Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu can legitimately make the claim of being one of Nigeria’s most important people.
An ex-journalist who used to write a column about fatherhood, Kachikwu currently holds the post of minister of state for petroleum resources in the government of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. Kachikwu is actually a junior minister in this respect, since Buhari is technically the petroleum minister—the president decided to keep the portfolio to himself when appointing his cabinet in 2015 in order to oversee reform in the oil sector personally.
In Nigeria, being in charge of oil means almost unlimited power and prestige. The West African country is heavily dependent upon the oil and gas industry for government revenues—petroleum products account for more than 90 percent of the value of Nigeria’s exports. At the start of 2016, Nigeria was Africa’s biggest oil producer, churning out some 2.2 million barrels per day, a figure that has dropped significantly since due to a renewed campaign of attacks on oil pipelines by militants, including the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA).
Until Monday, Kachikwu also held the position of managing director of the state-run oil firm, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) that is directly responsible for four oil and gas fieldsand four refineries in Nigeria. But a spokesman for Buhari announced a reorganization of the NNPC’s leadership on Monday, with Kachikwu taking the more backseat role of a chairman of the board while Maikanti Kacalla Baru, the former director for exploration and production, takes over the leadership of the NNPC.
While it may seem like a demotion, Kachikwu’s role change is not completely unexpected—there was a potential for a conflict of interest in having the oil minister also being the head of the national oil company.
Kachikwu oversaw a tumultuous period at the NNPC. He was appointed in August 2015 and took charge of the corporation in the midst of a global oil price slump that saw 2014 prices of more than $100 per barrel cut by more than half. After a modest revival, the price of Brent crude is currently hovering at just under $50 per barrel—far less than what Nigeria needs to get its economy booming.
In March, Kachikwu was summoned before the Nigerian Senate to explain crippling fuel shortages, which saw motorists queue for hours outside gas stations. Shortages were caused by a multitude of factors, including the fact that Nigeria relies on imports for about 80 percent of its energy needs, since its oil refineries are not running anywhere near full capacity.
The minister has also had to deal with the resurgence of militant groups such as the NDA, who have been blowing up oil pipelines since February. Kachikwu has claimed that the government has reached out to the militants and settled on a ceasefire, but the claim was rubbished by the NDA, which launched five attacks over the weekend following a hiatus of just over two weeks.
Despite losing his leadership role at the NNPC, Kachikwu will continue with the unenviable task of trying to negotiate a settlement with the militants, who are demanding a greater share of Nigeria’s oil wealth for the impoverished Delta region.
An ex-president of the global oil body OPEC, Kachikwu is active on social media and launched Facebook and Twitter platforms for the NNPC during his first few weeks in office at the corporation. Kachikwu also describes himself as a pioneer of “romance journalism,” which “explores romantic tales and relationship issues across the country.”