By Patrick Nwabueze
It is just a year President Mohammadu Buhari in his executive wisdom appointed Dr Maikati Kacalla Baru to head the state owned Oil and Gas conglomerate, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) as the substantive Group Managing Director (GMD). The appointment, was remarkably a welcomed development as it was viewed as a rectification of an apparent distortion of the establishment act of the corporation, having assigned the Minister of state for petroleum Dr Ibe Kackikwu the dual portfolio of Minister and GMD, tantamount to an anomaly of uniting a regulator and an operator in what many see as emergency strategy to empower cleansing of the sector for optimal performance.
Having completed sweeping reforms in the industry, the Minister of state had to return to his rightful ministerial capacity of exercising full supervisory and policy formulation roles on the industry, NNPC inclusive.
This reshuffle of appointments in the organization attracted unique attention for uncommon reasons: Essentially, NNPC corporate headquarters aside being that architectural master-piece that added significant beauty to the urban mosaic of the federal capital territory, the four towers have come to metaphorically represent the tetrapodal pillars that firmly holds the Nigerian economy with the business of the oil and gas behemoth providing life-lines to the nation in diverse considerations.
To industry watchers, the choice of Dr Baru was commendable in innumerable forms. First, in contemporary global affairs where energy policies are strong determinants of strength of economies, a seasoned and prolific sector operator with the requisite experience as embodied in the person of Baru was most appropriate. Secondly, as an unblemished character, who has headed various strategic subsidiaries of the organization without sleaze factors rearing its ugly head around his office, he stands out the most deserving for the post. Thus, when the Minister of state was handing over to him he extolled his virtues describing the new GMD as a ‘thorough breed oil and gas professional’ In addition, Dr Baru successively grew in managerial ranks in the various upstream and downstream formations of the NNPC, having worked in various cadres of the corporation before eventually ascending to the Group Executive Director in charge of Exploration and production as well as special Adviser to the Minister of state on gas as the last port of call penultimate to this elevation. That equipped him with necessary experience which the position of GMD demands especially in advancing with the ongoing comprehensive restructuring exercise of the NNPC which he described as inevitable.
Beyond other consideration, the identity of Baru as the Chairman of Anti-corruption unit of NNPC over the years portrays him as who the cap fits in view of president Buhari’s determined fight against graft. In this perspective Nigerians view Dr Baru’s appointment as calculated step in the deserved direction of injecting into NNPC that greater transparency and accountability it has long needed for sustained growth and optimum development.
But most importantly, as it is the prerogative of the President to appoint whoever he deems fit for this position, we must extol the virtue of President Buhari in ensuring that appointment into this strategic sector of the economy is based on merit.
As the great American writer, Sam Ewings rightly stated, “It’s not the hours you put in your work that counts, it’s the work you put in the hour”. The one year of Dr Baru’s leadership has been a period of marked achievements characterized by planning and strategic restructuring, giving rise to much hope and optimism for the corporation though oil and gas sector is characterized by long term investments that takes long period to mature and appraise. As is usually stated that a problem known is half solved … Dr Baru’s wealth of knowledge and experience which speak volumes give hope of his great achievements in spite of the daunting challenges in the corporation and the obvious instability of petroleum prices in international market.
Reminiscent of a committed public servant, Baru’s 12-point agenda which include: Creating an all-inclusive internal advisory council on security comprising representatives from NNPC, the IOCs, the Unions and Security Operatives to brainstorm and address host community agitations to complement efforts of the Government Security Team; implementing the new business models and grant the needed autonomy to the strategic business units; providing relevant directions and control that would ensure their growth and profitability, continuing to explore ways of relieving Government from the burden of cash calls obligation as well as addressing and defraying the agreed cash call arrears of the IOCs and restore oil and
gas production and grow the reserve portfolio.
Other areas the new GMD focused on are: Increasing crude oil production by the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, NPDC, reviewing all weak contractual agreements and terminating bad ones as appropriate, leveraging on equity positions to cause the development of key gas assets for both domestic and export as well as pursuing the expansion of gas network across the country, repairing and restoring oil and gas pipeline infrastructure as well as providing robust security system for both detection and deterrent in conjunction with the existing security arrangement.
He also has been working to: improve refining efficiency of the four existing refineries to pave the way for future expansion, pursuing diversification of businesses by refocusing on the implementation of Renewable Energy Programmes and Frontier Exploration Services, continue with the drive to make the venture businesses profitable and ensure service delivery, entrench the culture of professionalism by doing the right things at all times through transparency, accountability, and respect for all, not forgetting to ensure adequate staff welfare and motivation, training and capacity building.
Coming at a time Nigeria is passing through recession, there is so much expectation from this new industry leader in taking the country out of the economic woods, a position the former president Olusegun Obasanjo highlighted in his address when the GMD paid him a courtesy visit. There is therefore no economic policy capable of assisting the country out of the present predicament like these reforms in the oil and gas sector. It could be recalled that oil and gas, the major products of NNPC have been the major revenue earners for the country, consequently, the crash in petroleum market did not waste time in reflecting in the overall economy. The new hope is therefore on Baru and it is the belief of many that he will deliver.If economic statistics and emerging report that the country is already coming out of recession are reliable, the petroleum sector which hitherto provides the bulk of Nigeria’s revenue is an indispensable enabler. On that, Baru-led NNPC share so much in that success story and deserved accolades.