“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, and nothing is so gentle as real strength.” This saying captures the life and times of Dr. Maikanti Baru, former Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). He still looms so large in the mirror of life, it is difficult to think he has passed; a passage that tempts you to want to ask the God he was determined to serve, “Why?”
But no respectable faith permits that, and not his. A God-fearing person, he had gone for a programme in Arabic Studies in Egypt upon retirement to know Allah more and to serve Him by preaching His marvellous works.
This writer got close to him, when without any previous contact, he responded to his WhatsApp message to share some information within five minutes.
The communication continued and got personal until his words, which were filled with wisdom, was silenced by circumstances that led to his death.
Dr. Baru was so humble and gentle one could mistake him for a shy person. He was even uncomfortable in praise.
Unknown to many people, Dr. Baru was a very jovial person who cracked jokes with staff members in the office. There, people who tried to flatter others were called “IRI (Indelible Red Ink- a joke which originated from someone who said his boss’ name had been written in the ink by his high performance only to turn around to rejoice over his removal months after). When Dr. Baru got the joke, he shouted “IRI” at anyone who tried to praise him.
Although the “Humble Baru” worked for many years away from the limelight of the Twin Towers of the NNPC, it was widely known among close industry watchers he would be the helmsman some day.
From the upstream, midstream to downstream and even the services sub-sector of the oil and gas industry, he had seen all and done all, largely with excellence; and some companies in the industry were already considering his leadership in their scenario planning. Until his appointment, he was the Group Executive Director, Exploration and Production of the Corporation, a position key to the growth of the oil and gas industry
But even the best of scenario planners, among those that were considering him for board appointments, could not have known that the vibrant man would pass this soon after retirement.
A strong believer in hardwork and destiny, he perhaps would have taken it with his usual calmness if he had been told that his appointed time was close.
Back in 2016, hardwork, selflessness and a massive wealth of experience had earned him the seat at the pinnacle of the oil industry in the country, but his equally strong belief in destiny also fuelled his strength during the death, in quick succession, of three of his loved ones during his over 1,000 days in office.
Barely two weeks after he lost his sister in May 2017, he lost his son, Mohammed in shocking circumstances in the United Arab Emirates, where he was studying at the American University, Sharjah. While still mourning, his mother passed away after a brief illness at the age of 102.
Through all that, Dr Baru was strong and calm. Although he was the only surviving male child and very close to his mother, he took the three deaths in good faith, believing, “ It was wish of Allah.”
Baru’s strength was also on display when a leaked memo to President Buhari alleged he had overstepped his bounds in the award of contracts. That raised a huge political storm, but he assured close associates to lose no sleep because he broke no law.
And many loved him. Described behind his back as “a Financial Araldite” he was prudent in financial management and transparent in resource management. This was the reason he had been appointed Chairman, NNPC Anti-corruption Committee, which he headed for many years.
As Group Managing Director, he insisted on prudence and transparency in the operations of the corporation. Books were opened to the public and even bids for big contracts were done in the glare of public television.
In a tribute to him, President Muhammadu Buhari noted that Dr Baru worked “very hard to initiate reforms in virtually all departments of the corporation, bringing it up to speed with global trends and best practices.”
While breaking the news of Dr Baru’s death, his successor Mele Kyari, described him as “My brother, my friend and my mentor; he was of exemplary character and disposition.”
The Nigerian Society of Engineers said “his stint as GMD of NNPC, where he instituted financial transparency and knowledge-based administration has remained remarkable.”
Across the entire value-chain of the NNPC business and operation, Dr. Baru ensured value delivery through creating and promoting new ventures and shared services.
Notably, he achieved that through transparency and accountability, enforcing the FACTI Principle, which portrayed NNPC as a Factual, Accountable, Competitive and Transparent Company operating with Integrity.
On a Friday night, May 29, 2020, death robbed me of a great friend; his family a dear one; the oil and gas industry and the country, one of the brightest and the best – no IRI intended.
Luckily, history keeps great legacies like those of the Humble Baru.
While in office, he was very punctual and went to work seven days a week including public holidays; he worked from 8 a.m. most times until 1a.m. the next day, saying. “I have sacrificed my family time for this job but it is for the good of the Industry and Nation.”
In retirement, he had time to work for Allah with even greater zeal, but he got a call from above. May his Soul Rest in Peace.