From Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
Former Minister of Petroleum, Prof Tam David-West has said that the plunge in oil price should not be made the scapegoat for the economic crisis the nation is wading through.
David-West who first expressed this view in a report published yesterday clarified that the headline on the cover page of Saturday Sun, ‘You must fulfill your promises – David-West tells Buhari,’ conveyed an erroneous message, different from the import of the story.
“What I said in the interview has nothing to do with the campaign promises of the All Progressives Congress and President Muhammed Buhari,” David-West pointed out yesterday.
The former minister stressed that instead of blaming low oil price for the nation’s woes, the government should rather focus on addressing the problems of bad orientation, bad organization and selfish interests bedeviling the oil industry.
“Don’t blame oil price for your woes. The problem is bad orientation, bad organization and personal interest. There are a lot of personal interests in the oil industry. Why should somebody, who is a major oil contractor have a say in what happens in NNPC?”
David-West, who said that the Federal Government should make public offices less attractive in order to block the drains in the coffers of the country, stated further, “Now, oil is selling at around $40 per barrel. There is no reason to complain. I agree that if oil price is low, Nigerians should worry because oil makes up over 80 per cent of our annual budget and over 90 per cent of all Nigeria’s money abroad – foreign money. So, oil is the life blood of the monolithic economy of Nigeria.
“We should be concerned if oil price is down. Of course, it will affect us. We should be concerned. But we should not over dramatise it. Why? It is because this is not the first time.
“Fortunately, when I was Minister of Petroleum, I served under Muhammadu Buhari as the Head of State in 1984 to 1985. During my tenure under him, oil never sold more than $30 per barrel. So, why are they complaining about $40 per barrel now?
“When I was a minister, the highest price of oil was $30 per barrel. The oil that was sold for $30 per barrel was Bonny Light, which is one of the best oil in the world. Bonny Medium was selling at $28 per barrel. We never complained.”
David-West, who noted he earned higher as a lecturer in the University of Ibadan, more than his initial salary as a minister, continued: “Sometime in 1984 when the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) decided to start its market share, oil price went down to $10 per barrel. Yet, we still did a lot for Nigeria. So, why are they complaining about $40 per barrel? They are complaining because of lack of industry, selfishness and personal interests.
“I have decided for a long time not to say anything about oil industry in Nigeria under the present administration so that I would not be misunderstood. But a lot of things are wrong. But I cannot now, after balancing the interest of Nigerians vis-a-vis my own personal interest, keep quiet.
“From now on, I will be x-raying the oil industry and speak in the interest of Nigerians and the interest of the President himself.
“In 1984, Buhari’s government was not popular with the West. They liked the previous government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. They were doing everything to bring him down.
“Two countries – Norway and Britain, that were in rivalry with us cut down their oil price by 50 cents, which is not up to a dollar. The British Brent Crude is like the Bonny Light of Nigeria. The two are very similar.
“Some Western countries gave them money to undercut Nigeria. They thought by doing that, Buhari’s government will collapse. What did Buhari do? He and Tunde Idiagbon called a meeting. Buhari said oil price had collapsed and what they had done was to destroy Nigeria.
“I told him at the meeting that there was crisis and we had three options. The first option was, he should not do anything. If he did not do anything, the economy would collapse and the government would fall.
“The second option was that they had cut about 50 cent, let us also cut about 50 cent. But it would seem as if we could not think and we were just doing follow-follow. The third option was he should surprise the world.
“Buhari then told me after he had weighed all the options that I should go and cut oil price by $2. Can you imagine that? They undercut us by 50 cent. I announced to the world that we had cut oil price by $2. Then, we never complained.
“By cutting oil price by $2, Bonny Light sold for $28 and Boinny Medium sold for $26. We survived. We built new refinery – the Port Harcourt Refinery was built during that time.
We started petrol chemical. We started NLNG. We stopped bunkering and smuggling.
“We had a strategy for selling oil, which London Financial Times said was extraordinary.
So, what is happening in the country now is not due to oil price. It is due to lack of vision, commitment, and understanding the industry.” The Sun