It will be most uncharitable for anyone conversant with the Nigerian petroleum sector, to see as a mere storm in a teacup, the disturbing ripples from the ongoing reforms in the nation’s oil cash cow – the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Following his recent appointment as the Group Managing Director (GMD) of the corporation Dr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu is adopting a missionary zeal to weed the agency of all liabilities including human beings, who do not fit into his template for reforming it. At the last count over 1,000 of the more than 9,000 staffers of the corporation have been affected or penciled down for exit. Among these are officers at the top and middle level management, as well as the lower level operatives.
Inspired by the mantra of ‘people, processes and profits,’ the GMD has promised to recondition the NNPC into a slimmer and more business like outfit, which not a few Nigerians had ever hoped will be the lot of the nation’s oil giant. Likewise, in his commitment to transparency he is opening the financial records of the corporation for public scrutiny by next month September.
In the wake of the Kachikwu-led purge, there has been protests by the two major oil workers unions – PENGASSAN and NUPENG over the job losses suffered by their members, and are smarting for a showdown with the government. While Nigerians do not need a soothsayer to prophesy on the outcome of a face-off between the oil unions and the Muhamadu Buhari administration, especially at this point in time, the unions cannot claim ignorance of the fact that many of the affected staff were the architects and perpetrators of the regime of malfeasance that reigned in the corporation. However, in case they are still fussy over the changing order, they can wait until September to see the reaction of the Nigerian public to their grouse, when the seal of secrecy over the NNPC accounts shall be broken. Needless to state that given the history of the agency, the move will feature an avalanche of sordid revelations that may shock even the unions themselves, into co-operating with the government.
There is the argument that given the state of rot and sleazye in and around the NNPC Towers and subsidiaries, nothing reasonable can be achieved in transforming the petroleum industry, without firstly panel-beating the corporation into shape. Hence the proponents of that argument see the reforms as akin to a first-strike military maneuver whose aim is to ‘soften the ground’, in preparation for the main offensive that will re-engineer the industry itself. Yet the belly-ache of the unions, along with other likely fallouts from the purge and shakeup at the towers, qualify as telltale signs which the Buhari administration needs to read with discretion, in order not to compromise its reform agenda for the nation’s oil strategic sector. While it is clear that the Kachikwu-led reforms mark the welcome commencement of the re-engineering of the behemoth agency, it is also a wakeup call that the industry itself is squarely in the sight of the President. This is where a road map for the petroleum industry, into which all stake-holders can buy in at any stage, becomes an imperative.
These stakeholders include the Federal Government, the oil producing states, the oil bearing communities, the multinational oil companies (MNOCs), local oil companies engaged in distribution of petroleum products and provision of sundry oil business services, as well as the oil workers. Other stakeholders in the industry are the civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations, banks, insurance companies and of course the political class for whom the ultimate power play is measured by how much of the dividends from the petroleum sector accrues to their constituents, given the role of oil as the mainstay of the nation’s economy.
Incidentally, it is easily recalled that prior to the turn of events at the NNPC, it was a national consensus that both the agency and the entire oil industry which it is driving, were overdue for a drastic transformation. What issues that were outstanding were when and where the exercise would start. Now that the exercise has started, al be it eclectically with the NNPC, the imperative for a holistic consideration of the dispensation cannot be over emphasized. For whatever be the case, the transformation of the NNPC in any form cannot be undertaken safely without adequate safeguards for the attendant fallouts for the industry. This is due to the huge web of linkages between the agency and the rest of the industry. And the plans for such a grand exercise are embedded in the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which in its eighth year in the legislative mill, is reputed to parade one of the longest runs for any process of legislation.
Its fore-runner, being the Report of the Oil and Gas Sector Reform Committee (OGIC), came out in April 2000 under President Olusegun Obasanjo. However, following the failure of the Obasanjo administration to go beyond the OGIC report, late President Umaru Yar Adua set up the Dr Rilwan Lukman Committee in 2007, which submitted its report in 2008, from which evolved the template that berthed the PIB. The bill proper, was first presented to the Sixth National Assembly in 2007 by late President Umaru Yar adua. Yet as at the expiration of the Seventh National Assembly in 2015, during the tenure of President Goodluck Jonathan, the bill was still not passed into law in spite of spirited moves by several stakeholders. Yet with the flip-flop turn of its fortunes notwithstanding, the PIB has so far risen to offer itself as the most promising road map for the future of the nation’s petroleum industry. The promise of the PIB derives primarily from the aggregation of the sundry interests of various stakeholders in the upstream and downstream sectors as well as other aspects of industry. In fact, if there is any question of delay in its passage, such is attributable to the painstaking commitment of the National Assembly to capture the concerns of all of the stakeholders in order to minimize future incidence of disconnect between any stakeholder and the provisions of an eventual legislation. In that context, even up to its final moments, the Seventh National Assembly was fine tuning the provisions of the bill to accommodate late amendments by stakeholders.
That is why Buhari’s intervention in the petroleum industry needs to be seen in the context of his take on the PIB, especially in its final state at which the Seventh National Assembly left it off. While the nation shares his lament over the misfortunes of the disjointed petroleum industry as a whole and the shenanigans at the NNPC, it is equally important to avail him the support he needs to confront the legion of demons he will encounter as he takes on the slippery terrain of the oil industry. That is also where the PIB, even in its nascent condition remains relevant to his cause.
With the Eighth National Assembly fully mobilized for regular legislative enterprise, the onus now lies on the President to re-present as soon as practicable, the PIB to the legislature for a renewed journey on its eventual passage into law. Under the protection of an enactment that draws its roots and substance from the PIB, the President will be riding high on the crest of public approval in respect of any designated reforms he may wish to effect in the Nigerian petroleum industry.