In search of a new NNPC

Kachikwu, NNPC GMD

Dr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu

THE appointment of a new management for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), led by Dr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu as Group Managing Director portends a refreshing and hope-lifting re-organisation that must not only rebuild the corporation, but also direct the fortunes of the oil and gas sector to the benefit of the Nigerian people.

These are still early days but from the gale of redeployments and sackings of top managers of the national oil company, the new management seems to be aware of the assignment at hand and plans to discharge it with aplomb.

To really serve the best interest of its owners, that is the Nigerian people, NNPC must transmute from the plundering behemoth that it is into a public spirited regulatory body and nationalist business concern it ought to be.

However, as currently constituted, the NNPC is far too complex, with subsidiaries that carry on with unethical practices and counterproductive purposes.

With a subsistent commercial vision that has failed to take into consideration the gas aspect of the industry’s components, Nigeria has come to lose more money from paying relatively scant regard to gas than it is making from oil.

In the power equation, the international oil companies (IOCs) and the NNPC, which is the Nigerian representative of the state, have a lopsided relationship.

This mismatch is further accentuated by the fact that optimum performance of the oil and gas sector is mainly dependent on expatriate work force. Apart from all these, the much publicised attempts at recovering missing or stolen oil money has proven to be an act of shadow-chasing.

It is a chimera. While Nigerians do not expect a magical turn-around from the new NNPC, they are deserving of a sectoral management that is consistent with the ongoing reforms of President Muhammadu Buhari.

Thus, by appointing Kachikwu, a long-time player in the industry to become a regulator and manager of Nigeria’s interest in the industry, it is assumed that such a person can police the industry to such a point of regulating even his own former employers.

However, the IOCs’ activities in the industry advertise a weakness in that assumption. Which is why it is hoped that the new head of the NNPC has an unassailable moral armour.

The sad story of the NNPC is also a dismal reflection of the perceived management psychology of the Nigerian when he is saddled with matters of public concern.

Untrusting of the capabilities of his own people, and deluded by the thinking that what is foreign is what is best, he thrusts his affairs onto the hands of foreigners who exploit him to a point of incapacitation and easy compromise.

In support of this thesis, the history of Nigerians’ management of public mega-institutions is replete with events of maladministration and poor performance.

As it concerns NNPC, the tragedy is that Nigeria is being held hostage by the international oil companies to such a point that not only is the cost of oil project in Nigeria perhaps the highest in the world, but also the nation’s leaders seem to be afraid of them.

If the ongoing reforms in NNPC would have any meaning, this slavish psychology of Nigerians must change, and Nigeria has to take its destiny into its hands.

Although Nigerians, especially stakeholders in the oil and gas industry have hailed Kachikwu’s appointment as a veritable step oriented towards proper reforms of the sector, they should not be oblivious of the enormous task of value restructuring that is wound around his shoulders.

While Kachikwu, a former Executive Vice-Chairman/General Counsel of ExxonMobil (Africa) may be an experienced and highly respected professional in the industry, he comes to the new job with a burden.

The onus of proving doubters and cynics wrong lies on him. Nigerians want to see a new regulation of the oil and gas industry that spells transparency.

And this transparency comes with a two-fold burden: one of ensuring professional best practices and due diligence in dealing with IOCs as typified by his former employers, ExxonMobil; and the other of allegiance and patriotism toward the national cause.

In this regard, Nigerians have a right to know the nation’s production capacity as well as the exact quantity of oil produced and the exact amount exported. Prior to his assumption of office, Nigerians barely had a clue as to the amount of crude oil taken from their land either in terms of production or exportation.

The era of reliance on foreign statistical data should be gone for good. Related to this is the fact that oil is being stolen from these shores.

Nigerians would need his expertise and experience to deal with this issue. Apart from this, the vacillation over the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which is another metaphor of the story of Nigeria, needs to be revisited.

Being a highly rated Law scholar, Kachikwu’s influence as a key player in the industry would facilitate fruitful realisation of this proposed legislation.

Local content, in the true sense of the term, must be deepened. What are the modalities to be effected to enable Nigerians take their destinies in their hands? Nigeria needs a new culture of administrative excellence.

Its oil and gas industry should run like any other successful conglomerate in the world. Given the re-awakening restiveness in the Niger Delta and the corruption laden ad hoc measures like the amnesty programme, the new management of the oil industry should adequately address who should have political control over oil.

Likewise, on the fractious relationship between indigenes and the oil producers, they should be able to adjudicate with perceptible justiciability.

To this end, NNPC should work to find a way and means of making the indigenes become genuine stakeholders in the industry. One of the paradoxes of the NNPC is the fact of its questionable management despite the enviable credentials of its managers all these years.

Since the infamous missing N2.8 billion of the 1970s, the industry has always been led, amidst escalating corruption and mismanagement, by people who Nigerians think have the requisite qualification, expertise and experience to manage the corporation.

So what is wrong? Kachikwu has now joined the train, but he has a chance to show that he can extricate himself from the mess NNPC used to be. The task before the new NNPC management is not routine.

There is need for a major overhaul even beyond the movement of managers as has been done lately. Cognizant of the Buhari revolution and zero tolerance for corruption, Kachikwu and his team are bearing the crux of destiny.

Not only should his illustrious academic and managerial experience be a magic wand, an exemplary character must also be brought to bear on the job.

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