NNPC un­der Buhari: Still an open sore

Sunday Trust - - VIEWPOINT - With Mon­ima Dam­inabo email: monidams@ya­hoo.co.uk 0805 9252424 (sms only)

For all who see the Nige­rian Na­tional Petroleum Cor­po­ra­tion (NNPC) as ir­re­deemable from its present cor­rup­tion in­fested state, re­cent events have only added fil­lip to their case. Most top­i­cal of th­ese devel­op­ments is the re­cent al­le­ga­tion that its cur­rent Group Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor (GMD), Dr Maikanti Baru, has been op­er­at­ing like a loose can­non, in vi­o­la­tion of all ex­tant pro­ce­dures that were es­tab­lished to keep the or­gan­i­sa­tion op­er­ate within the am­bit of the law. The trend­ing twist in the mat­ter is his al­leged se­rial acts of in­dis­cre­tion which were launched into the pub­lic do­main via a leaked mem­o­ran­dum from the Min­is­ter of State for Petroleum Re­sources Dr Ibe Kachikwu to Pres­i­dent Muhamadu Buhari. The mem­o­ran­dum was in­tended to for­mally re­port Baru to the Pres­i­dent over the for­mer’s al­leged, bla­tant acts of in­sub­or­di­na­tion to con­sti­tuted au­thor­ity. Of spe­cific men­tion in the mem­o­ran­dum is the re­cent ar­bi­trary ap­point­ments of of­fi­cers into the cor­po­ra­tion by Baru, with­out as much as in­volv­ing the statu­tory NNPC Board of Di­rec­tors. Other ar­eas of con­cern to Kachikwu were also raised.

As was ex­pressed in his cor­re­spon­dence to the Pres­i­dent, Kachikwu’s grouse bor­dered on the fact that the GMD Baru was act­ing with im­punity in a man­ner that poses sig­nif­i­cant threat to the re­form agenda for the oil and gas in­dus­try, of which the NNPC re­mains a key fac­tor. In the mem­o­ran­dum un­der con­sid­er­a­tion Kachikwu ar­gues that “Paras­tatals in the min­istry and all CEOs of th­ese paras­tatals must be aligned with the pol­icy drive of the min­istry to al­low the sec­tor reg­is­ter the growth that has eluded it for many years.” He noted fur­ther that “To do oth­er­wise or to ex­empt any of the paras­tatals would be to em­place a stunted growth for the in­dus­try”. With­out hold­ing brief for Kachikwu, his ar­gu­ment re­mains fault­less in the light of the on­go­ing Buhari’s re­forms in the coun­try’s petroleum in­dus­try.

A deeper look at the sit­u­a­tion re­veals an avalanche of sleazy deals which the Se­nate has com­menced in­ves­ti­ga­tions into, with the ap­point­ment of a com­mit­tee for such dur­ing last Thurs­day ple­nary. Nev­er­the­less, even as the Se­nate in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the NNPC re­mains wel­come, it is need­ful to ob­serve that the cham­ber may have taken up a hu­mon­gous task whose out­come is any body’s guess. For as ex­pe­ri­ences with past ex­er­cises in in­ves­ti­gat­ing the NNPC have re­vealed, the pro­cesses in­volved al­ways fea­ture twist and turns that are as opaque and slip­pery as crude oil it­self- the forte of the cor­po­ra­tion. For in each probe ex­er­cise the more the in­ves­ti­ga­tors looked, the less they saw. It is there­fore good luck to the new se­nate com­mit­tee for prob­ing the NNPC.

In the con­text of the fore­go­ing there­fore, Kachikwu and the coun­try are only wit­ness­ing a fresh episode in the run­ning drama of en­trenched cor­rup­tion and sleaze in the op­er­a­tions of the NNPC right from its in­cep­tion in 1977. While space will fail this ar­ti­cle in re­count­ing the past in­stances of dirty deals in the es­tab­lish­ment, the pub­lic space is suf­fused with enough ev­i­dence to ren­der the out­come of the present se­nate probe a mere fil­i­buster, with div­i­dends that will only swell the pile of ev­i­dence of mess in the cor­po­ra­tion. Put in clearer terms the Se­nate does not need the re­port of any new probe to de­cide on what to do with the NNPC. The Se­nate can still act ahead and ad­dress it­self to pub­lic ex­pec­ta­tions of what the NNPC should be, re­gard­less of what­ever out­come emerges from the probe ex­er­cise.

