Speculation over Buhari’s Appointment for Oil Minister Points to Corruption

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New Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has not yet announced his incoming cabinet, which will probably be revealed to the cabinet at the end of July or early August.

People have been speculating at who the members of the cabinet will be for months. Of particular importance will be Buhari’s choice for his Minister of Petroleum. The incoming minister will be tasked with cleaning up the corrupt state-owned oil company NNPC while also rebuilding Nigeria’s refining sector, which has declined in recent years.

Under former President Goodluck Johnathan, the auditing firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers was commissioned to conduct an audit of NNPC after the then-Central Bank Governor Lamido Sansusi accused the company of stealing billions of dollars of oil revenue. The firm was unable to conduct a full audit because it was blocked from having full access to necessary data, but it generally concluded that NNPC was mismanaged and owed at least $1.48 billion to the state treasury.

A number of names have surfaced as analysts have tried to figure out who Buhari will pick.

In April, a source close to Buhari revealed that “it’s the President-elect’s person wish to return former Nigeria’s oil Minister, David West [sic] to the Petroleum Ministry.” The source further said that Tam David-West, a Professor of Virology, is “incorruptible, thrifty, and trustworthy.” David-West was previously the Minister of Petroleum and Energy for Buhari from 1984-1985, when he last held power following a military coup. In May, David-West said that he would accept an offer to be Minister of Petroleum, should Buhari make that offer to him.

Rotimi Amaechi, who recently finished his time in office as the governor of Rivers State, is reportedly another possible candidate for Minister of Petroleum. Rivers State is oil-rich and situated in the Niger River delta in the south. Additionally Amaechi gained the trust of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the party of Buhari, when he defected from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of former President Johnathan. He provided extensive support for Buhari’s recent campaign, and has therefore been expected to be rewarded with a ministerial position. Moreover, both former President Johnathan and his Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Alison-Madueke, are also from the Niger delta. As the area is incredibly important to the oil industry, having another Minister already familiar with the region could be seen as useful. In an address in late April, Amaechi asked Nigerians to disregard the speculations over the membership of the incoming cabinet, as no decisions had been made.

Most recently, analysts have said that Buhari is expected to not give the position of Minister of Petroleum to anyone, and that he will instead fulfill the role of oil minister himself. Buhari already has a deep knowledge of Nigeria’s oil sector: not only did he rule the country in the 1980s, but he also served oil minister for Olusegun Obasanjo in the 1970s and as the head of the Petroleum Trust Fund under Sani Abacha in the 1990s. Buhari was elected on an anti-corruption platform, and one of his associates said that the oil sector has become so corrupt that no one, save Buhari himself, will be able to clean it up.

However, although Buhari is now expected to take over the duties of the Minister of Petroleum himself in order to keep the position out of the hands of fraudulent politicians, he is not as disconnected from corruption as he wants Nigeria to think. Buhari, as previously stated, served as the head of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) under Sani Abacha in the 1990s. Abacha, who seized power in 1993, has been accused of stealing billions of dollars from Nigeria while in power. Abacha’s business associate and longtime friend Gilbert Chagoury has been identified as helping him siphon much of that money into foreign bank accounts. Chagoury controls South Atlantic Petroleum, a company that gained an excellent exploration license while Abacha was in power. As head of the PTF, which operated from 1994 to 1999, Buhari oversaw an organization that acted without government oversight and committed massive fraud. He also had to have been aware of the corruption of Abacha and Chagoury. Despite this, Chagoury assisted Buhari with his campaign and donated millions to the Buhari Campaign Organization.

Along with Chagoury’s assistance, Buhari received considerable help on his campaign from Ahmed Tinubu. Tinubu is connected to the Oando PLC oil company because his nephew Adewale Tinubu is the CEO. Adewale Tinubu also donated to Buhari’s campaign, and Ahmed Tinubu is believed to have suggested him as the next Minister of Petroleum. Tinubu also has business connections with Chagoury; Tinubu has helped Chagoury’s construction firms secure government contracts on numerous occasions.

As such, Nigeria may be facing a huge problem: a leader elected on an anti-corruption platform, with a strikingly corrupt past, is poised to take over the country’s largest and most lucrative ministry.

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