By Julia Payne
ABUJA (Reuters) - President Muhammadu Buhari is likely to keep the oil portfolio for himself in the new Nigerian cabinet, rather than trust anyone else with the source of most of Nigeria's revenue and traditional fount of corruption, associates say.
Nigeria’s oil sector is so dirty that nobody’s hands are clean enough to do the “surgical changes” needed, one long-standing associate told Reuters on condition of anonymity because the cabinet decision is still under wraps.
Another political associate said: “He will do it. It would be stupid to give that position to anyone else.”
The first source said Buhari has still not settled on his cabinet and has laughed off media speculation about figures he will appoint, joking with friends as he read out a newspaper article that mentioned possible names: "They have picked my ministers for me! Have I even told you who I want?"
A former general who ruled Nigeria 30 years ago, Buhari has extensive knowledge of the oil sector, having been head of the Petroleum Trust Fund under military ruler Sani Abacha in the 1990s and oil minister in the 1970s under Olusegun Obasanjo.
He was voted in by Nigerians on an anti-corruption platform after years in which graft appeared to worsen under the leadership of his predecessor Goodluck Jonathan.
Buhari sent a list of 15 special advisors to the outgoing national assembly for approval on Tuesday, but the cabinet is unlikely to be publicly revealed until the end of July or early August.
The senate, which must confirm the cabinet, will convene only briefly on June 9 before its members are expected to go on recess for up to six weeks.
“It’s going to be a lean government, I doubt he’ll have 42 ministries like Jonathan but he must have at least 36 (for the number of states) as prescribed by the constitution, though it does not specify whether they have to be senior or junior,” an advisor in the ruling APC party told Reuters.
The new administration had not yet gone through reports on Jonathan's handover notes on policy, the advisor said.
"There is a huge body of proposals being bandied around the place," the advisor said, adding that nothing beyond broad strokes had been outlined.
TASK AHEAD IN THE OIL SECTOR
Jonathan has left Buhari with a cash-strapped government, with a rainy-day fund so depleted that it must borrow just to cover salaries.
The government relies on oil sales for the bulk of its revenues but there has been little oversight on how these are handled. Former central bank governor Lamido Sanusi was sacked under Jonathan after he declared that some $20 billion in oil revenues were missing between 2012 and 2013.
The dealings inside the state owned company NNPC are so opaque that PriceWaterhouseCoopers, commissioned to do a forensic audit over the missing funds, said it was unable to obtain enough account documentation.
Not only is oil money stolen through accounting gymnastics and oversight gaps, but oil itself goes missing at unmetered oilfield well heads, pipeline taps and export terminals.
Pipeline protection and coastal inspection contracts have been given to ex-militants of the oil-producing delta who kidnapped foreign oil workers and blew up key infrastructure until a 2009 amnesty. Buhari plans to let the 60 billion naira-a-year amnesty programme end in December as scheduled to save money and it is unclear what he will fund in its place.
The new leader has also made clear that he wants to revamp Nigeria’s refining sector, which declined while the country became dependent on imports for fuel.
“He’s emotionally attached to the refineries because he built some of them. He wants them to start functioning again,” the APC source said.
(Editing by Peter Graff)