For as pro­ce­dural as the present se­nate probe may be, the need ex­ists for the leg­is­la­ture to ap­pre­ci­ate that the NNPC re­mains an open sore that had de­fied all ef­forts by the Buhari ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­solve. And like any open sore, it re­quires a ma­jor surgery which should com­mence with the re­view of the sit­u­a­tion where the Pres­i­dent serves as the na­tion’s oil min­is­ter. For un­til the Pres­i­dent is di­vested of the di­rect and per­sonal su­per­vi­sion of Nige­ria’s petroleum sec­tor, by the Se­nate which ap­proves min­is­ters for the gov­ern­ment, so long will the coun­try re­main steeped in the mess of NNPC sleaze and cor­rup­tion. This is there­fore a ser­vice debt which the Se­nate owes the coun­try, since it acted ab ini­tio in ap­par­ent in­dis­cre­tion, by al­low­ing the Pres­i­dent re­tain di­rect con­trol of the oil min­istry at the in­cep­tion of the present ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Even though the prac­tice of di­rect con­trol of the NNPC and by im­pli­ca­tion the coun­try’s petroleum sec­tor was reg­u­lar with mil­i­tary lead­ers, and the Na­tional Assem­bly looked the other way when at the in­cep­tion of demo­cratic rule in 1999 the Oluse­gun Obasanjo ad­min­is­tra­tion con­tin­ued with the prac­tice, the du­bi­ous en­ter­prise re­mained a ma­jor de­trac­tion from the eco­nomic for­tunes of the coun­try. In fact there are many rea­sons which ac­cen­tu­ate the in­con­gruity of any sit­ting Pres­i­dent re­tain­ing sole au­thor­ity over the coun­try’s jugu­lar, which the petroleum sec­tor rep­re­sents. Pri­mar­ily, given the pivotal role of the NNPC as the ve­hi­cle for the man­age­ment of the coun­try’s all im­por­tant petroleum sec­tor, it con­sti­tutes a grave mis­judg­ment to as­sign its lead­er­ship and full con­trol to an in­di­vid­ual, no mat­ter how up­right and benev­o­lent which pub­lic judg­ment of him or her may be. The is­sue here has noth­ing to do with the per­sonal in­tegrity of the in­cum­bent, but is rather in­sti­tu­tional since in the ca­pac­ity of lead­er­ship of the sec­tor, such in­cum­bent will op­er­ate with other of­fi­cials, who may be less re­sis­tant to temp­ta­tions aimed at cre­at­ing and ex­ploit­ing loop­holes in the sys­tem to fur­ther their per­sonal in­ter­ests.

In­ci­den­tally the story of NNPC is re­plete with in­stances which tes­tify with graphic clar­ity, that since its in­cep­tion in 1977 hardly has any ad­min­is­tra­tion been saved the em­bar­rass­ment of an oil sec­tor re­lated scan­dal or the other, with of­fi­cials of the cor­po­ra­tion at the cen­tre. With ref­er­ence to the present mat­ter un­der con­sid­er­a­tion, the Se­nate should there­fore not al­low it­self be fix­ated on less crit­i­cal is­sues such as the role of any NNPC of­fi­cial that may suf­fer in­dict­ment. The big­ger is­sue that will en­dear the Se­nate to Nige­ri­ans re­mains the im­per­a­tive of avail­ing the coun­try a new dis­pen­sa­tion in the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the petroleum in­dus­try as a whole, just as is en­vis­aged by the Petroleum In­dus­try Reg­u­la­tion Bill (PIB) that is stuck in the leg­isla­tive mill.

Con­sid­er­ing that the is­sue be­tween Kachikwu and Baru borders on the un­law­ful play­out of im­punity by the lat­ter, the Na­tional Assem­bly it­self stands to share the blame for the cri­sis. Af­ter all, if the PIB had be­come law, Pres­i­dent Buhari and all Nige­ri­ans would have been saved the em­bar­rass­ment of an­other avoid­able de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in the messy con­di­tion of the NNPC as its GMD Dr Maikanti Baru is presently as­so­ci­ated with, rightly or oth­er­wise.

The big­ger is­sue that will en­dear the Se­nate to Nige­ri­ans re­mains the im­per­a­tive of avail­ing the coun­try a new dis­pen­sa­tion in the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the petroleum in­dus­try as a whole, just as is en­vis­aged by the Petroleum In­dus­try Reg­u­la­tion Bill (PIB) that is stuck in the leg­isla­tive mill

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