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Oil & Gas Sector More Reported Today Than Decades Ago ―M.B. Usman

Musa Bashir Usman is the founder and Managing Director of the Media Consultancy Company MDdotCom, publishers of Valuechain magazine. In this interview with the Special edition of Valuechain, Usman bears his mind on the motivation behind the publication of the magazine and contemporary issues around media reportage of oil and gas sector including contributions of the media to advancing oil sector reforms and that there are more specialized writers educating the public about the Industry now than before

Can we get to know more about you?

My name is Musa Bashir Usman, I had my primary school certificate from Gandun Albasa Primary school, Kano in 1988. I also attended Rumfa College Kano from where I obtained my Secondary School certificate in 1994. I graduated from Bayero University Kano (BUK) in the year 2002 with BSc. in Economics. I later did my Postgraduate diploma in Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria in 2009. I went back to BUK and obtained an MBA in 2015. I started my career in 2004 with the New Nigerian Newspapers (NNN) in Kaduna as a Business Reporter, I remember then I used to cover NNPC activities at that time when Engr. Funsho Kupolokun was the GMD. I can say that my relationship with the oil Industry started then. I later left NNN, for Peugeot Automobile Nigeria (PAN) Limited as the company’s Public Relations Officer in 2006. I was elevated to the position of the Head, Corporate Communications in 2012, the position I managed for three years before I finally resigned to private practice in 2015. I am an associate member of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR).

You are widely known to be the publisher of flagship magazine, Valuechian. What informed the publication and why is the coverage dedicated to oil and gas sector?

After I resigned from PAN in 2015, I went into media consultancy. But prior to my resignation, I always wanted to own a publication, and I think the urge for that can be traced to my career first as a journalist with NNN, and secondly, as an image-maker of PAN. I had a pleasant and fulfilled interface and relationship with the media, both owners and practitioners. I’ve seen it from the angle of a reporter, from the angle of an intermediary that is an image-maker. Then comes the urge to see it from the lens of media entrepreneur. For the choice of the oil and gas sector, I think my interest in that sector started from my engagement with staff and management of NNPC. They used to have something they call senior officers or management course in Kaduna every quarter, I can’t remember precisely, where the top management of the Corporation will come to Kaduna for the two days programme. I am usually the only journalist that the zonal office used to invite to cover the programme and distribute to other media platforms. It was such a privilege that I and the then Zonal Manager, Alh Salisu Sambo (Wamban Bakori), and his team will receive the GMD, Engr. Funsho Kupolokun at the Airforce base, Kaduna, and from there we will drive to the hotel reserved for the GMD in which I usually had the opportunity for an exclusive interview with the former GMD.

So, I can say that the emergence of Valuechain magazine wasn’t a sort of coincidence, but it was an actualization of destiny, so to say.

How would you describe media reportage of the petroleum industry now compared to decades ago?

Well, I will say that the reportage has improved. Before now, most of the reporters of oil and gas activities were majorly reporters covering the Business desk of the various media establishments in the country. You will agree with me that the oil and gas industry is one sector that not many people have an interest in the happenings of in the past one or two decades. Except the players, not too many people fully understood the dynamics, the segmentation, and opportunities in the industry. All that people could relate with was Nigeria earns her income from oil, and our budget is pegged on the barrels of oil sold for foreign dollars. Apart from that a lot of people didn’t care about what is happening in that sector. And that could be attributed to, maybe, lack of sufficient news, reports, analysis that could elicit people’s interest in the sector. A large chunk of editorial space was devoted to politics at the expense of the economy. But in other climes, even economy reportage is subdivided into sub-sectors and subunits. That guarantees knowledge of every subsector of the economy, and it leads to the specialization of the analysts or reporters writing about the sector or industry. So, I think the Industry is more covered today than decades ago, and the reason is we have more specialized writers in the industry that are dedicated to writing and educating the public about the Industry.

A comprehensive reform of the oil and gas sector formed the bedrock upon which the current administration came into power in 2015. What is your assessment of the reforms undertaken by the government in the oil sector so far?

As far as the reform in the oil and gas sector is concerned, I will say this administration has done very well. There are many issues in the industry that this administration inherited from previous administrations. We have issues surrounding the non-functional refineries, desire to have new amendments in our legislative framework that guide the activities in the industry, new frontier explorations, National Gas Master Plan programme, capital investments in the industry, strengthening of regulations, local content development and enforcement, etc. I think so far so good government has identified all that I have mentioned, marked them as areas of priorities, and in fairness to them, they have achieved some, while others are in various advanced stages of receiving attention. The major one that gladdens my heart is the determination by the executive and legislators to pass the long-awaited Petroleum Industry Bill which no doubt will be a game-changer as far as new investments, and governance is concerned in the industry.

How can the media contribute to advancing these reforms?

Media can contribute to the advancement of these reforms through constant enlightenment of the public on what are the problems on the ground in terms of the gaps that exists, what are the effects of the gaps on the industry in terms of impediments, who is responsible to bring about the changes or solutions, are there issues that require managerial or executive order to resolve or require legislative framework to be tackled. Media needs not rest until the problems are solved. Another responsibility of the media is to expose corruption in the Industry. We have seen how corruption in the industry robbed us of opportunities to be one of the global best investment destinations. We can see how corruption robbed us the opportunity to have one of the best national oil companies that can compete with the likes of Aramco, Petrobras, Gazprom and a host of other national gas companies that have evolved over the years as strong companies.

The advent of COVID-19 has dramatically impacted the oil and gas as well as every other sector in Nigeria including the media. How badly impacted is the media and do you see the sector recovering/bouncing back?

Sincerely speaking, the media industry is one of the most affected industries in the country. As you may know, 90 per cent of media establishments in the country, especially print was struggling to exist even before the pandemic. Only a few major outfits could pay salaries to their workers before the pandemic. Today even the major newspapers cannot pay their workforce. I understand that some of them through the Newspaper Proprietors Association have approached the federal government for a bailout. Other online news platforms have also received succour from International media such as Google and Mac Arthur Foundation etc. But for specialized media outfits like ours, we are yet to be rescued. Maybe that is a challenge to the Industry we are writing for. For your question on whether the media is bouncing back, you see the media is owed by Nigerians, and you know one of the gifts that God gave Nigerians is that we are resilient. So, by extension, media in Nigeria will overcome the current challenges with time.

What do you think are the challenges facing the media in terms of accurate reportage of the petroleum sector?

We are actually reporting in one of the secretive industries in the country. Access to information is very scarce and highly confidential. A typical oilman doesn’t like journalists around him. They see media men as either infiltrators or ‘brown envelope’ collectors. This can be attributed to the reasons why the media is not reporting news beyond what the companies decided to issue out as press releases or coverage of speeches at an event. For media men to report issues outside what they are given to report, they have to be creative and dig deep for facts, which unfortunately are not easy to get in the industry.

Do you think the media has done enough in the coverage of several key aspects of the petroleum sector for the enlightenment of Nigerian’s about the sector and attracting investment?

Yes, I will say they have done well. But there is always a room for improvement. Like I said earlier, certain things are happening within the industry because they are not exposed by the media. Certain gaps are existing today because they were not reported and followed up by the media. So, the media needs to wake up to its responsibility and mandate.