What Madam OPEC president cannot do -By Luke Onyekakeyah

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What Madam OPEC president cannot do -By  Luke Onyekakeyah

 

The selection of Nigeria to the post of president of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which automatically falls on the incumbent Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, has generated undue enthusiasm from several quarters, including the media, probably, because she is a woman. The plethora of writings and excitement being expressed is that Mrs. Madueke, not Nigeria, has been elected as president of OPEC, seemingly, as a result of her extraordinary qualifications in the oil sector. This is utter misinformation. Nigeria is the one selected to be president.

Those ignoring Nigeria and instead showering accolades on Mrs. Madueke got it wrong. They don’t seem to know the workings of OPEC or are deliberately being sycophantic. It is like congratulating a newborn baby (congrats baby), and leaving the mother who carried the pregnancy and bore the child. OPEC doesn’t elect individuals as its president but countries are selected in turns. There was no competition or voting in which Mrs. Madueke emerged president. Professor Tam David-West, a former Minister of Petroleum, clarified that that there is no election to the post, adding that “the tenure is only for a meeting except the current president is given another term”. Mrs. Mudueke was the alternate president since January 2014 before becoming the substantive president.

The post of president rotates among the member countries. When it is the turn of any country, she automatically assumes the position, even though, OPEC might reject a person deemed unsuitable presented by the country. On that ground, we congratulate Mrs. Madueke for being found worthy to chair OPEC conferences as president. Nigerians must put the information right in order not to put false hope or expectations on Mrs. Madueke. Success or failure, it is Nigeria that would be blamed or held responsible and not Mrs. Madueke. Those setting tasks for Mrs. Madueke should direct it to Nigeria instead, for, Mrs. Madueke cannot, on her own, do anything without reference to Nigeria. She may not be able to do anything that would benefit Nigeria alone. What Nigeria would gain is that her voice would be heard more and if she could lobby effectively, she could influence decisions.

Whoever is the Minister of Petroleum automatically assumes that post on behalf of Nigeria irrespective of the gender. What happened is that destiny has thrown up Mrs. Madueke as the Petroleum Minister at this material time, when it is Nigeria’s turn to be president and she has to occupy the post on behalf of Nigeria. President Jonathan who appointed her also deserves accolade.

As a matter of fact, Madueke is not the first Nigerian Minister of Petroleum to occupy that post. Former occupants include Dr. Rilwanu Lukman (1994) and Dr. Edmund Daukoru (2006). Those anchoring on her gender to make her position seem extraordinary are praise-singers. In this age, when women are making waves in all spheres of human endeavour, some people see Mrs. Madueke’s coincidental position as historic! Well in Nigeria, yes. If that be the case, what do we say about women astronauts, who have been to space and back?

During the weekend, I saw on CNN cable news, heavily armed Kurdish women soldiers in the frontlines battling ISIS militants in northern Iraq. What do we say about such brave and courageous women? Using gender sensitivity to praise-sing Mrs. Madueke is an insult to women in Nigeria. It is derogatory, meaning that in this clime, women are not expected to rise above a certain level. That may explain why women don’t aspire to be president in Nigeria; those who attempted in the past were not supported by their fellow women. Mrs. Angela Merkel has been the Chancellor of Germany and is seen as the de facto leader of the European Union. Mrs. Hilary Clinton is contesting for the president of the United States of America in 2016. The catalogue of great women who have helped to change the world is endless. After Mrs. Madueke must have served her tenure, whoever is the Minister of Petroleum in future when it would be Nigeria’s turn again to be president will occupy the post on behalf of Nigeria.

That Nigeria is the current OPEC president, of which our amiable lady, Mrs. Madueke, is our ambassador on that seat, doesn’t mean that Nigeria or Mrs. Madueke, now has the power to change the global oil dynamics without concurrence from the other members of the oil cartel. As the incumbent oil Minister, Mrs. Madueke has all the latitude to impact the dynamics of Nigeria’s oil industry. All the problems plaguing the oil industry are there for her to tackle as Minister. There is nothing that Mrs. Madueke cannot do for Nigeria that she can do now because she is holding Nigeria’s position as OPEC president.

The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which is seen as a critical transforming instrument for Nigeria’s oil industry is still in the cooler. It would be more than enough accomplishment for Mrs. Madueke to use her historic position as oil minister to get the bill passed by the National Assembly. Unfortunately, the shenanigans, intrigues and geo-political tussle from within and without have combined to strangulate the PIB. How to get it out of the chokehold is the issue. I don’t see what are being listed as great accomplishments that are outside the normal job responsibility of the Minister, when the PIB is still outstanding. Getting the PIB passed into law is one historic accomplishment that would distinguish any Minister under whom the bill is passed into law.

Having said that, becoming OPEC’s president is not child’s play. The OPEC president is not serving his or her country alone but the world including both OPEC and non-OPEC countries. To that extent, it is remarkable that Nigeria has assumed president of OPEC at a most critical time when global oil prices are tumbling. The challenge before Nigeria, acting through Mrs. Madueke, as OPEC president, is not an easy one. Dealing with sliding crude oil prices in today’s turbulent world is an uphill task that requires tack, dexterity, discernment and judgment. This is where Mrs. Madueke has to demonstrate her wealth of experience in the oil industry. We hope she is capable of doing that? She has to provide the needed leadership to weather the storm of dwindling oil revenue in many OPEC countries.

It was baffling that faced with falling oil prices, when many expected OPEC during its last meeting to, as usual, cut oil output in order to ginger price increase but the meeting decided otherwise and chose to hang on to its current output level of 30 million barrels per day. The challenge facing OPEC now is that it is not the only player in the global oil market. There are big time non-OPEC players like Russia, the United States of America and the United Kingdom, among others. Even, within OPEC, there are discordant tones from the big players like Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries, which are not bothered with low prices. But African countries, including Nigeria and other oil producers fighting wars need the petro dollar badly for their economies and to prosecute wars.

 

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