President Goodluck Jonathan may pay the obligatory tributes to Dr. Rilwanu Lukman, who died at 75 on Monday in Austria, but he will not forget the former minister of petroleum resources in a hurry.
In December 2009, when there was “power vacuum” in Nigeria as a result of illness to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, there was a belief that certain people in government did not want Vice-President Jonathan to assume power.
There was pressure on Jonathan to assume the role of acting president immediately, but he was waiting for a letter from the absent and terminally-ill Yar’Adua to empower him. There was a constitutional crisis as a result. Many asked him to step into Yar’Adua’s shoes without any formal authority.
Perhaps, to test the waters, Jonathan issued a directive to key members of the cabinet that there would be no Christmas holiday because of fuel and power crises. The directive was issued to Lukman, Mr Odein Ajumogobia (minister of state, petroleum resources), Mr. Lanre Babalola (minister of power) and Mr. Nuhu Way (minister of state, power).
The ink on the directive had hardly dried when Lukman took off for Austria on a personal visit, prompting an outcry and creating the impression that he did not recognise the authority of Jonathan, who was in any case not sitting pretty. In Nigeria where every action must have sectional connotation, this was again evidence for those who reason this way.
The then minister of information and communication, late Professor Dora Akunyili, had announced on December 23, 2009, that Jonathan had directed the four ministers not to take the Christmas break but stay back to hold meetings with him on a daily basis from December 28-30 to address the crises.
The news of Lukman’s “defiant” trip made newspaper headlines. He was said to have told his aides that he had already planned his journey and would go ahead, notwithstanding Jonathan’s directive. He was spending most of his time in Vienna, Austria, the seat of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), as a result of a terminal ailment for which he was receiving medical attention.
Lukman, who was virtually an ever-present in government since 1984, did not last long after the incident. In February 2010 ─ shortly after Jonathan was given the constitutional power to act as president ─ Lukman resigned his position. He hardly spoke to the press, making speculations rule the airwaves on the reason for his resignation.
A version of the speculation said he had vowed never to work under Jonathan, that his loyalty was to Yar’Adua. Another version was that he sensed that Jonathan was going to remove him in an impending cabinet shake-up as punishment for his “offence”. A more credible version, however, was that he wanted to leave government to attend to his failing health.
Lukman had his share of controversies ─ like any other minister of petroleum. Having been minister of petroleum or adviser on petroleum to various governments ─ both military and civilian ─ he had his roots deep in government and was at a time accused of using his position to gain undeserving advantage in the petroleum sector.
He was a major shareholder and director in several oil and gas companies ─ forcing critics to question his eligibility to hold sensitive political positions in the sector. Some of the companies in which his name appeared as director are: Africa Heritage Oil & Gas Ltd, Africa Heritage Investments Ltd, Africa Heritage Industrial Ltd and Africa Heritage Logistics Ltd.
He was a member of the supervisory board of the Dutch multinational Dietsmann NV. He was chairman of Afren, a company that later got lucrative business from the Nigerian and Ivorian governments. Other companies linked to him were Afgas, Gasol, African Gas Development Corp and African LNG Holdings.
These controversies notwithstanding, Lukman lived an accomplished life. The Zaria-born mining engineer had solid academic qualifications from ABU, Zaria; Imperial College, London; University of Mining and Metallurgy, Leoben, Austria; and McGill University, Montreal, Canada. He had an honorary doctorate degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Bologna, Italy.
He came into the national centre stage in 1984 when General Muhammadu Buhari appointed him minister of mines, power and steel. General Ibrahim Babangida made him minister of petroleum resources thereafter, a position he held from 1986 to 1990 when he was moved to foreign affairs.
He was known as “Mr OPEC” for a reason. From 1986 to 1994, he was the OPEC president. He was elected eight consecutive times, and then became secretary-general from 1994 till 2000. President Olusegun Obasanjo brought him back to government in 1999 by making him special adviser on petroleum and energy matters.
Lukman left Obasanjo’s government in November 2003, reportedly after some disagreement with the NNPC on oil sector reforms. He was back in an unpaid position in August 2007 when Yar’Adua made him honorary adviser on energy and strategic matters. He was upgraded to minister of petroleum resources in December 2008 ─ for the fourth time in his life.
On resigning in 2010, he was no longer in public eye. Rumours had been strong that he was ill. His death on Monday brought him again into the spotlight. He would have been 76 on August 26.