Last month I was very interested to read the announcement from our esteemed Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr Emmanuel Kachikwu. He may have been speaking at the Nigerian Oil and Gas (NOG) Conference, but in reality he was addressing the world. His message was this: that the Federal Government will be able to attract more than 10 billion dollars investment to the oil and gas industry in the five years ahead.
The oil and gas sector in the Delta has struggled these past years and it will need the sort of optimism embodies by Dr Kachikwu to get it up and running again. And one only need look at the title of the presentation given (‘Reforming and Repositioning the Oil and Gas Industry in Nigeria') to see that the government minister is aware of the challenge.
Am I sceptical? Of course. We have come to be suspicious of any announcement like this. The figures are too large and the opportunity too great not to be swallowed with a seasoning of hesitation. But I am also encouraged. Dr Kachikwu understands the challenges that are ahead and it takes a brave politician in Nigeria to acknowledge that change will not happen overnight.
Instead, we are presented with a plan: to bridge the infrastructure funding gaps in the Nigerian oil and gas sector. We are told that the investments would directly address challenges facing the oil and gas industry, covering pipelines, refineries, gas and power, facility refurbishment and upstream financing.
Now, Nigerians are good at many things but we excel at making plans. We have plans for energy, plans for jobs, plans to beat off militancy. What we are less good at is action, so it remains to be seen how the government will make good on these grand ambitions in reality.
That said, we may be on the verge of a memorable act. The Petroleum Industries Act, no less. In Nigeria, it has been well known for over a decade that the outdated legal, regulatory and institutional structures that hold sway over the oil and gas sector are the biggest problem that must be fixed. Without it, the industry will never flourish.
This month, that Act may finally be passed and the reforms required within our ailing sector may mean that this dream of $10million investment takes a step closer to reality.