and cynicism. Decades of government interventions have witnessed the alleged investment of trillions of Naira without any demonstrable improvement in the physical development of the region and the economic conditions of the people. Navigating this historical distrust requires continuous dialogue, a transparency, sincerity of purpose and force of action that is based on a clear plan.

It’s indeed a good omen that the federal government’s latest effort to rev up its engagement of the Niger Delta is coming at the same time that the 7 Big Wins, an innovative, practical and detailed blue print for the oil industry recently launched by President Buhari is being implemented. Talk is cheap, as they say. Having a strong plan as the anchor of the Buhari administration’s much advertised good intentions towards the region inspires confidence that this time, the efforts will result ina real and lasting difference.

This Niger Delta component of the oil industry master plan has clear objectives regarding what needs to be done to address problems such as environmental degradation and maintaining peace and stability in the region. It also includes an infrastructure strategy to achieve the rapid development of the region and a clear set of steps and initiatives for realizing capacity building and economic empowerment of the people especially the youth.

A key part of the plan is sustaining multi-level engagements and dialogue with militant groups, opinion leaders and relevant stakeholders. It was in pursuit of this vital objective that Kachikwu last week Monday facilitated a dialogue session between President Muhammadu Buhari and key Niger Delta leaders. Present at the forum were governors, ministers and other top officials from the region accompanied by top political leaders including Chief Edwin Clark and former governor, Obong Victor Attah. The meeting was attended by over a hundred representatives from the region.

According to media reports, the dialogue was frank and sometimes even blunt as the President spoke his mind about the responsibility of the region’s leaders to play their role in realising peace and defining development priorities for the beleaguered region. But overall the dialogue was productive according to the region’s representatives and other attendees. The general view of the leaders of Niger Delta that attended the three-hour close-door meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, at Aso Villa, was that the meeting was a good start and that it has broken the barrier between the president and the region.

During the meeting, the leaders of the Niger Delta region presented a 16-point demand to President Muhammadu Buhari which outlined specific proposals they believe would help create the conditions for lasting peace in the oil-rich region. Top on the list of demands is the relocation of the administrative and operational headquarters of major International Oil Companies (IOCs) to the Niger Delta region; clean-up of other communities affected by the environmental degradation caused by oil spills besides Ogoniland and a review of the amnesty programme’s core mandate of providing a robust exit strategy to ensure that those trained have jobs to return to or are given stipends amongst several others.

After the meeting, Kachikwu was quick to point out that the meeting was the first of several meetings that would hold quarterly in different states in the region. An indication that this is a continuous exercise that will lead to greater involvement of Niger Delta leaders in the government’s plans to develop the region.

“What that means is that it is going to be an ongoing engagement. It will never finish. The Ministry of Petroleum is continuing a quarterly meeting involving the oil companies who fairly beaten up a little bit today and the governors and the stakeholders which will happen once every 3 months,” Kachikwu said.

He said that the reality is that the substantial increase of production to 2.1 million barrels would not have happened without the behind the scene engagement of traditional rulers and leaders as well as cooperative militant leaders. He assured that the behind-the-scene engagements which are helping to improve the prospects for a peaceful Niger Delta will continue to take place on a regular basis.

To say the obvious, the efforts to realise a rapprochement with key stakeholders in the Niger Delta did not start last week. The current efforts are actually complementing earlier engagements between Kachikwu and various political, community and militant leaders. Following the resumption of hostilities in the region in May and talk of the use of force by the federal government to contain them, Kachikwu had come out strongly to express President Buhari’s desire and preference for peace and the deployment of force only as a last resort.

At an interactive session with a coalition of civil society groups in Lagos, Kachikwu said government should rather use the opportunity to educate the militants on why their actions are inimical not just to the national economy but even more to their region.

“The military battles cannot stop or solve the problem of militancy in the Niger Delta region. I will have to go back to my brothers; they are our brothers we will go and dialogue with them. They are our brothers, we will talk with them and make them see reason” Kachikwu said.

The spike in oil production is proof that the work done by Kachikwu and the rest of the Buhari team in the Niger Delta is delivering positive dividends for the country. For a country that has for so long been suffering the negative consequences of a simultaneous price shock caused by the crash in global oil prices and a quantity shock as a result of vandalism and militancy in the Niger Delta, the improvement in daily oil production is very good news indeed for the treasury.

And if the current progress is maintained the revenue prospects for the country will witness a definite improvement which will be felt at different levels of the economy. It is of course too early to conclude that the good news will last. Experience shows that like the graph of national revenues since oil prices crashed mid – 2014, the graph of peace in the Niger Delta is characterised by great volatility. But the progress being realised by the Kachikwu team in the Niger Delta demonstrates that progress is very possible when the long-standing issues are confronted with the right strategy, passion and a focus on results.

– Joseph is a policy expert based in Abuja