By Olusegun Adeniyi,
The stewardship of my friend and brother, Waziri Onibiyo Adio, as the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) ends today after five excellent years. It is non-renewable single term. I am proud of his achievements at the institution that also means a great deal to me.
NEITI was established in 2003 to institutionalise transparent and accountable management of extractive resources as a response to the pervasive resource curse syndrome experienced by countries like Nigeria. Appointed by President Olusegun Obasanjo to represent the media, I was a founding member of the board (the inaugural National Stakeholder Working Group of NEITI). A certain Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, then the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, was also appointed to represent the legislature of the 17 southern states. The main catalyst, of course, was our chairperson, Mrs Oby Ezekwesili. Working with the then acting Executive Secretary, Dr Bright Okogu, Ezekwesili helped to lay a solid foundation that others continue to build on.
Waziri has left indelible marks at NEITI. Advocacy responsibilities of the Executive Secretary demanded that he move between the worlds of media – his natural habitat – to that of other extractive sector players, including the previously notoriously opaque NNPC, multinational oil companies, civil society organisations, governments etc. This is he did remarkably well. Anyone familiar with the workings of NEITI will know of its audit reports of production and revenues earned from Nigeria’s oil, gas and solid minerals sectors. Since inception, the annual audit report has remained NEITI’s flagship service to stakeholders because it provides Nigerians with clear and credible information on the workings of the country’s extractive sectors. Which oil company produced what? What volumes were produced? How much was paid and to whom? Who is owing what? These are some of the questions the NEITI audit reports provide answers to.
For the past five years, with Waziri at the helm, NEITI has elevated this mandate. By diligently executing strategic plans that repositioned NEITI as a valuable entity in a very challenging time for Nigeria, Waziri went beyond producing the usual audit reports to include helping stakeholders use those reports for key policy choices.
At the time Waziri was appointed, NEITI had published a total of five cycles of oil and gas industry reports (1999 to 2004, 2005, 2006 to 2008, 2009 to 2011, and 2012), three cycles of solid minerals industry reports (2007 to 2010, 2011, and 2012), and one cycle of the Fiscal Allocation and Statutory Disbursement (FASD) report, covering 2007 to 2011 and was challenged by the irregularity of its reports. It also had deep challenges with funding its activities and ensuring remedial actions in its reports were acted upon by relevant actors.
Due to a combination of factors, including funding, NEITI had backlogs of audit reports to publish. Waziri cleared them all, starting from 2013 to 2018 financial years, with the reports for 2019 financial year also ready for release. NEITI also cut down the publication time from 29 to 15 months to make the reports timelier and useful. The 15-month publication timeline was nine months ahead of the global EITI’s deadline. This milestone could have been further improved upon had the 2019 audit reports been released, as scheduled, last year or early this year.
To address one of the yawning gaps in the organisation’s work and move the needle on policy reforms, Waziri introduced policy analysis, research and strategy into the work of NEITI. He pioneered the NEITI Policy Brief, the NEITI Quarterly Review, the NEITI Occasional Paper Series and the NEITI Policy Dialogue to move NEITI values beyond annual industry reports to evidence-based tools for public policy engagements and actions. Waziri believed that change in the extractive sectors would not be brought about unless voluminous technical reports were marshalled as evidence-based tools, including policy options, provided through direct engagement with policy actors. And like the audit reports, policy and strategy papers became sought-after hits.
Leveraging the content of previous audit reports, NEITI unilaterally forced the federal government to review and amend the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract (PSC) Act in November 2019 by repeatedly pointing out that enormous losses would be incurred by not amending the terms of the 1993 PSCs. Truly, NEITI was living out its advocacy mandate. Under Waziri, it used this to provide palpable information about what Nigeria had lost from not obeying its own law and succeeded in plucking what could be termed a ‘low hanging fruit’ in the absence of the PIB.
Waziri’s sincerity of purpose also attracted financial and in-kind support from institutional donors, with at least $1.5 million in direct grants invested in NEITI by these actors in addition to technical support extended for it to deliver on its assignment. In 2019, NEITI earned Nigeria the ‘Satisfactory Progress’ status from the EITI board, bringing her in the same category as Norway, a country seen as the poster-boy for transparent and effective management of extractive resources. Only eight of 55 EITI-implementing countries have attained this status so far. Under his leadership, NEITI also established the Beneficial Ownership register – a publicly accessible register of the beneficial owners of extractive assets in Nigeria. The register provides Nigerians information about who owns what in the oil, gas and solid minerals sectors, further providing transparency of sectors previously hidden from Nigerians.
As a trust, public service demands a commitment to pursue excellence, accountably manage resources and deliver value to citizens. Waziri used his time at NEITI to accomplish all these and more. He worked diligently with people in and outside the organisation to place the agency in a position of immense value. And with his job done, Waziri (who holds two master’s degrees—one in Journalism from Columbia University and the other in Public Administration from Harvard Kennedy School) proceeds on a three-month academic fellowship at Oxford University to clear his head, reflect on the past five years and share his experience in running the most extensive EITI operation in the world with students, faculty members and other stakeholders on campus.
Congratulations for a job well-done my brother!
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