Port Harcourt — It may not have been conceived by him and it appears to have expanded the circle of conspiracy against his ascendance to Nigeria’s presidency but we owe Atiku Abubakar gratitude for starting the conversation that will eventually lead to the liquidation of the NNPC, Nigeria’s worst investment folio, with human collateral that exceeds polio and HIV put together. Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party revealed during his campaigns that he would privatise the NNPC when he becomes Nigeria’s president. Birthed on April fool’s day in 1977, the NNPC has been anything but a huge joke against the people of Nigeria, who were gifted a Trust they neither demanded nor deserved, by military fiat. By definition, the work of the NNPC as conceived by law is to manage Nigeria’s oil and gas deposits for the benefit of the federal government and the component states. The laws establishing the NNPC also gave it powers to register other operators, create operational standards for them, and to inspect, monitor and sanction their operations, not only to safeguard and boost Nigeria’s earning potential from the operations but also to protect the production environment.
Atiku’s vision for the NNPC is, I suspect, borne by the many years of recurrent failure in policy conception and implementation, cost and operational inefficiency, secret budgets, negligence and gross dereliction of its obligations to inspect, monitor and sanction oil and gas operations, alleged collusion in oil theft and in the devastation of Nigerian environments and societies. In pursuance of its statutory duties, the NNPC constructed four refineries, one petrochemical plant and has established several subsidiary companies. The petrochemical plant has since been sold at a loss and apart from the fact that the refineries do not operate at all or far below their installed capacities, salaries, stupendous allowances and long service awards to real and fictitious personnel are paid by the NNPC regularly. From year to year, the NNPC and her subsidiaries maintain an unproductive workforce that bleeds Nigeria. Upon his appointment as Group Managing Director, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu promised to take stock of the state of the country’s refineries in order to advise the Federal Government on whether to refurbish or sell them. The fellow who is now the Minister of State for Petroleum has not done any Memo on the state of the refineries after four years in office. It is in tandem with the tradition laid down in four decades of wasteful and ineffectual management that the NNPC has only now awarded a contract of $USD50m to an Italian company to take stock of the state of the refineries, mind you, not to refurbish them. The NNPC’s engineers employed and paid handsomely for this and other duties were not deployed to save Nigeria this waste. If it takes four years to award a contract for the assessment of the state of the refineries, you can guess how long it will take to formulate a policy as to a follow-up action.
While the country’s refineries are lying idle or producing at minimal capacities, accruing huge bills and creating lengthy negative columns in the country’s ledgers, the NNPC is importing petroleum products, directly and through proxies who are hitting Nigeria with fictitious bills through a subsidy regime designed solely for political patronage. In investments, the NNPC has proved to be totally unworthy of its Trust. Monitoring of the production volumes and financial status of Production Sharing Agreements that facilitated projects such as Bonga, Egina, Erha and their kind have been so lax that the IOCs are benefitting far beyond contractual terms and sadly, at opportunity costs to health care, education, affordable housing and infrastructural development in Nigeria. The only group of Nigerians that are happy with this situation is the NNPC inspectors and supervisors and managers and directors, most of whom are multi-millionaires, a sad tale of a Trustee benefitting from the failure of a neglected trust. The NNPC’s deliberate neglect of its duty to enforce production standards and the protection of pipelines and storage facilities have resulted in the pollution and devastation of creeks and rivers of the Niger Delta with heavy human casualties.
Without any doubts, the NNPC is a failed Trust that should go the way candidate Atiku prescribed. It matters little that his quest to come into authority to actualize the vision has not yet been realized. He has commenced the process by deploying the campaign podium to open the eyes of Nigerians to the profligacy and colossal ineptitude of the NNPC. It is now the responsibility of every Nigerian to demand an accounting of the NNPC and its dismantling to change this ugly narrative and in consequence, the sad state of our commonwealth.