By Tonnie Iredia
Serving in government in an African country such as Nigeria has its own challenges. For the purpose of today’s article, let’s focus on only the difficulty of living a false life in which one is compelled to endorse or be quiet over a wrong which government prefers to justify.
The implication of this is that most people in government are always guilty of selective hearing –hearing only what they want to hear, no matter what is being said. Apart from what suits their disposition, they get to hear nothing else. When what they don’t want to hear is said loudly or is said by a credible voice, they either ignore the statement or find a narrative which controverts it.
So, against all odds, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation NNPC with or without the title – ‘Limited’ has remained in existence without justification. Everyone including known friends of government have severally cautioned in vain against its continued existence.
As far back as January 2015 when Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was president, some articulate former management executives of NNPC and their colleagues in other oil companies had called for the scrapping of the corporation. Their grouse was that the organization had destroyed its values and hindered the growth of the Nigerian oil and gas sector.
At a symposium to mark the 80th birthday of Chief Festus Marinho, one of their former Group Managing Directors, the executives alleged that the NNPC had deviated from the roles and goals set for it and the oil sector by its founders. Those who might argue that most of the critics had opportunity to implement their pragmatic ideas but failed to do so are naive; they are people who have little knowledge of how government can turn everyone in its services into a robot with its selective hearing template.
The criticism by the former executives is best appreciated when it is realized that other state-owned oil companies in some other countries, that were set up at about the same time as NNPC have progressed into selling their crude oil by themselves, while NNPC only calculates volumes and allocations it gave to other companies to sell on her behalf.
If so, why not handover the only function of revenue collection which is all that NNPC now undertakes to a more relevant body in the area such as the federal inland revenue service FIRS? Perhaps a more robust suggestion is for government to hands off the oil and gas sector and allow indigenous investors to run the sector professionally.
Speakers at the symposium where many great suggestions were many made included, His Royal Majesty, Dr. Edmund Daukoru, (Mingi xii) the Amanayanabo of Nembe Kingdom who was appointed Chief Executive of NNPC in 1992 and later became Secretary-General of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries OPEC
Incapacity of staff and management can be seen as part of the problems of NNPC, but it has not always been so. It became a problem because of a skewed recruitment policy of the organization. However, many insiders genuinely believe that government interference in their day to day activities is a greater problem. But if strong professionals like King Daukoru had served both as management staff and later as Political Adviser on Petroleum and Energy and then Minister, who in government was interfering in the workings of the place in his days?
While preparing this article, an old school mate who had also served in NNPC drew my attention to how government policy can be a great impediment to great thinkers. Perhaps this explains why another Minister of State for Petroleum, Odein Ajumogobia, underscored the subject with his viewpoint that “Nigeria’s petroleum policies have always been incoherent, due to the constant change of key officials, in the NNPC and the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR. The records support Ajumogobia’s position because none of the Chief Executives of the organizationis ever allowed to last beyond three years in office.
Bearing in mind that government ministers are part of those bemoaning the adverse effects of a short term in office for the leadership of NNPC, it can be concluded that the organization is often caught in the cross fires of the cabals in the corridors of power. Also difficult to explain is the general perception that although their tenures are short, NNPC executives leave office smiling! Could it be that the officials are helping themselves with the nation’s funds?
The National Assembly would not hesitate to answer this question in the affirmative because the legislators are conversant with the process. They know how the game of extortion is played hence they are always at loggerheads withNNPC’s top executives who act as if they are operating secret budgets. Some 6 months ago, the House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts had to raise the alarm that NNPC was shielding its subsidiaries from responding to queries raised against them over violations of various financial regulations. How was it resolved?
Notwithstanding the many points raised so far, there is doubt ifthe real issues at stake at NNPC have been really diagnosed. For example, in 2018,Kingsley Moghalu, a former deputy governor of the CBN, suggested in Lagos at a public lecture titled “Overcoming Poverty: The Secret of the Wealth of Nations” that NNPC should be reorganized.
Moghalu argued that NNPC would be more effective if it was run as a Public Private Partnership (PPP) adding that deregulation of the downstream petroleum sector was the way to go to stop the incessant fuel scarcity in the country. Although the suggestions have been virtually followed, there has been little or no change in NNPC’s public image.
On its part, Africa’s frontline investigative news outfit, Sahara Reporters believes that the real problem is the involvement of top officials of the oil company in fraudulent massive contracts running into billions of dollars. In a recent investigative research, Sahara Reporters pointed directly at the leadership of the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPMS).
Whereas a review of the various viewpoints highlighted above may make it look like what to do with NNPC is uncertain, one person that government should listen to is Governor el Rufai of Kaduna state. To start with, he is more than a friend of government that is unlikely to be criticizing for the sake of it. Second, the governor has consistently argued for the scrapping of NNPC since 1999 when he was Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE). Third, he is known for his courage of saying anything as it is.
So we need to listen to his categorical statement last Thursday that “NNPC is a big problem to Nigeria and unless we resolve it, it will bring Nigeria to its knees.”According to the governor, NNPC isn’t adding any financial value to the country because this year, she has not brought substantial revenue to the federation account, all she has done has been to declare profits without dividends. This is why El Rufai is convinced that there isno reason for the government of Nigeria to be in the oil and gas sector.
The beauty of Nigeria’s development comes in two Shades (A&B) all the time. For instance, in Shade A, patriots are still rejoicing over the story reported exactly a year ago that NNPC requested and got approval of the federal executive council to take over the reconstruction of 21 federal roads across the country. Nine of the selected projects are reportedly in north-central, three in north-east, two in north-west, two in south-east, three in south-south, and two in south-west.
The selected roads according to government cover 1804.6km for which NNPC is to spend a total of N621.2billion. However, there is a Shade B, where critics are listening to Governor El Rufai that the same NNPC has not been able to bring N20, 000 to the federation account this year making the nation to live on only taxes and royalties. Midway through both Shades is a fresh perspective that with the current campaign against oil thieves, some pipes laid for as long as 4 kilometres for stealing oil have been found. The pipes are exactly 9 years old.