It was a period of suffering and tumult, with the people rebelling against the monarchy. Upon being told that the citizens had no bread (which was a staple) to eat, Marie Antoinette, the Queen-consort of Louis XVI of France, exclaimed “let them eat cake”.
Whether or not she uttered those words is still a subject of debate among historians, with some claiming that she did, in order to make her look insensitive and undermine her position. Others argue that Marie has simply been misinterpreted.
Whatever Marie Antoinette might, or might not have said, her supposed retort has become a metaphor for insensitive governments and individuals who remain aloof, indeed, willfully blind to the suffering of the majority in times of great hardship.
A similar scenario is being reenacted by the queen of Nigeria’s oil industry, Diezani Allison-Madueke, who was recently appointed the first president of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), though the price of crude oil has slipped by nearly 50 percent and it isn’t apparent that she will bring extraordinary cerebral and strategic thinking to the organization and the broader oil industry.
The tens of millions of naira spent on congratulatory messages to the Oil Queen, at a time when even the federal government is struggling to pay salaries indicate how out-of-touch Nigeria’s elite are with the rest of the country. And just before the racket that followed her election as the OPEC chief petered, she was also appointed president of the Ministerial Meeting of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF), also as the first woman to head the body.
The eye-service messages are not about what she has achieved, but that the fact that Mrs. Alison-Madueke is the first women to head Nigeria’s petroleum ministry and also the first president of OPEC and GEFC. That every major and minor operator in the oil industry is scrambling for newspaper pages to congratulate her is evidently vainglorious and intended to massage her obviously large ago.
But why is it that despite being severally and severely diluted, the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) is yet to be passed? How come, notwithstanding numerous promises and hundreds of millions of dollars, Nigeria’s refineries are still not working, or at best, operating far below installed capacity? Why has oil theft become a booming industry under her watch when the oil thieves are known to the authorities?
There are still more questions for this oil queen: What strategic investments has Nigeria made in the oil and gas sector since she assumed office and how have they benefited Nigerians or even improved the oil sector? Why is Nigeria still flaring gas despite the contrary government policies? What happened to the hundreds of billions of naira spent under a supposed kerosene subsidy regime?
Mrs. Allison-Madueke owes the Nigerian public more explanations: Why is government still spending hundreds of billions of naira in the name of fuel-subsidy when the landing cost of fuel at current prices show that no subsidies actually exist? Why has the pump price of fuel not fallen in Nigeria as has happened, even in countries that do not produce or export oil? Why has the oil queen ‘eaten’ more Group Managing Directors of the NNPC than any other petroleum minister?
What happened to the report of the Ribadu Panel, which investigated the oil subsidy regime and allocation of oil blocks in Nigeria’s oil industry? What happened to the findings that fraudulent claims cost Nigeria N2.6 trillion (at that time). What about the N4.6 trillion that Nigeria lost to graft in the oil sector as indicated in the report? Have we written off the claims that a combined N7.2 trillion might have been stolen from the oil sector? What happened to the missing $20 billion from the NNPC accounts?
Sadly, not only has this oil queen demonstrated absolute contempt for the Nigerian public, she is so ensconced in power and protected by the president that she was able to ignore summons from the House of Representatives committee probing how she spent billions of naira chartering private jets. To demonstrate her utter scorn for transparency and accountability, the oil queen has just had a court has just set aside the invitation from the National Assembly.
Mrs. Allison-Madueke’s attitude has no place in a country like Nigeria where poverty is squeezing a majority of the population to the point of desperation. It also makes a mockery of our democratic processes and institutions. Under her watch, Nigeria’s oil industry and the NNPC have become personal fiefdoms where she rules without regard to established procedures and processes. Oil workers have gone on strike more times under her tenure than at any other time.
As the oil industry faces one of the most critical challenges in years, it is important to evaluate the kind of leadership that the sector requires in order to mitigate the challenge of corruption, oil theft, fake subsidy payments, under-investment, dysfunctional refineries and an oil queen that, Marie Antoinette, seems to live in a universe of her own.