IT was hardly surprising last week when the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, announced the restructuring of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) into five semi-autonomous entities. The five entities, he said, are to be run as businesses with emphasis on efficiency and profit. If any sign was needed that the NNPC had to be restructured, the allegation that $20 billion of its revenue could not be accounted for was an eye opener. And, this charge came from the then Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Lamido Sanusi.
The Senate, stung by the scandal, investigated the corporation, and came up empty-handed. Even after an international auditing firm was hired to conduct a forensic audit, there was still uncertainty regarding the amount of money that was missing from the coffers of the corporation. This sad situation subsists till this day.
The corporation has now been split into what looks like its natural components – Upstream; Downstream; Refineries; Gas and Power; and Ventures, with two service units identified as Finance and Accounts; and Corporate Services.
Apart from the initial protests by the National Assembly and the labour unions which appear to have now accepted the idea, the restructuring is seen by many Nigerians as an idea that is long overdue. The NNPC has over the years exhibited all the traits of a flabby, oversized and uncontrollable behemoth that had become too large for its own good. This is not merely because it recorded a $1.3 billion corporate loss last year. It is also because it had become engulfed in scandals, corporate greed and graft. Worse still, it was grossly inefficient and badly in need of an overhaul.
The appointment of Dr. Kachikwu has been considered one of President Muhammadu Buhari’s best efforts to bring sanity and common sense to the corporation. Being an expert in the oil industry, Kachikwu seems to have impressed not only the National Assembly. He sounds credible and honest to Nigerians when he discusses the affairs of the corporation. However, he should have averted the initial protests against the restructuring by consulting with the National Assembly and the oil industry unions before making the reorganisation public.
Now, he faces the ultimate test: changing the corporation and making it efficient and profitable. In place of a cesspool, he must bring corporate good governance. In place of an opaque, secretive administration, Nigerians expect transparency.
The corporation has been unwieldy, now we expect a slim-fitted organisation that is responsible in its actions and accountable to those it serves. The NNPC should ensure that all petroleum products are available throughout the country, all year round.
We believe that the Ministry of Petroleum Resources is in good hands. But, until Nigerians can drive into a petrol station and buy fuel and kerosene without hassles, and there is enough affordable gas for cooking and to power our turbines, they will continue to wonder whether this restructuring is not another fast game played on the country.