The United States 2020 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Nigeria has been trending. And one man who should be happy with the report is Mr. Mele Kolo Kyari, the incumbent Group Managing Director, GMD, of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC.
Every year, the United States releases status reports on nations across the world usually based on intelligence gathered from its representatives in these countries and from diplomatic intelligence exchange. For Nigeria, the 2020 report was not all bad news. Though it chronicled what Nigerians already knew: serial human rights violations in the country, cases of graft and official corruption, cases of killings, abductions and general insecurity with poignant reference to the growing audacity of the insurgents. But the Report also singled out a rather under-reported incident from the NNPC.
NNPC is Nigeria’s ATM. It is the custodian of the nation’s crude oil. From upstream to downstream, NNPC is at the core of the nation’s petrochemical value chain. A truly critical national asset but its operations have remained draped in opacity. It has remained so since 1977. It was only last year that Kyari, the GMD of the corporation broke the jinx. In what a colleague described as attempted ‘suicide’, Kyari did what no leader of the corporation has done in 43 years: he published the audited financial details of the corporation for 2018. Same year, a couple of months later, he published the audited financial record for 2019. A loud statement in extractive industry transparency.
For a corporation which has functioned for over four decades in well-guarded secrecy with its financial dealings wrapped in secret vaults only accessible to the power brokers who primarily profit from its nondescript and uncharted ledger, what Kyari did was clearly contrary to the routine. It was not only a brave act of good corporate governance, it was an act in which he dared to be different.
Kyari became the 19th GMD of NNPC effective July 7, 2019. His appointment by President Muhammadu Buhari drew no cynicism, no outrage. He was considered a perfect fit for the job being an industry person and one who had been part of the NNPC system. Obviously, Kyari was well aware of the odious reputation of the global oil and gas sector as the festering field for corruption. Whether in the United States, Mexico, Europe and Asia, the sector has experienced earth-shaking scandals bordering on bribery for contracts, election-financing for political demagogues, over-invoicing of crude sales and supplies, illegal offshore stealing of crude, deliberately false metering, etcetera.
Recall the Car Wash scandal described by US Department of Justice as “the largest foreign bribery case in history,” with $2.1 billion siphoned from Brazilian oil and gas giant, Petrobras, in bribes and secret payments to foreign companies; or the Panalpina wide-ranging bribery schemes in which no fewer than six oil and gas companies reportedly used a third party to pay and conceal bribes to foreign officials. The list is long and they all point to one fact: the global oil and gas sector has witnessed mind-blowing corruption.
The US has a fair share of these oil-related frauds and lots more. Recall the Watergate political scandal which rocked the administration of President Richard Nixon and consequently led to his resignation on August 9, 1974. The US had never been in short supply of scandals. The aftermath of the Watergate scandal was the enactment of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in 1977, an Act to prohibit individuals and businesses from bribing foreign officials in order to retain or obtain business.
Ever since, the US government working through relevant agencies including the Department of Justice, the Federal Investigation Bureau, FBI, has deployed its global reach to monitor and sniff out cases of corrupt practices. And their fraud barometer has been more right than wrong. The US agencies had in the past indicted corporate bodies in Nigeria of corruption. They have investigated and indicted several Nigerians and reported same to the world. These indictments have cast Nigeria and Nigerians in bad light. And it’s no witch-hunt. The same US government and agencies have also applauded some Nigerian individuals and institutions for playing clean.
It’s in this context that Nigerians should applaud NNPC for its positive mention in the US 2020 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Nigeria. While aspects of the report censured Nigeria in the area of human rights violations and official corruption, it singled out Kyari’s NNPC for raising the banner on transparency and for breaking a 43-year-old jinx.
Under Section 4 which dwelt on corruption and lack of transparency in government, the report recalled the efforts of Kyari to keep the NNPC ledger open for public scrutiny. It said:
“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, with the aim of increasing 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 anticorruption watchdog groups hailed the government for providing better access to government spending data.”
While it’s okay to be worried by aspects of the report which categorically criticized some obvious cases of anomalies in governance and public conduct among Nigerian institutions and even individuals, it’s not also out of place to applaud the effort of Kyari and his team at NNPC. By publishing the audited account of NNPC for the first time in 43 years, Kyari was only trying to be different. He restrained himself from joining the mob.
One of the greatest physicists of all time and the father of the theory of relativity, Albert Einstein once said: “The person who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The person who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever seen before.” Kyari chose to walk alone. He distanced himself from the crowd of 18 predecessors. Not one to gloat for doing the right thing, he does not see his action as outstanding. He’s quick to tell you that NNPC is owned by Nigerians and that Nigerians, as shareholders, deserve to know the performance of the corporation which they jointly own.
Being different in a positive sense is both powerful and elegant. It sets you apart. It gives you the amplitude for innovation and originality. Ultimately, it makes you a winner; the man who takes home the trophy. Kyari has just won a trophy: A moral medal!
Publishing the financial records of NNPC has exposed Kyari and the corporation to criticisms, especially with the refineries running at a loss. But criticisms are part of the ingredients for growth, for improvement. Kyari should glory in the US report. We cannot begrudge him. It’s the reward for being different, for daring to commit ‘suicide’ by going public with details of your financial transactions in a society where secrecy is the lubricant that oils public sector operations.