What Nigeria’s surprise oil industry appointment could mean

Lagos | It was an obvious choice. Urbane, respected in the industry yet steely enough to push tough reforms, Odein Ajumogobia had been tipped for months to step up from deputy to minister and take the helm of Nigeria’s oil industry. His task would be to steer into law the Petroleum Industry Bill, the most ambitious overhaul of sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest energy sector in its 50-year history.

Except that it won’t be. Instead, following acting president Goodluck Jonathan’s unveiling of his cabinet on Tuesday, Mr Ajumogobia will be in charge of burnishing Nigeria’s pummelled image abroad as foreign minister.

For the first time, a woman will be in charge of the most macho of industries in the most macho of countries.

Diezani Allison-Madueke, formerly the mining minister, is not such a heavyweight as the man she is replacing, Rilwanu Lukman, the former Opec boss who had hoped to crown his career with the petroleum bill but who was seen as too close to Umaru Yar’Adua, the stricken president whose allies Mr Jonathan is seeking to overcome.

Reactions from industry insiders are mixed. Some are nervous that she might favour her former employers, Royal Dutch Shell. Her 14-year stint at the Anglo-Dutch group’s local joint venture ended with her responsible for its reputation – a tough task given Shell’s vexed history in the country. On the other hand, they worry that she will set about adding her stamp to a bill that has already been the subject of endless machinations.

Then again, some in the industry appear to have lobbied for Ms Allison-Madueke on the grounds that she might heed their warnings that the proposed tougher terms under the bill could stymie $50bn of planned investments.

Inevitably in a country where ethnicity weighs heavy, there will be protests that Mr Jonathan has handed the single most important cabinet job to a daughter of his home state, Bayelsa, at the heart of the Niger delta oil province at Nigeria’s southernmost tip. Mr Lukman, like Mr Yar’Adua, is a northerner.

The regional dimension is perennially overplayed. But the north can at least take solace from the appointment of Shehu Ladan, a northern veteran of the national oil company, as its new boss, replacing Mohammed Barkindo, a close ally of Mr Lukman whose dismissal minutes after the cabinet announcement surprised no one.

The Niger Delta is the source of a hefty chunk of Shell’s production and is important to ExxonMobil and Chevron of the US and Total of France; not to mention 80 per cent of Nigerian government revenues.

Ms Allison-Madueke’s next moves will be intriguing. In one ear she will have foreign groups demanding further concessions in the bill. In the other she will have the political factions and rebel leaders of the delta, who have long called for a greater share of the oil wealth to be ploughed back into the region from which it is extracted. Both are likely to regard her as one of their own.

Related links:

Diezani Allison-Madueke interview, 2007 – Daily Sun

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