By Adebayo Obajemu
The former Bayelsa State governor, Timipre Sylva, now Minister of State for Petroleum is in many ways the right person for the position. One, he is a Niger Deltan, and secondly, a former governor, who is in position to understand the politics and nuances of oil and gas ecosystem.
Thus, he is better placed to calm rising storms over the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, and in that wise, he has done that with aplomb and competence.
Not only has the volatile Niger Delta become calm, he had been at the forefront of the actualization of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, in addition to his drive and passion to add value to the oil and gas sector. Although his people have mounted a spirited campaign against his major accomplishment in office so far, he is receiving recognition from unlikely quarters.
Since the passage of the PIB by both chambers of the National Assembly controversy had erupted over some sections of the Act such as the five percent provision for host communities, the allocation of 30 percent of profit of the oil companies to exploration in the frontier basins, and the definition of host communities include areas where the pipelines passed.
But Silva has been able to manage the controversy effective by redefining the section for the host communities to mean from the total investment of the oil company, while the 30 percent will be from profit. This clarification which gives a greater amount to the five percent seems to have doused the agitation, but there still remains the issue of host communities, which as currently defined will include some communities outside the Niger Delta.
However, as a mark of the recognition of the contributions of the Minister of State for Petroleum in Nigeria to the growth of OPEC, at the 26th Meeting of the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee (JMMC) held on 3 February 2021, the Chair of the Committee, HRH Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Energy, and Co-chair, Alexander Novak, Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, mandated, Sylva to undertake a mission as Special Envoy to the following Participating Countries: Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and South Sudan.
The purpose of this mission is to hold consultations with the respective leaders of these countries on the DoC market rebalancing efforts.
In particular, the Special Envoy will discuss matters pertaining to conformity levels with the voluntary production adjustments and explore how Participating Countries can collectively support and assist each other in achieving full conformity with their supply adjustments.
Sylva will also discuss with relevant authorities the compensation mechanism in accommodating underperformed volumes as agreed at the June ministerial meetings, and later amended in September 2020.
Furthermore, this mission will solidify the dialogue channels between Participating Countries, and enhance transparency and information exchange. Given the geographic proximity of these countries, it is a rare opportunity for Ministers and leaders to safely meet in person, following months of virtual conferencing.
Sylva has always striven to reposition the oil and gas sector to give maximum value, and at different occasions, has always provided insights.
Sylva says promoting digital transformation in the nation’s oil and gas industry will boost profitability and efficiency. He stated this while delivering the graduation lecture at the National Defence College Course 29 titled, “Enhancing Digital Technology in the Oil and Gas Sector of Nigeria for National Development” on Monday in Abuja.
He said the data-centric tools would enable real-time view of operations across the value chain as well as allowing predictive operations and maintenance.It is his view that closing the digital gap would help lessen hindrances to efficient production and improve process optimisation in the country’s oil and gas industry.
To enhance digital technology, he said there should be a deliberate effort to build resilience and sustainability in the oil and gas infrastructure.
This, to him, would protect the country’s key economic assets from cyber-attacks and other web-based criminalities. According to him, the Saudi Aramco case should be instructive to operators in the industry.
“An employee of Saudi Aramco with privileged access had on August 15, 2012 opened a scam email in an intentional act of sabotage involving the release of a virus that destroyed the entire computer system of the organisation in hours.
“There is also a recent case in the United States involving the largest fuel pipeline in the country, whose operations were shut down for nearly a week after a cyber-attack.
“The attack caused distribution problems in the U.S. and panic-buying that drained supplies at thousands of gas stations,” he said.
Sylva says the oil and gas sector accounts for about 10 per cent of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while crude oil exports represents about 86 per cent of total export earnings, while the actual government revenue from the sector is 40 per cent.
He said Nigeria, with more than 200 million inhabitants, remained the most populous country within the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
According to him, the country has proven crude oil reserves of 37 billion barrels; production capacity of 2.5 million barrels per day; and actual crude oil production of about 1.5 million barrels daily.
“It is the largest crude oil producer in Africa and holds the largest natural gas reserves on the continent. The country has proven natural gas reserves of 206.53 trillion cubic feet; and average production of about 7, 575 million standard cubic feet per day (MMSCFD).
Sylva said oil and gas occupied a central place in Nigeria’s development equation, being a big producer and marketer of the products.
Sylva was born July 7, 1964 in Brass, Bayelsa (formerly Rivers State, of which Bayelsa State was split off from in 1996), and was educated there and in Lagos.
He was a member of the Rivers State House of Assembly in the 1990s. Sylva graduated from the University of Port Harcourt with distinction in English (Linguistics) in 1986. At the time, he was the best graduating student from his department and departmental valedictorian.
