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Nigerian Oil Minister Touts 'Robust' Oil, Gas Growth

Nigeria's Minister of Petroleum Resources Diezani Allison-Madueke speaks during an Oil and Gas conference in Nigeria's capital Abuja February 21 2012.
ABUJA - Despite strikes, protests and an investigation that showed $6.8 billion had been stolen from the Nigerian public through the oil industry, Nigeria's petroleum minister says investment and development in the oil and gas sectors have never before been more robust. Petroleum Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke says by the end of the year, the country will have access to 1,800 more megawatts of power, a 50 percent increase.

Before she took the podium, Madueke was introduced as the “star of the show” that included more than a dozen ministers. The minister said she didn’t know she was the star, instead saying she thought she was the administration's whipping post, subject to abuse and vilification.

Madueke moved on quickly, saying despite allegations of fraud, Nigeria's oil and gas sectors are growing rapidly. She said Nigeria currently exports 2.5 million barrels of crude oil per day and wants to increase its capacity to 4 million barrels per day.

“Despite everything else, we have in fact managed to do some work in terms of the ministry and its oil and gas exploration and production. We have continued to invest in increasing the country’s oil and gas reserves,” Madueke declared.

The minister said new gas pipelines were built in the first year of the President Goodluck Jonathan administration, and several more are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2012. She said the pipelines and other developments in the gas industry are expected to add 1,800 megawatts to Nigeria’s power grid this year, which currently has an installed capacity of less than 4,000 megawatts.

In Nigeria, where lack of power cripples the economy and impacts every aspect of public life from health care to security, an increase in electricity could mean a significant increase in the national standard of living. The minister said the increase in power is part of the president’s planned “Gas Revolution.”

"While we have again perceived a shortage in domestic gas supply, recently we are steadily delivering in the most robust and aggressive manner in terms of infrastructure and the supply program for natural gas, a level that has actually never been seen in the country before," she said.

In recent weeks, Madueke’s office has been under fire from critics, some of whom have called for her resignation after a parliamentary report that said billions of dollars had been stolen from Nigerian public coffers through the petroleum industry.

This criticism came after the public was told the nation could not afford a decades-old fuel subsidy early this year. The subsidy keeps fuel for homes and cars affordable, and when it was cancelled protests and mass strikes erupted nationwide, forcing President Jonathan to partially reinstate the subsidy.

Activists have threatened to renew protests if high-level officials named in the corruption report, including the minister, are not subject to legal action. Madueke said the oil ministry is implementing reforms to make the industry more transparent and accountable.