It is William James, a philosopher, who says, “It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome.” For those who know the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipreye Marlin Sylva, this philosopher may have spoken about him, a man whose positive attitude adds the Midas Touch to everything, ensuring that they are accomplished, no matter how mountainous the task is. His commitment and dedication to do the job is not only inspiring; it is very infectious.
This is not just for the saying! Perhaps this is what President Muhammadu Buhari would be saying today when he turns around to see the giant strides of his administration within the short period he has had Sylva as the “alternate Minister” in the petroleum ministry.
When Buhari appointed Sylva as petroleum ministry in 2019, the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), the draft for which the foundation was laid at the turn of the millennium in 2000, was in its 18th year, awaiting approval and passage into law. The closest the draft legislation came to being passed into law was during the 8th National Assembly.
Out of the four components of the Bill, the National Assembly passed the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB)mainly to provide the legal framework for the establishment of the governance structures to regulate operations of the petroleum industry. The legislative processes were completed, as the two Chambers of the National Assembly produced a harmonised copy of the Bill sent to the President for assent.However, just when Nigerians were about to heave a sigh of relief that the burden of the long delay in passing the Bill into law had been lifted, the President said he would not pen his signature, citing certain provisions that required further attention.
When Sylva arrived on the scene, he took up the difficult assignment of getting the PIB passed into law as one of his cardinal agenda to accomplish. Today, what seemed unachievable by anyone was achieved last Thursday, with thepassage into law of the PIB, pending the crucial final lap of getting the presidential seal of approval to make it an official working document, regulating the operations of the petroleum industry. The PIB, when signed into law, would provide the solid foundation upon which the growth of the country’s petroleum industry would rely on. This is only one of the record achievements that commends Sylva as the man with the Midas touch.
For over 43 years since its establishment, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), carried the ugly toga of being a cesspool of corruption; a place where nothing worked, despite sitting at the helm of the industry that accounts for more 80 percent of the country’s revenues. Opacity was its other name, as transparency and accountability were strange phenomena in their operations.
But following Sylvia’s arrival, the NNPC published its first Audited Account for the year ended 2019, highlighting the massive losses accumulated by successive administrations in recent memory. The corporation followed quickly with the publication of the 2020 Audited accounts. It has not only sustained the practice as an entrenched culture, but has kept faith with its commitment and determination to publish details of its monthly financial and operations report, capturing the performances of all its strategic business units, subsidiaries and affiliates. This is an unknown tradition in the history of Nigeria public institutions.
Today, the NNPC that was loathed as a global outcast in the committee of respectable corporate citizens has been found worthy to be named as one of the strategic partners of the global Extractive Indusries Transparency Initiative (EITI) for the ongoing reforms of its processes. This is not only commendable but a feat that Sylva and the management of the Corporation has vowed to sustain.
The achievement of the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG), a global leader in gas development, is another worthy story of mention. After quickly ramping up its production output capacity to about six trains and 22 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) capacity, it appeared its potential to expand and grow was stalled but, with Sylva coordinating and pulling the strings along with management of the NNPC and all the partners involved in the execution of the project, the final investment decision for the construction of the Nigeria LNG Train 7 was taken in December 2019 at the peak of the fiery impact of Coronavirus pandemic, which devastated the world and frustrated fresh investment initiatives.
Happily, last month, the official ground breaking ceremony of the Train 7 project was performed, in Bonny, Rivers State by President Muhammadu Buhari, signaling the official commencement of the construction of the Train 7 project. What a stride for the Nigeria gas sector? When completed, the plant would not only consolidate Nigeria’s position among global leaders in the liquefied natural gas businesses, but also boost the country’s current global LNG production capacity by 35 percent, to about 30 MTPA as well as Nigeria’s competitiveness in the LNG market.
Over the years, successive administrations have paid lip service to an agenda to harness for value the huge potential of the country’s gas reserves, put conservatively at about 206 trillion cubic feet, but not with Sylva who sees gas as a transition energy between oil and renewable energy. He believes that Nigeria needs to diversity the economy and create the needed jobs for its teeming population.
With the world said to be approaching the end of the oil era in the next 50 years, Sylva believes Nigeria is still far from joining the energy transition train as the country is yet to harness the vast gas resources. Gas is fuel for our cars,domestic fuel for cooking and other household chores, generation of electricity, power to the country’s industrial establishments, like fertiliser plants, petrochemical and methanol plants.