He was subsequently awarded a Doctor in International Relations (Honoriscausa) by the UBIS University in 2011.He was awarded his second Doctorate (HonorisCausa) in Public Administration on the 2nd of December 2020 by AiPA (African Institute of Public Administration, Leading Edge Foundation and LBBS.
Sylva’s political career started in 1992 when he won a seat in the House of Assembly election representing Brass constituency in old Rivers State. At the time, he was the youngest of all the members in the House of Assembly.
His political career continued when he was appointed as the Special Assistant to the Minister of State for Petroleum in 2004 under the auspices of Dr. Edmund Dakouru. He continued in that position until he resigned to join the PDP gubernatorial primaries in 2006 in Bayelsa State, in which he placed, second behind Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
After the PDP presidential primaries election and Dr. Jonathan was appointed as a running mate to HE Umaru Musa Yar’adua of blessed memory, the gubernatorial candidacy for PDP became vacant, and conventional wisdom took the better of the political actors and Sylva was elevated to occupy the position of PDP gubernatorial candidate.
As a candidate of the People’s Democratic Party Sylva won the 2007 Bayelsa State gubernatorial election and succeeded Goodluck Jonathan who went on to the position of Vice President.
During his inauguration he said that Bayelsa was “the least developed industrially and commercially” of all 36 states.
Sylva’s opponent in the 2007 election, Ebitimi Amgbare of the Action Congress, legally challenged his victory. Although the Bayelsa State Election Petitions Tribunal upheld Sylva’s election, Amgbare took the matter to the Appeal Court in Port Harcourt which overturned the Tribunal’s decision and nullified Sylva’s election on April 15 2008.
The Appeal Court’s five justices were unanimous in their decision and ordered that Speaker Werinipre Seibarugo be sworn in to replace Sylva as acting Governor, with a new election to be held within three months.
A new election was held on May 24, 2008, and Sylva, again running as the PDP candidate, was overwhelmingly elected with 588,204 out of about 598,000 votes. He was sworn in again on May 27, saying on this occasion that he would form a broadly inclusive unity government.
On January 27, 2012, his tenure was terminated by the Supreme Court with an acting governor appointed to oversee the state until the election of February 2012. Sylva was appointed by President Buhari on Wednesday, August 21, 2019, as the Nigerian Cabinet Minister of State for Petroleum Resources.
The former governor has his own bag of controversy. He had been quizzed severally like most past governors by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, over issues arising from his term as governor of Bayelsa. About 48 of his properties were seized but later returned to him.
At that time, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission explained that the former governor was able to recover the 48 houses it seized from him. The EFCC in a series of tweets on its official Twitter handle alleged that Justice Adeniyi Ademola was the one who thwarted the case in a controversial ruling.
The anti-graft agency had come under fire recently for returning the seized houses to the former governor who is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress.
However, the EFCC said Sylva got away because of the judiciary which it described as an obstacle to the war on corruption.
The anti-graft agency said the case was controversial because Sylva was discharged barely a few days to the APC governorship primary in 2015.
The EFCC said, “He (Sylva) was facing 42 charges before Justice Mohammed of the FHC Abuja. The said properties were forfeited as part of the trial. The EFCC applied to consolidate charges against him before Justice Mohammed after the DPP, on June 1, 2015, withdrew its own charges.
“On June 10, 2015, rather than hear the case, Justice Mohammed dismissed the charges without him and co-defendants taking their pleas. The EFCC expressed its discontent at the ruling, and Chief Justice of the Federal High Court, Abuja reassigned the case to Justice Ademola of the FHC Abuja.
“On June 12, 2015 the EFCC filed fresh charges and on July 9, 2015 and brought 50 counts against him before Justice Ademola. The EFCC had expected a speedy/fair trial. But no! Few days to the Bayelsa State governorship election, Justice Ademola freed him without pleas taken.”
They argued that the commission had in the past flouted court orders when handling cases involving politicians in the opposition parties but was treating politicians in the APC with kid gloves. At that time a cross section of Twitter users, however, blamed the judiciary for striking out the case.
A user, Khunum-Khufu, wrote, “Sylva had a corruption case against him in court when President Muhammadu Buhari made him chairman of his inauguration committee.”
Another user, Onwa, wrote, “So obviously there are some powerful people protecting Sylva from the law. If it’s not from EFCC, then it’s from a higher power.”
Jacob Ehwarieme wrote, “Nigerian judiciary is inept and corrupt politicians are enjoying and feasting on our comatose law books. God punish the wicked ones, turn them to hell fire.”
The EFCC had on January 3, 2013 taken possession of 48 properties of Sylva while he was on trial, but they were later returned to him on the order of the court.