Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Alison-Madueke, critics and the oil ministry. Nigeria!


Miriam Spiff

It is interesting how business, personal and parochial interests are dressed up for public consumption as national interests. Since the appointment of Deziani Alison-Madueke as the first female Petroleum Resources Minister, the nation has been treated a well-choreographed campaign against her by forces keen to maintain the status quo.
All manner of accusations have been dredged up to justify the smear campaign. What is interesting about all this drama is that those against her emergence are fronting for mostly interests in the oil and gas industry, afraid that she is not only very knowledgeable in this field but also tough-minded. But those up in arms against her want to claim the higher moral ground under the pretext of working to protect the national interest.

Consistent with their agenda, Alison-Madueke's assets are being made to look like awful liabilities. Thus, her rich experience as a former executive director of the Anglo-Dutch petroleum giant, Shell, is being manipulated to appear like a terrible handicap in the public imagination. "You can't have this lady, good as she may be", The Guardian quoted Nnimo Bassey of Environmental Rights Action (ERA) as saying. "We are not talking about her academic qualifications, we are not talking about her competence as a minister, we are talking about her background and her alliances and her attachment to Shell."

The keenness to distort facts has given rise to sheer debasement of reason. There is no where in the world where working in a sophisticated multinational is a handicap. It is rather an asset of immense value worldwide. No one should be allowed to pool wool over the eyes of the Nigerian people. Alison-Madueke is not the first former Shell employee to serve as Nigeria 's Petroleum Resources Minister. Edmund Daukoro, for instance, was the Minister of Petroleum under the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency. Yet, no questions were raised about his background as a former Shell employee.

Questions were not raised even when he was the Minister of State in-charge of the oil and gas industry. Nor is there evidence that Daukoro, now the traditional ruler of Nembe in Bayelsa State, went out of his way to favour Shell to the detriment of Nigerian national interest or to the disadvantage of other industry operators. Tony Chukwueke, a former Shell employee, may not have been Nigeria 's Petroleum Minister. But he held a position which made him almost as powerful as the minister. Chukwueke was appointed by the Obasanjo government the director and chief executive of the Department of Petroleum Resources, often called the policeman of the oil and gas industry. In this position he was supervising the NNPC and other industry operators. No one raised questions about his background as a former staff member of Shell in both Nigeria and the United Kingdom. His background as a first class geologist and his international exposure as a Shell employee in London and elsewhere were rather celebrated because they placed him in good stead to make informed decisions.

The claim that once someone has worked for an organisation he or she will ever remain beholden to it is utterly strange. There are many instances of complaints by oil majors in Nigeria that their toughest "opponents" have been their former employees now in government or elsewhere. Come to think of it: what will make a right-thinking Nigerian love a multinational like Shell more than his or her country? Simply because he or she once worked there? Are there no Nigerian employees, both former and serving, who have taken on the multinational firms? Nnaemeka Nwawka, a talented Shell engineer from Anambra State and the chief executive of the Orient Petroleum Ltd with headquarters in Awka and promoted by the Anambra Statement government, successfully fought Shell in a long-drawn legal battle.

Oronto Douglas, the senior special assistant to Acting President Goodluck Jonathan on strategy, must be surprised at how the Environmental Rights Action which he founded in the 1990s, is today being used to fight unwholesome causes. Douglas must be stunned at the statement that Alison-Madueke should be separated from the Petroleum Ministry simply because she has been on the Shell staff. Douglas knows, like most informed Nigerians, that Alison-Madueke is eminently qualified for her new job, even in ethical terms. She has served as the Transport Minister, a post which brought her into very close contact with oil and gas companies. Yet, no one has ever accused her of championing the interests of multinationals in, say, the implementation of the 2003 Cabotage Act which seeks far greater local content in the maritime industry.

The nation needs public officers like Alison-Madueke in all spheres of our national life. She spoke eloquently at her recent screening in the Senate, providing the latest facts and statistics on the oil and gas industry. No one doubts that she was exceedingly persuasive. She truly earned her place in history as not just an executive director of the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, but also the first Nigerian female to attain this height. She joined the Shell board when she was still in her early 40s. It is remarkable Alison-Madueke achieved all this despite her gender and despite working in a very conservative organisation.

While not holding brief for Shell, it has to be pointed out that Bassey overstretched the truth by alleging that Shell does not want to end gas flaring in the country. It was actually Shell which in the 1990s led the nation to draw up a timetable to bring gas flaring to an end in 2009 as part of the Vision 2010. But the government was delinquent in meeting its own part of the bargain. Its payment of cash call in the joint ventures with oil multinationals in which Nigeria-- represented by the NNPC-- was a senior partner, was too small and too epileptic, especially during the Sani Abacha regime which, ironically, facilitated Vision 2010 which sought to make Nigeria a medium-sized economic power by 2010. It is unacceptable for any group to distort facts in the name of activism so as to discredit Alison-Madueke.

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