President Muhammadu Buhari recently appointed a new Managing Director for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC. The appointment drew applause as usual from ever-ready Nigerians to sing the praises of those in power. Many did not look closely at the process involved in the appointment and the implication for the future of NNPC and the Nigerian oil and gas industry. The new Managing Director, many have said, hit the ground running because on the first day of his assumption of office, he fired the existing executive directors and brought in new persons.
This, to Nigerians, is good enough to get rid of the perceived corruption in the NNPC. To any management consultant, what happened is just a mere replacement of personnel and the culture of impunity continues. The NNPC Group Managing Director was appointed and given a mandate on what to do.
What he did is not from his management insight but an order that has to be carried out. Nigerians have been fooled to believe that it is the old hands at the NNPC that were the problems of the country, certainly not. The problem at the NNPC is government interference with the operations of the corporation.
The man appointed by the President reports to the president and does the bidding of the president. Under a working environment that follows due process and laid down procedures, the appointment of such a top official of a corporation should go through a rigorous exercise, with members of the board. Several qualified individuals should have gone through the process of selection. The managing director should have been given the free hand to select his team.
As it stands, the man did not select his team, they were hand-picked for him. Executive positions should not be by political appointment, it should be by demonstrated competence and through competitive selection process. It is unfortunate that the President has started on a wrong footing in the appointment of the GMD and his team.
The thinking is that the change the President and his party talked about is about bringing new ways of doing things. The NNPC example is the old Nigerian way of making such appointments. The way the GMD and his team were appointed has always been the norm, that is why things do not work. That is why those in such positions owe their allegiance to those who appointed them or recommended them for such appointments and Nigerians complain. What is wrong with NNPC is lack of good corporate governance.
The issue with Nigeria is that things are done behind closed doors. Nigeria needs transparency in its political and economic life. For NNPC to deliver on its mandate, it must be free from political interference and operate under a good corporate governance culture. The President must learn from his past mistakes. When he came into the Nigerian political scene as a military leader in 1984, Buhari instilled fear in the hearts of Nigerians by introducing the War Against Indiscipline.
While in office, the nation attempted to imbibe the culture of taking their turns, but because the war was prosecuted on the person of Buhari/Idiagbon, it failed as soon as they were overthrown. Nigeria needs strong leadership no doubt. A strong leadership without strong institutions will face terrible frustration as things will never work out the way he wants.
If Nigeria has leadership without institutions, it is a huge joke to expect things to work out well. If you have the President who is Mr. Clean and the institutions around him are manned by corrupt individuals, the President’s idea of a changed nation will not work, he will end up being very frustrated and then not getting anywhere.
What Mr. Buhari should do is to ensure that the institutions are there, and that they work under his watch as the leader, then things will work well. Once institutions are built and Mr. President is there to encourage them, that is when it is going to work. The fact is that you have institutions that are not empowered. In the case of NNPC, the Federal Government should have appointed a board with the mandate to search for a qualified Nigerian to run the NNPC. The board and management of the NNPC should be made up of professionals and not politicians.
The change that Nigerians are looking up for from Mr. President is that the NNPC should be free from political interference in its everyday activities. It must be open in its operation. There must be transparency in its daily activities. Nigerians are entitled to know what the financial situation in the company is. This should be made available to the Nigerian public on regular basis. Its account must and should be rendered to Nigerians and not to the few who sit in judgment over every other person and then enrich themselves with the fortunes of the NNPC.
It is sad that in the last 20 years or so, the account of the NNPC has not been published. The only time one could say a semblance of an audited account of NNPC was published was during the period of Gaius Obaseki as the Managing Director. Perhaps, sensing the mood of the nation of the need for a break from the tradition of the past, the newly appointed GMD of NNPC, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, has agreed to usher in a new dawn of transparency through the periodic publications of the Corporation’s financial transaction insisting that transparency must be the watchword of every staff in the new NNPC.
Dr. Kachikwu who stated this at his maiden Town Hall meeting with the staff of the Corporation at the NNPC Towers, Abuja, said the new NNPC of his dream is a Corporation anchored on the foundation of transparency. Charging the staff to break away from the old culture and bring creative solutions to the numerous challenges facing the Corporation, the GMD said with the kind of change he has in mind, the staff could not afford to continue with business as usual.
He challenged staff not to obey any directive from him or any superior officer that runs contrary to the rules, adding that President Muhamadu Buhari will not ask him to do anything shady just as he himself would not ask any staff to carry out any unlawful duties. “I want transparency. Beginning from next month, I want to be able to publish what the company makes. I have told the President that as from next week, I will be sending him weekly reports,” he said.
Will the GMD be able to stand the pressure from within and from outside the Presidency who appointed him? Will this man keep his word when the going gets tough? Time and time only will tell how this will play out. This man certainly needs the prayers of Nigerians to be transparent.