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Towards the reform of Africa’s ‘OPEC’

Next Monday July 24, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo is expected to formally declare open the Extra-Ordinary Session of the Council of Ministers of the African…

Next Monday July 24, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo is expected to formally declare open the Extra-Ordinary Session of the Council of Ministers of the African Petroleum Producers Organisation (APPO) which, until March this year, was known as African Petroleum Producers Association (APPA). The meeting will be hosted by Nigeria and will be holding at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja, the Federal Capital territory.

APPA, now APPO, is made up of 18 member countries namely Nigeria, Algeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Niger, Chad, Congo DR, Congo Brazzaville, Angola, Mozambique, Mauritania, Libya, Cote d’ Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Benin, Egypt, South Africa and Sudan. APPA was formed in January, 1987 in Lagos, Nigeria at the instance of Nigeria and seven other African petroleum producing countries: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Cameroun, Congo Brazzaville, Gabon and Libya. 

From this humble beginning, the association now boasts of its current 18 members with three others namely Kenya, Senegal, Madagascar and two international economic organisations, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Association of African Refiners (ARA) seeking to assume observer status. Chances are that in the next five to ten years all African countries will become APPO members as oil and gas would have been discovered in commercial quantity in all of them!

The organisation’s secretariat is located in Libreville, capital of Congo Brazzaville and its day-to day administrative head is an Executive Secretary who, at present, is a Nigerien called Mahama Laouan Gaya. The idea of the founding fathers which gave birth to APPO was the need to promote cooperation among member countries in hydrocarbon exploration, production, refining, petrochemicals, manpower development, acquisition and adoption of technology and others.

The forthcoming Abuja meeting is called at the instance of Nigeria, one of the founding members of the body. The curious might well ask: what is in it for Nigeria for her to display such amount of zeal and commitment by deciding to host the Abuja meeting barely a year after she played host to the larger one held in March last year?  Well, as one of the foremost oil and gas producing countries in the continent, Nigeria, as well as the other members, is anxious that the 30-year old organisation needs to be re-jigged and re-invigorated for it to perform better. The sense of urgency on the part of Nigeria to host this meeting in these lean times underscores her strong concerns certain things need to be straighten out for APPO to survive and function well.

It will be a one-day event but a very crucial meeting in the life of an organization that has, in its 30-year history, been trying to redefine and to constantly evaluate and re-evaluate itself in order for it to do for Africa what OPEC has been trying to do for the larger developing nations of the world which produce crude oil and gas.

 Its name change in Abidjan, a few months ago, from APPA to APPO, gives inkling to the mindset of the body’s leaders who seem desirous that their union becomes more cohesive and formidable enough to be an influential and an effective regional block in the market of such an important commodity as oil and gas. Some may wonder what is in a name but the change from being called a mere ‘’association’’ after 30 odd years of existence to now an ‘’organization’’ is surely a reflection of a deep desire to have a stronger bond. 

The July 24 meeting will be an ‘’extra-ordinary’’ and not an ordinary, regular or normal session, because two issues which are purely administrative and urgent in nature but which are critical to the very survival of the organization itself, will be tabled for discussion and for resolutions to be reached on them in order to place the organization on a good footing to carry out its mandate. At the 34th ordinary session of the Council of Ministers held in Abidjan in March 31 one of the declarations made was: ‘’We affirm our determination to accelerate the work plan of the reform of the Association’’ and ‘’the holding of an Extra-Ordinary Session of the Council of Ministers of the APPA Member Countries in Nigeria, before the end of the month of July 2017 in order to give a ruling on the APPA reform project following the presentation of the final report’’. 

The final report is already being looked at by members of the Committee of Experts who have been in Abuja since Thursday, July 15, to do the leg work on the final report for the ministers to consider and approve when they meet on July 24.

The two crucial issues before the July 24 meeting are: one, consideration of the report of a consultant hired to study APPO and bring out ideas that will lead to the reformation of the organization and its bodies and structures to enable it to better serve its members’ interests. 

Two years ago, a decision was taken to commission a consultant to undertake ‘’a Study on the Evaluation and the Reform of the Organs, Institutions and other Structures of APPA’’. A German management consulting firm, Fichtner Management Consulting AG, was hired to do the job. One of the principal aims of the July 24 meeting is for the ministers to look at that report. 

The second issue is the adoption of guidelines and procedures towards the filling of vacancies in the organization. Right now vacancies are filled without strict adherence to any codified guidelines in such a manner that candidates from member-countries that are not financially up to date get positions while those whose countries contribute to the sustenance of the organization are denied such privileges. Another weakness in the existing recruitment pattern in APPO is that equity in the distribution of executive positions to reflect the linguistic character of APPO is not being observed. 

APPO is sharply divided by Anglophone and Francophone countries with a few Lusophone countries such as Angola and Mozambique and Arabic countries Egypt and Libya thrown in between. Observers also believe that APPO as a group is in need of urgent reforms in light of the current economic difficulties. The secretariat needs to be more prudent by cutting its staff strength, cuttings tours and cutting on trips. Times have so drastically changed that APPO must change with it or risk facing complete irrelevance.

The fact that members have agreed to meet in Abuja to straighten some of these matters is a good indication that they value the continental body and are desirous that it should be made to grow to serve the common interest which necessitated its birth.

Mr. Alibi is the Director, Press and PR, Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Abuja.

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