Sylva believes that before the transition to renewable energy, the country should utilise her gas resources to develop infrastructure for the benefit of the people. Perhaps, that is why he has supported the programme of aggressive development of gas utilization projects.
Sylva is leading the showcase of the Ajoakuta-Kaduna-Kano (AKK) gas pipeline project, one of the legacy projects of the Buhari administration. Launched in 2020, the pipeline system was conceived to help create, in the northern part, the market for the gas produced in the southern part. The AKK Project will help bring gas across Nigeria for the overall benefit of the economy and gas-based industrial establishments across Nigeria along the pipeline route, which is expected to extend beyond Kano to as far away as Algeria to European markets.
With such ambitious gas projects, Sylva believes that the level of gas flaring, which is currently down by over 90 percent, would be cut down even further to save our environment the dire consequences of environmental pollution. Decade of gas and National gas expansion programmes launched in 2020 was in recognition of the need to focus on gas as a bridge to renewable fuels and a natural resource that the country must take advantage of. Sylva believes that gas development provides the greater linkage to the national economy than crude oil. With gas, he says, the country stands at an advantage position to harness its benefits, like the production of fertilizer and other agricultural inputs to enhance the agricultural sector.
Gas that is produced can be transformed to petrochemicals,and petrochemicals can be transformed into many things that we need in life, including the plastic on the camera, the phone, the clothes we wear; petrochemicals come from gas.
Amid the fluctuations in the International price of crude oil in recent times, Sylva believes the quest for diversification of the country’s economic base has no better alternative than gas resources. Apart from trying to raise the country’s consciousness towards the utilization of natural gas as alternative fuel of choice, Sylva is not afraid to chew on bones and make difficult choices, so far as they would bring comfort to the people.
At the moment subsidy of petroleum products supplies constitutes such a bone. Every month, huge revenues that are supposed to go into the Federation Account for distribution to the three tiers of government to be used for developmental purposes is spent on subsidy payment for petroleum products supplies. Sylva believes the country cannot continue to sustain the fuel subsidy regime and at the same expect to grow. He says an end must be put to fuel subsidy to make money available for government to continue to provide basic infrastructure necessary to make life better for the people.
There is massive resistance from vested interests. But it appears the more the resistance, the more Sylva is determined to forge ahead with the agenda to remove subsidy from the pricing template of petroleum products in the country. The deregulation policy in the downstream sector of the petroleum industry appears to be synonymous to price increase.
But Sylva believes not allowing prices of petroleum products to be determined by the interaction of market forces would make it difficult for the government to remove subsidy from the pricing template. He believes the country will continue to move in a vicious cycle of doom, as every litre of petroleum product imported for consumption in the country would always find its way to neighbouring countries whose fuel prices are higher and more attractive to smugglers.
Sylva sees the reactivation of the country’s four refineries and the promotion of increased local refining capacity as the way out of the crisis. The repair of the refineries has already begun with the award of contract for the complete rehabilitation of the two refineries in Port Harcourt, with the others in Warri and Kaduna lined up to take their turns between now and 2024. The target is to see Nigeria transform from being a net importer of petroleum products to a net exporter of the commodities over the period.
In terms of increased crude oil production capacity to meet the country’s aspiration to raise its capacity from the current 2.3 million barrels to three million barrels per day, and national reserves from 30 billion to 40 billion barrels, Sylva recently presided over the process of awarding fresh 57 marginal oil field licenses to indigenous operators.
With first oil expected to flow from the fields from January 2023, Sylva believe Nigeria would be on course to realize its objective of increasing its crude oil output capacity and reserves immediately the output cut agreement by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) comes to an end by April 2022. The agreement was put in place by the OPEC and its non-OPEC counterparts to stabilize the crude oil market and firm up price of the commodity in the wake of the decline in the global economy as a result of the impact of COVID-19 pandemic.
As he celebrates his 57th birthday today, Chief Timipre Sylva is not slowing down in his pursuit for a better Nigeria. He declared at the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) forum recently that he would like to be remembered as Timipre Sylva who contributed his little quota to the overall development of the Nigerian state.
This son of the Niger Delta and former governor of Bayelsa state deserves an applause for what he has been able to accomplish for Nigeria. Happy birthday, sir!
Ojie Ejemhen, a political commentator contributed this piece from Abuja, Nigeria