By Rashidat Olushola Okunlade
The Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) Malam Mele K. Kyari has received tenure extension through his reforming (TAPE) Agenda for the Nigeria oil sector for the next generation.
Mele Kyari continues to develop the oil sector for an enduring footprint for the next generation. Kyari has expressed commitment to the development of the sector adding that it will remain a footprint for generations to come as he continues to lead NNPCL.
Recall that President Bola Tinubu renewed Kyari’s appointment effective from Friday, December 1, 2023. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu on November 27th 2023 announced the reappointment of Mr. Mele Kyari as the Group Chief Executive Officer (GCEO) of Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL).
The extension of Mele Kyari’s tenure reflects President Tinubu’s dedication to his renewed hope agenda, ensuring that competent individuals are retained in key positions for optimal results.
While a few voices had criticised the appointment, many more voices had drowned out the voices of the naysayers, insisting that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu did the right thing by keeping Kyari on the beat.
Any objective assessor of the reappointment would score President Bola Ahmed Tinubu high for retaining Mele Kyari. I believe it was smart on the part of Mr. President to reappoint Kyari. Indeed, so far, it ranks among the best appointments made by Tinubu. There are many reasons why Kyari deserves a longer stay on his beat in a season where CEOs of many parastatals, including those whose tenures were yet to lapse, were booted out of office. I shall address them shortly.
By 2021 when the long-awaited Petroleum Industry Act came into being, Kyari was still in charge. He has the historical fortune of being the man who nursed the NNPC from a corporation to a commercialized company. It’s a rare piece of history. So far, Kyari has acquitted himself, displaying both industry know-how and administrative elan. Though Kyari inherited an NNPC with an opaque and fuzzy balance sheet forged in the foundry of operational tardiness, he refused to walk the same path of administrative imprudence. Since his first appointment in 2019, Kyari has consistently displayed one managerial trait that his predecessors never dared and couldn’t have dared: Transparency!
Maya Angelou, the iconic American civil rights activist and poet, once said: “If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” This fits the Kyari story. To be normal at NNPC is to apply the old template of graft and greasy deals. To avoid this, Kyari has to do the abnormal. Against the subsisting convention, he published the audited accounts of NNPC for 2018 and 2019. Now, that’s abnormal in an environment where being normal is to do the opposite: Don’t audit, don’t publish. Keep our secret to ourselves. It’s almost crazy, insane. But Kyari was not crazy; never insane.
Was he merely grandstanding? Why would he take the lid off what many people perceive as a seething pot of corruption? He explains why. In December 2020, when Kyari was barely 17 months on the job, the Exco members of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, which included this writer, paid a visit to Kyari and his management team. The question was asked, why did you expose the balance sheet of NNPC against all known norms of the corporation? His response was short and simple: NNPC is owned by Nigerians and Nigerians have a right to know what’s happening inside the corporation.
What Kyari meant was that over 200 million Nigerians are the shareholders. This means he and his team at NNPC were employed by Nigerians to help manage the corporation. Therefore, the same shareholders (Nigerians) have a right to know how their business is being managed. Keeping the books open will place a great deal of responsibility on the shoulders of the managers. Kyari is not afraid of responsibility and accountability. And it shows. The published 2018 audited account showed a loss of N803 billion. This got the management to adopt smarter strategies to run lean and mean; to cut costs and turn the corner. It worked. By the time it released the 2019 audited financial statement, it had achieved 99.7 per cent reduction in its loss status, cutting loss from ₦803bn in 2018 to ₦1.7bn in 2019. This would never have been possible if Kyari had not summoned the courage to go public with the 2018 financial statement. The huge loss in 2018 made them plug leakages, improve on prudence, and introduce cost-saving measures. Over 50 cost-effective initiatives were introduced. By 2020, the same NNPC declared a profit after tax of N287 billion. The PAT jumped to N674 billion in 2021.
Kyari told the editors that there’s a rebranded NNPC with a fresh vista and commitment to transparency and accountability in consonance with the global principles of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Among the 19 CEOs that ever superintended the NNPC, he’s the only one who opted to walk alone, to do things differently, to account to his employers (Nigerians).
And if you ever thought that what Kyari did by opening the NNPC books was a mere whiff, wait until you read the 2020 United States Report on Human Rights Practices in Nigeria released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour under the US Department of State. The report gave more than a passing glance at the state of human rights in Nigeria. It exhumed buried carcasses of corruption in Nigeria’s public service.
While the Report condemned the Nigerian government for attempts at suppressing free speech and press freedom, the same Report held up a reed of redemptive grace. It spared the nation’s blushes when it highlighted the new order of transparency at NNPC.
Section 4 of the over 16,500-word Report, states: “In June (2020) the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation released audited 2018 financial statements, the first such release since its establishment in 1977. The corporation also published audited accounts of its 20 subsidiaries and business divisions. In December the federal government launched the Financial Transparency Policy and Portal, commonly referred to as Open Treasury Portal, to increase transparency and governmental accountability of funds transferred by making the daily treasury statement public. The Open Treasury Portal required all ministries, departments, and agencies to publish daily reports of payments greater than five million naira ($13,300). The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and other anti-corruption watchdog groups hailed the government for providing better access to government spending data.”
This was the first time that a US report on the status of corruption across the globe would cast a sector in Nigeria in brilliant light. Other International bodies like the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) described Kyari’s openness as a ‘significant milestone’, while the Open Government Partnership, commended Kyari for historically instituting a culture of transparency in an environment once steeped in the abuse of corporate governance.
It’s always been tale after tale of corruption, sleight of hand, and outright stealing of public funds. Not this time, all thanks to Kyari’s deliberate choice to keep the books open.
By Q1 of 2023, NNPCL’s profit was already cresting N18billion. Kyari is already looking at returning the refineries to operation. He is working on implementing the gas policy with relevant stakeholders. NNPCL is in a transitional phase and the reappointment of Kyari will guarantee stability needed at this time. But, pray, why would a man who chose transparency over opacity not be reappointed? With Kyari, Tinubu has just rewarded competence and openness. Kyari should reciprocate this by focusing on the ball.