Nigeria’s state oil monopoly, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) recently stirred the hornet’s nest by rejecting a request by Daily Trust Newspapers to furnish it with details of a recent recruitment exercise, over which the paper accused the corporation of favouritism.
The paper based its demand on powers granted it by the Freedom of Information Act, which President Goodluck Jonathan signed on May 28, 2011. The Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN) had followed it up with a circular (HAGF/MDAS/FOIA/1) addressed to “all government ministries, departments, agencies and corporations for implementation.”
NNPC’s Secretary and Legal Adviser, Anthony Madichie, wrote back to Daily Trust, saying the corporation was not bound by the FoIA, as it was not a statutory corporation! Expectedly, this strange response was roundly shellacked in the media, the human and civil rights community, and by opposition political parties and prominent legal practitioners, such as Chief Femi Falana and Professor Itse Sagay.
The Managing Director of the corporation, Mr. Andrew Yakubu later came out with an affirmation that the NNPC is not only bound by the Act but has always made its operations transparent to the public. Not much has been said as to whether the request of the newspaper has been granted, except that, according to Yakubu, the current recruitment was so transparent that his own daughter, who applied could not secure a job.
It is not clear whether Madichie’s earlier arrogant response was the studied position of the corporation and the MD’s recant a rethink.
What is clear is that the NNPC, one of the last surviving state monopolies and Nigeria’s number one cash cow, whose affairs are usually shrouded in secrecy, will never be able to carry on with business as usual. The Trust inquiry is just the beginning of a crusade to ensure total transparency and eventual transformation of the corporation into a modern, viable and accountable business organisation.
The opacity of the operations of the NNPC and other departments under the Ministry of Petroleum Resources made it possible for public servants, in cahoots with well-connected crooked oil marketers and politicians to fleece Nigeria of billions of dollars under the petrol subsidy scam. The country is still spinning from the effects of this.
Trust’s commendable effort has helped the NNPC to own up to its responsibility as an accountable public institution. Coming in the heels of the petrol subsidy strike, which led to the probes that exposed the massive frauds in the oil industry, we are reminded that the people possess enormous powers to bring about change.