Opinion: Unbundle the NNPC, dismantle the retrogressive Labour unions

Nigeria has a glorious history. As a system which worked (at a time). It is with nostalgia that one would recall the glorious days of the Nigeria Airways, the Nigeria Shipping Line, the Arewa Textile Mills, The Nigerian Coal Corporation alongside other world class yet government owned institutions my country operated at some points in its history.

As I write this note, with exceptions to the NNPC, I doubt if any corporation(s) in the rank of the aforementioned still trades. An implication of the termination of their corporate life cycle is the level of insecurity in the North, the percentage of youth restiveness in the South and any other challenge faced by Nigeria.

I find the story of the Nigeria Airways most painful. My biological father narrated the activities of a certain (randy) senior staff of the airline who once manned a sensitive post at the local wing of the Margaret Ekpo Int’l Airport, Calabar. That staff, he’d say was in the habit of handing out domestic travel tickets to citizens of the female sex in the open at no cost.

So powerful was that individual that he’d commandeer and retain for himself several travel tickets on Thursdays for distribution to family members, friends, neighbors, church members and other persons who would turn up at the Airports with the said tickets to claim seats on planes at no cost so they could spend the weekend in Lagos, Kano, Enugu or even London.

My father reported how on an occasion, it took the intervention of His Excellency, the Rt. Hon. Nnamdi Azikiwe before he could travel to Lagos from Calabar. At that time, my immediate family traded in brand new tyres. Ibadan based business man – Jimoh Odutola; a bosom friend of my father was his main supplier. The friendship was at the instance of another wealthy Ibadan transporter (whose name I cannot recall now), owner of “Olorun Adaba” Motors.

Our prominent clients in Nigeria were the Nigerian Army and the Nigeria Police Force. Former Military Administrator of Kebbi State, (then) Major John Paul Ubah, Police Commissioner (Works Division) Kpajie Ochie, Brigadier Edward Bako, Late Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo, Late Barrister Emeka Etiaba, Brigadier (Sen.) Tunde Ogbeha, Late Clement Ebri, Admiral Akin Aduwo, Late Ojong Ndoma Egba etc were among influential Nigerians on whose back my father rose to prominence in trading.

As usual, that staff of the airport had given out several domestic travel tickets at no cost to his associates. Nearly all the planes were booked with no income accruing to Nigeria while rich local traders who had financial capacity to pay for their flights or even hire an entire aircraft were left stranded with some contemplating heading to the motor park by road to board the next available night bus to Lagos.

Frustrated, my father raised a mob of mainly Igbo traders who were ready for an open duel with that staff of the Nigeria Airways. The departure wing was tensed and anger was gathering momentum as more Igbo traders arrived. Suddenly, a strange calm enveloped the hall. News circulated that Owelle Nnamdi Azikiwe was approaching the building.

Once this was confirmed, the mob headed towards his motorcade, accosted him and reported the situation; threatening to unleash chaos unless a plane is provided to convey them to Lagos. Owelle intervened, scolded that official, pacified the traders and allowed them travel in his flight to Enugu which wasn’t fully booked. He would later allow the traders proceed in the same plane to Lagos from Enugu. The staff was never seen at the Calabar Airport again. Tales had it that he was transferred to the Jos airport as an admin staff from where he resigned.

The conduct of this staff of the Nigerian Airways cannot be far from the kind of actions of key government officials which led to the death of that airline and other government agencies. He was known to have several concubines among booking clerks whose work it was to compare the names of passengers written on already paid for tickets with a register before issuance of boarding pass.

So arrogant and powerful were these ladies that they could scuttle a pre-arranged flight on excuse of sudden “ill health” or a quick desire to have lunch in a restaurant outside the airport.

Incidences as these are existent in the NNPC of today and expectedly, these category of Nigerians are members of the ever powerful trade unions themselves or have their cronies there.

The current Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, comes across as an individual with strong knack for business. His acumen is as intimidating as his resume is.

