Timipre Sylva — the new minister of state (or deputy minister) at the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) — has taken on his responsibilities at a time when Nigeria wants to boost production and revenues against a backdrop of heightened oil market uncertainty. In the short term, guided by the advice of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) managing director Mele Kyari, Sylva has agreed to constrain output.
Kyari, formerly Nigeria’s representative at OPEC, has a background in Niger Delta politics and links to sundry business people and activists in the region. He also has a keen understanding of bargaining techniques and diplomatic positions in the producers’ cartel.
Sylva will be very dependent on the counsel of the two Kyaris: the NNPC’s Mele Kyari and Abba Kyari. The latter is a sitting director on the NNPC board and Chief of Staff to President Muhammad Buhari, who remains the Minister of Petroleum Resources. Sylva will have far less room to manoeuvre than his predecessor, Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, who used his long career as a legal adviser to ExxonMobil to take commercial and policy initiatives independently of the NNPC.
The core tasks ahead for Sylva are threefold:
- to handle increasing pressure to reduce output and comply with a production target of 1.86 million b/d under the OPEC/non-OPEC output agreement
- to push through the National Assembly key legislation such as the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) and associated Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB)
- to address continuing threats to security such as oil theft, pipeline vandalism, and militant attacks in the Niger Delta.
Sylva — an experienced politician and Bayelsa State’s 2008–2012 governor — differs sharply in character and expertise from Kachikwu. He is unlikely to provide impetus for policy change, but his political network could win backing for industry reforms.
He will also face ethical scrutiny relating to allegations about the accountability of his tenure as Bayelsa governor, although he has not been convicted of any crimes in Nigeria.