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Welby and Buhari: Are they talking oil wells?

More drilling needed on Buhari and the Archbishop of Canterbury

When British Prime Minister Dodgy Dave Cameron made his now infamous “fantastically corrupt” comment about Nigeria on the eve of an anti-corruption summit in London in May, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was there at the time, was quick to rush to President Muhammadu Buhari’s defence.

Welby interjected, claiming that Buhari was not corrupt and was “trying very hard” to combat corruption. That endeared Welby to Buhari’s handlers and followers, and the Nigerian president, who arrived in London for the summit, “rewarded” the archbishop with a visit to his official Lambeth Palace residence.

Welby and Buhari at Lambeth Palace
Welby and Buhari at Lambeth Palace

It was clear that Buhari benefited from this photo-op with the head of the Anglican Church. The president still has a reputation in some Nigerian quarters for being an Islamic extremist. Hanging out with Welby was therefore good PR and was mined for all its worth by Buhari’s spin doctors and his supporters on social media.

Now, a little over a month later, Buhari, who is in London allegedly for treatment for an ear infection, met Welby again yesterday at the residence of the Nigerian High Commissioner.

Enquiring minds must wonder if there is more to their relationship than meets the eye. Is further drilling below the surface required to establish the true nature of this relationship?

Before he became an Anglican cleric, Welby worked for 11 years in the oil industry. This has earned him the nickname “Oilwelby” from the satirical magazine Private Eye. Those 11 years included working for the oil exploration group Enterprise Oil PLC, where he was in charge of their Nigerian projects. This was from 1984 when Buhari was a military dictator.

Welby would leave the oil industry in 1987 for the priesthood. Anyone familiar with the operations of the oil industry in Nigeria should be aware of how executives collaborated with several regimes to defraud the country of billions and contributed to poverty and environmental devastation in the oil-rich Niger Delta. The archbishop admitted in a newspaper interview that he knew he was involved in a “dirty business”. The extent of his involvement is not clear.

Welby said in July 2013 following a British parliamentary report on banking standards, that bank executives avoided being given information about difficult issues so that they could “plead ignorance”. He added that he would have behaved in the same way during his oil industry days. Is he withholding information on the true nature of his interest in Buhari/Nigeria? Does he retain any financial interests in the oil companies he worked for – Elf and Enterprise Oil (which has since been acquired by Shell)?

When Welby was about to become the Archbishop of Canterbury in November 2012, a former colleague, who worked with him in Coventry where he started in his church career, told the UK’s Guardian newspaper: “We could send him as an emissary to Nigeria and know that if he was needed to grovel, he could grovel.”

Oilwelby seems to be grovelling in Buhari’s presence. Is he doing it for the love of mammon or seeking to be anointed with oil?

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