By Femi Adesina
I was witness to history on Friday last week. I’d been invited to attend what was called NNPC Cutover Ceremony at the corporate head office of the burgeoning National Energy Company in Abuja, Federal Capital Territory.
What did the event mean, in simple English. NNPC was completing its transmutation from a Corporation to a Limited Company, as required by the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA). The Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation that we had known since 1977 was evanescing, dying, and transmogrifying into Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited.
What is the difference between the two entities? As a corporation, NNPC was a government owned outfit, which could make heavy losses if it wanted (and it did, heavily, for over 40 years) and it would continue to exist. Government would keep supporting it. But as a limited company, it would operate like every private company in the country, not subject to the Fiscal Responsibility Act, Public Procurement Act, and the Treasury Single Account (TSA). It was a business, pure and simple.
The Group Chief Executive Officer (GCEO), Mele Kolo Kyari (it’s taking us some time to get used to the new designation, having been so well used to GMD, Group Managing Director), took us through the evolution of the NNPC from inception till date.
The leviathan called NNPC has huge asset base in excess of 60 billion US dollars, but decade after decade, it kept turning up humongous losses. Kyari stated that if it had not been a government owned corporation all along, “it would long have been folded up.” Its appetite for debts and losses was insatiable.
For more than two decades, Federal Government conceived the idea to turn NNPC into a company, and came up with the Petroleum Industry Bill, which would revolutionize the entire oil industry. But there were too many self interests, nationally and internationally, and the legislation did not see the light of day. Till one man who didn’t want anything for himself came. Muhammadu Buhari. Staid, almost ascetic, clean as a whistle, straight as an arrow, and the Bill became an Act. Petroleum Industry Act was born.
I remember the morning the Bill was being signed into law in 2021 at the State House. I was discussing with GMD Mele Kyari before the event started, and he told me that only President Buhari could have signed the Bill, because he wants nothing for himself. “His interest is the country. Anything good for the country is what he wants, and that’s why we are seeing what is happening today.”
Section 54(1) of the PIA states that “The Minister and the Minister of Finance shall within 18 months of the effective date determine the assets, interests and liabilities of NNPC to be transferred to NNPC Limited or its subsidiaries and upon the identification, the Minister shall cause such assets, interests and liabilities to be transferred to NNPC Limited.”
That was the exercise completed with the cutover last Friday. Chairman of the Board, Margery Chuba Okadigbo put it in a succinct way:
“It is with great joy that I welcome you all to this final cutover ceremony witnessing the severance of the umbilical cord of NNPC Limited from the Corporation.
“Today, 46 years of the Corporation’s history will be laid to rest, finally making way for the Phoenix that has arisen from its ashes.
“I use the analogy of a Phoenix because the bird symbolizes rebirth, resilience, growth, and power, among so many other beautiful virtues…
“It is every mother’s pride to see her offspring grow and thrive. To know that she has done everything she can do to ensure that her child is happy, healthy, and positioned for success.”
She charged all members of the new company to make a firm commitment to always live NNPC Limited’s core values of Integrity, Excellence, and Sustainability.
Mrs Okadigbo ended with a quote from Mark F. LaMoure: “You are the sculptor of your success. Chisel and carve yourself into excellence.”
Very inspiring. I tell you, NNPC Limited was not only set to run, but to fly.
Minister of State Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva, who is Chairman of the PIA Implementing Steering Committee, said it was fulfilling for him to see the birth of the new company, “thereby ushering in a new era of value creation for the common good of all Nigerians.” He added that there are no excuses for failure, and the expectation is a strong commercially oriented National Energy company with an obligation to operate profitably and deliver dividends to shareholders.
Minister Sylva prayed that NNPC Limited will “change the face of the Nigerian petroleum industry, to position it as a proactive catalyst for spurring sustainable economic growth of our beloved country.”
There were goodwill messages from different stakeholders at the event, and that session did not end till your’s truly was also invited to make comments. I used the opportunity to pay tribute to President Muhammadu Buhari, who had been Minister of Petroleum for over three years in the 1970s, and who was also Chairman of the NNPC.
“President Buhari knew the corporation when it was making losses, and to the glory of God, about 40 years later, it was under him that NNPC became profitable,” I said. “He does not interfere with the running of the organization, he would not ask them to bring huge piles of money as seen before in this country, and no wonder NNPC became profitable. Also under him, oil has been found in commercial quantity at Kolmani, in Bauchi/Gombe States. President Buhari deserves all the accolades.”
I also commended the Management and Board of NNPC for being prudent and accountable, noting that profit couldn’t have come without those virtues.
GCEO Kyari unfolded the commitments of NNPC Limited. They include; prudent and commercial decisions, competitive value propositions to all customers, full compliance to extant laws, dividends to shareholders, equal opportunity employer of choice (sanctity of contract), reliable and affordable energy security.
After all these, the flag of the old NNPC was removed from the pole on which it hung, folded up for the last time, leaving the flag of the NNPC Limited to flutter proudly and graciously in the amphitheater where the event held. Like the Board Chairman said, the umbilical cord had been severed, 46 years of the Corporation’s history laid to rest, “making way for the Phoenix that has arisen from its ashes.” It was prodigious, remarkable, phenomenal. I was glad to be there.
*Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity