James Ume pays tribute to the outgoing Group Managing Director of NNPC at age 60
Dr. Maikanti Baru, outgoing Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is 60. Interestingly, this landmark will be the most anticipated by his friends, staff and admirers. A senior staff of the corporation wrote of his anticipation on a group WhatsApp forum: “As he clocks 60, I am waiting with bated breath because something in me says we might yet see Dr. Baru in another capacity. Congratulations Sir and wishing you the best in the future.”
There is a reason why this year is different in the life of Baru aside from reaching the mature age of 60 in good health and with a happy family. This year is probably one in which he abundantly reaped professional satisfaction. Let me explain. Not everyone who got to the top of their career retired with satisfaction and fulfillment. But Baru will leave the NNPC happy and satisfied that he was able to give his best to his country.
Many who had celebrated their appointments to such strategic positions, especially at the NNPC, left the position with heads bowed in shame and their image shredded. Some left with a thoroughly bruised ego. But Baru, appointed as GMD in July 2016, would pass the baton with his head held high and face beaming with satisfaction. He would be leaving the system with his reputation and integrity untainted. Besides his successes in the industry, which are many, Baru has achieved the most in the way he succeeded in transforming the personnel of the corporation into foot soldiers of his vision. He turned his vision into a collective ideal and motivated his staff by the soft power of his leadership style. The former NNPC boss saw himself in the shoes of his staff and made them see themselves in his. The result is the synergy which made his tenure one of the most eventful in the history of the corporation.
Another staff posted a tribute on Baru’s birthday: “We won’t forget his first week in 2019 was spent literally knocking on all doors in the entire towers as he sought to rally his ‘troops’ for the final lap of a memorable service. Even a doctor wouldn’t recommend such an exercise; No, not even to patients seeking to lose weight.” It was a fitting tribute to a workaholic who started the first lap of his tenure exactly the same way, rallying the personnel for the job ahead as would a commander to his troops. Three years after, the story of NNPC has changed for the better.
When President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office on May 29, 2015, he was inundated with information that NNPC was a cesspit of corrupt and never to be trusted fellows in its commanding heights. This must have led him to decide on bringing an outsider to head the corporation and retired a chunk of top management staff. Many of the managers at the PPMC were made redundant in a sweeping reform.
Baru’s appointment in 2016 as GMD was against this background of official scandals, imaginary and real over management of its finances and over domestic fuel supply. Having distinguished himself in his previous positions and later as special adviser to the Minister of State for Petroleum, he was promoted to the position of GMD.
There was initial scepticism over his appointment in view of the history of sleaze and opaqueness that had characterized operations of the corporation for decades. Baru himself must have felt a similar way. But he opened up the system to staff and outsiders and made operations of the NNPC more transparent and accountable.
Most of the staff have said that one of the ways he achieved this was by carrying the management and staff along on policy and operations of the corporation. And it was easy to get their buy-in largely because he earned their trust. It was his ability to generate this team spirit at the NNPC Towers that differentiated him from others before him.
As a believer in transparency and one who worked assiduously to establish a new operational ethos that puts value on hard work and accountability, Baru brought to the NNPC new ways of doing things which now seemed to have taken root.
It certainly did not escape the president and those who appointed him that he had transformed the corporation in tune with his own character. Nothing confirms this better than the appointment of the new GMD Mele Kyari, who was nurtured in-house and who is seen as a suitable and logical replacement for Baru.
The fact that the president now has enough confidence on the top management of the NNPC speaks volumes about the impact of Maikanti Baru in just three years. Not only did the president appoint an insider as the new GMD, he also appointed what a staff called “an entirely insider top management team” and a a former insider as the Acting Alternate Board Chairman! Something has undoubtedly changed at the NNPC Towers.
Baru has empowered many, encouraged and trusted the union to self-correct and to learn on the job. This brought immense improvement on productivity at the corporation. No wonder the staff have been effusive in his praise. One said: “The fact that Mr. President appointed Mele Kyari and a fully home- grown top management team attests to the fact that Dr. Baru has completely turned around the trust and integrity of NNPC before the president. If we are not grateful for this, I wonder what else we could be grateful for!”
Another also found something else: “The salary harmonization which was successfully implemented. Baru in his wisdom solved it using an insider union. The age- old pension funding gap was closed not by outsiders.”
Dr Baru is a Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers and is well respected within the profession. A graduate of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where he obtained Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) first class honours. He also holds a Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering. He was former Special Adviser (Upstream) to the Minister of State for Petroleum. Before he was appointed adviser, he was NNPC’s Group Executive Director, Exploration and Production.
Baru may be retiring from service, he is certainly not tired. He may yet have a lot to offer his country. Your friends and admirers and wish you a happy birthday and an even more fulfilling future.
––Ume wrote from Abuja.