It has been determined over the years with reference to advanced economies that for public corporations to work right, leadership must inject into its processes some of the operational procedures obtainable only in organized private sector. The implication of this is to the effect that key Nigerian public corporations must be driven as if they were in the organized private sector where management is responsible to shareholders.

I’m therefore expectant that Dr. Emmanuel Kachikwu as Group Managing Director of the NNPC will cause there to be an element of efficiency in service delivery in that corporation because the NNPC is known to be performing lower than capacity.

Besides his wealth of experience and in-depth knowledge of the energy sector, Dr. Kachikwu’s recent actions and pronouncements are clear signals that shortly, Nigeria may have a national oil corporation that shall function like the Central Bank, the Nigerian Communications Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission. This is because these institutions are perfect instances of how an ideal corporation should operate. Though they are government establishments, they are performance driven with clear cut delivery milestones that can be measured at periodic intervals.

Though not a few Nigerians think the NNPC should still exist owing to the several incidences of unresolved graft that have been perpetrated under it over time, global experts in energy, oil and gas opine that given the right management, it can survive, stabilize and be a more a financially viable and responsible agency.

It is therefore important that Dr. Kachikwu be caused to be aware of the reality of the task before him. This is because the internal working of the NNPC may be significantly different from what is obtainable in Exxon-Mobil. Whereas Exxon-Mobil operates along global standards, the NNPC cannot be said to have a standard operations procedure.

This may be due to a faulty understanding held in government circles that it is a national cash cow and nothing else. His decision to restructure and reduce key operations divisions at management level is laudable but he must resolve to make harder decisions and tougher choices in the nearest future. A society as Nigeria that sees a multi-billion dollar corporation (the NNPC is) as nothing other than an emergency cash cow must be caused to begin to see in it Africa’s version of PetroBras.

Established in 1963, PetroBras, Brasil’s equivalent of Nigeria’s NNPC have positioned itself as a force in the global energy market. With combined verifiable investments in oil exploration, refining, distribution, bio-fuel production, petrochemicals, wind energy, electricity generation, transport fleet management and research, that organization earned a remarkable $304.89B in revenue in its last accounting period. Its workforce of 86,111 persons spread across 17 big countries is a huge departure from what is obtainable at the NNPC with an unknown staff strength.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act which governs the operations of PetroBras has a replica in Nigeria’s Petroleum Industry Bill. The implementation of this business process is what has placed PetroBras as a global leader in energy. Dr. Kachikwu must start talks with relevant stakeholders to ensure prompt passage of the PIB into law. Our gas resources must be harnessed and converted to a larger income stream. Like PetroBras, the NNPC can own and maintain production platforms, refineries, and more service stations. Whatever income Nigeria earns at the moment from joint venture activities is insignificant when compared to what can be earned given the right operations environment.

That the NNPC will become a target driven and profit oriented corporation is a task that must be accomplished at any cost as Nigerians have no business perpetually staying on long queues just to buy petrol. It is too early for the NNPC to declare that acute shortage of products will remain for another 60 days.

While long term self-sufficiency plans are worked out, the federal government should under very strict monitoring grant oil marketers access to ForEx to boost local supplies. If utilization is a challenge, funds may be paid directly to suppliers by government on behalf of marketers so they can lift products.

A properly defined road-map must be developed for the NNPC so it can be fully commercialized. This must be done outside the influence of the ever retrogressive trade unions who understand nothing else but their welfare. They must to be entirely bypassed or subdued before this can happen because their welfare needs can never be met and carrying them along will mean sabotaging any plan to make the NNPC viable. We must discontinue the culture of rewarding economic clogs with juicy waivers in a bid to curry their support.

As obtainable in organized private sector, only persons productive to a system must be protected and provided for by that system.

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Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Ezeani, Chukwunonso Elvis is an avid thinker, reader & researcher. He tweets @NonsoEzeani1

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