Nigeria, a nation richly blessed with abundant petroleum resources, has held a long-standing, albeit perplexing, tradition in its governance system: Presidents appointing themselves as the Minister of Petroleum Resources.

The Nigerian Constitution of 1999 grants the president extensive powers to establish ministerial positions and delegate responsibilities. While this legal framework empowers presidents to consolidate authority, it has often led to an over-centralization of power when it comes to the petroleum ministerial portfolio.

The Origin of This Unusual Practice The origins of this unique practice can be traced back to the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003. But why did he choose to simultaneously hold the roles of President and Minister of Petroleum Resources? One plausible explanation lies in the issue of trust—or perhaps a lack thereof.

Obasanjo, driven by a desire to reform Nigeria’s oil sector, might have believed that taking on this role personally was the most reliable way to ensure transparency and efficiency. However, this trust-driven decision raises essential questions: Does this practice genuinely enhance trust, or does it have the opposite effect?

The current president, Bola Tinubu, has restructured the Ministry of Petroleum Resources in his ministerial appointments. He has appointed Ekperipe Ekpo as Minister of State (Gas) and Heineken Lokpobiri as Minister of State (Petroleum). However, the position of the substantive Minister of Petroleum Resources still seems to be retained by the president himself, following the example set by his predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari.

The Implications of Serving as Both President and Minister of Petroleum Resources The decision to juggle both the roles of President and Minister of Petroleum Resources comes with significant implications. First and foremost, it places an enormous workload on the president, who already has the responsibility of overseeing all government ministries and sectors. This heavy burden can hinder effective governance and divert attention away from other critical issues.

Furthermore, this dual role clouds transparency and accountability. When the president holds the petroleum portfolio, it becomes challenging for the National Assembly and the media to subject the sector to thorough scrutiny. Criticisms may be perceived as attacks on the government, potentially stifling meaningful discussions and reforms.

A Tradition in Need of Reevaluation Buhari continued the practice initiated by Obasanjo, assuming the role of Minister of Petroleum Resources during his presidency. However, his tenure faced significant challenges within the petroleum sector. Crude oil production declined, oil theft escalated, and the fuel subsidy issue remained largely unaddressed. These challenges prompt us to question whether having a president at the helm of the petroleum sector guarantees success and effective management.

One of the most pressing concerns surrounding this practice is the lack of accountability. While the National Assembly can summon ministers for questioning, summoning a president who holds the petroleum portfolio poses a political minefield. As a result, critical issues concerning the petroleum sector often evade thorough scrutiny, leaving room for mismanagement and corruption.

The petroleum sector necessitates specialized knowledge, innovation, and practical solutions. The president, burdened with a multitude of responsibilities, may not possess the expertise and focus required for optimal sector management. Appointing a dedicated Minister of Petroleum Resources with the necessary qualifications could potentially lead to more favorable outcomes.

As Nigeria grapples with the challenges plaguing its petroleum sector, it becomes increasingly evident that the tradition of presidents appointing themselves as oil ministers needs a thorough reevaluation. This practice has not consistently delivered the desired results and impedes transparency and accountability.