By Sunny Igboanugo
It was like a thunderbolt from the blues. The news reverberated across the country and beyond and for weeks after, dominated the agenda at various levels of economic conversations. The media swooped on it and analysts feasted on it – the enthusiasts and the naysayers.
That was how it all panned out when when the news broke on August 26, 2021 that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), has broken a four-decade record, by making profit for the first time in 44 years, a feat, which saw even the Aso Rock Villa, rolling out the drums for a dance in the sun.
Apparently to underscore the import of the accomplishment, the news was first broken by President Muhammadu Buhari himself as the Minister of Petroleum Resources via a statement by his spokesman, Femi Adesina, who profusely praised the resilience and discipline of the board and management of the corporation for the accomplishment.
The statement quoted the President as saying: “I am pleased to announce the declaration of Profit after Tax of Two Hundred and Eighty-Seven Billion Naira (N287 Billion) in Year 2020 by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. This is sequel to the completion of the statutory Annual Audit exercise for Year 2020.
“The NNPC losses were reduced from N803 Billion in year 2018 to N1.7 billion in year 2019 and the eventual declaration of Net Profit in Year 2020 for the first time in its 44-year history.
“This development is consistent with this administration’s commitment to ensuring prudent management of resources and maximisation of value for the Nigerian people from their natural resources.
“I have further directed the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to timely publish the Audited Financial statements in line with the requirements of the law and as follow up to our commitment to ensuring transparency and accountability by public institutions.”
So, when on Saturday, October 16, 2021 Mallam Mele Kyari, stepped out and mounted the podium at the prestigious Eko Hotels and Suites, greeted by thousands pair of eyes from the large audience, the klieglights and flashing cameras, to receive The Sun Man of The Year Award, it must have been with great pride and a sense of euphoria for conquering where many had failed. After all, how many of his contemporaries could stand so tall in the same office which had damned and confounded so many before him? What else could have been more enduring and historic than to get the accolade of your boss, not the least, the President of your country and the highest office in the land?
It was at the 18th edition of the Sun Awards, organised by The Sun Publishing Company Ltd, publishers of The Sun newspaper titles, where a total of 24 personalities of diverse interests in Nigeria were being honoured for their achievements and contributions in advancing the course of events in the country.
It was not surprising that Kyari, was awarded the star prize at the event. For the organisers, the import of achieving the feat for which Kyari got the award, would certainly stretch beyond just breaking the four-decade-old jinx to the more intrinsic message – getting things right at the corporation. Who doesn’t know the strategic role NNPC plays in the economic affairs of Nigeria as the major cash cow? Who would still be in doubt that it is not only in charge of crude oil through which the country breathes, financially speaking, but petroleum products, the commodity that makes every Nigerian catch cold whenever it sneezes?
Onuoha Ukeh, Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of the paper, therefore, captured the essence of Kyari’s accomplishment in these words: “Take Mele Kyari and dissect. In addition to the record breaking N287bn profits posted for 2020, the best since inception 44 years, the NNPC which he heads published the Audited Financial Statements (AFS). It was trailblasing and a whiff of good fortune in a beleaguered entity and time.”
Recalling that the stellar performance came at a time the entire world was almost flat-belly down due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said it was an honour for a man that had shown an uncommon doggedness and resilience in the way he managed the operations of the NNPC during the period.
Indeed from the blast of the whistle, Kyari had left no one in doubt about the direction his tenure would be headed. In his first interview, on taking office in 2019, he harped on making the operations of the corporation, hitherto ensconced in the bowels of opaqueness, if not total darkness open and transparent.
Hear him: “We are going to do everything possible to make the businesses open, so that people can actually predict what we’re going to do next.” That was in August 2019, just one month after taking office.
For those who thought he was joking, he made good his words by publishing the audited report of the corporation in June the next year, the first time this would be done in 43 years, though still showing that the company still operated at a loss. “We have done the right thing.We have followed the law. It is one of the requirements in the law establishing the NNPC to publish its accounts. This is a new season of transparency and accountability for the company,”he explained after making the disclosure.
The publication of the 2020 edition of its books, was therefore, apart from upping the ante by maintaining the transparency mantra, a way of underscoring the new direction of the corporation as capable of making profit, especially in the new regime, it is no longer solely controlled by government.
Receiving the award in the presence of top government officials, including former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Ambassador Babagana Kingibe; Kano State Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu; Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki; former Abia State Governor Orji Uzor Kalu; as well as top industry players and heavyweights in the professions the NNPC boss, promised even more.
First, he attributed the successes to the freehand and support he acclaimed was accorded him by the President, who said never interfered in the affairs of the company, emphasising that the the management of the company under his watch would never let down on the transparency module of operation.
“What we have done in recent years is to ensure that we take out all the opaqueness in NNPC. We also ensured that we represent Nigerians and work for them,” he said while thanking the publishers of the newspaper for finding him worthy of the award.
To him, the recognition was a huge responsibility and a privilege which would spur him to do more for the benefit of the over 200 million Nigerians.
Indeed, Kyari also used the occasion to send a message of team-work rather than being a lone ranger, as he practically shared the klieglights with with a full complement of the NNPC management team, who came with him, including; the Group Executive Directors (GED) of Finance and Accounts, Mr. Umar Ajiya; Upstream, Engr. Adokiye Tombomieye; Gas and Power, Mr. Mohammed Ahmed; Ventures and Business Development, Sir Billy Okoye; Group General Manager, National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS), Mr. Bala Wunti; MD, Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC), Mohammed Ali-Zara and Managing Director, Integrated Data Services Ltd (IDSL), Mr. Marcel Amu.
As history beckons for the 56-year-old graduate of geology and earth science from the University of Maiduguri, a lot still hangs on his shoulders. So far, he has shown the vision, direction and capacity to deliver. He may therefore be permitted a drink for now till the time he would definitely call the party. That will be at the other side of history.
• Igboanugo, a journalist, wrote from Lagos.