By Tajudeen Suleiman
Amongst all the people President Bola Tinubu has so far reappointed into offices, none was as keenly anticipated as that of Mallam Mele Kyari, the Group Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL). It was one appointment that could offer insight into how President Bola Tinubu intends to lead the oil and gas sector. And when he did, there was clarity about where the country’s oil sector is heading.
The question on all stakeholders’ minds was whether he would retain Mele Kyari as Group Chief Executive Officer or not? The reasons for the anxiety were obvious. For one, Mele Kyari is leading a technocracy that has become pivotal for the transformation of the oil and gas sector in Nigeria.
Since coming into the helms at the NNPC in 2019, he has brought a new dynamism and a service delivery mentality that have brought some needed transformation of Nigeria’s oil giant.
Today, the NNPCL has transitioned into a commercial company that is harnessing Nigeria’s energy potentials and making profits. In September 2021, barely two and half years after he came on board, the NNPC L published the 2021 audited financial statements, which showed the company moving from a profit after tax of N287bn in 2020 to N674bn in 2021. It was the first time the company was opening its books to the public and declaring profit in its 44 years of existence!
Of course, you cannot make profit if you don’t plug leakages, cut costs and improve your service delivery. Mele Kyari has been doing all of these while also opening up the company’s books for public scrutiny. He allowed the public to see what NNPCL was doing and how it is doing it.
The reforms he started in partnership with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) has promoted transparency and accountability in revenues and payments to the government, contracts governing petroleum exploration, and production and consolidated group -level financial statements.
But some of those affected by the changes Mele Kyari has instituted have been unrelenting in their attempt to humiliate him out of office. Once President Tinubu settled into office, they began a campaign to him to push Mele Kyari out of the NNPCL. The smearing campaign against Mele Kyari was intensified after the President started making his appointments.
Sponsored attacks against the NNPCL management team appeared in the media, especially social and online media. Mele Kyari’s traducers accused him of mismanagement and inefficiency without proving their cases. It was obvious the attacks were from individuals and groups with axe to grind with Mele Kyari; they were from those nursing the wounds of reform.
Thus, when President Tinubu reappointed him as the Group Chief Executive Officer of the oil company with effect from Friday, December 1, 2023, it felt like the calm after a sudden disappearance of a destructive storm. The oil and gas sector and the NNPCL, it seem, will continue on its trajectory of growth.
The appointment of an eight-member board with Chief Pius Akinyelure as chairman and Mele Kyari returning as the GCEO was an unexpected masterstroke that avoided disruption of ongoing reforms at the NNPCL and rewarded merit above parochial interests.
By retaining technocrats with proven competences and appointing Chief Akinyelure, also a proven oil industry administrator with over 30 years of experience at top management/executive levels to chair the board of Nigeria’s oil company, President Tinubu has shown that he’s a hands-on leader whose priority is performance. And the mandate issued to the new appointees by President Tinubu left no doubt about why he made the appointments.
The statement by Tinubu’s spokesman, Ajuri Ngelale, which announced the appointments said the president “anticipates the fullest measure of compliance with the performance-driven and results-oriented mandate of his Renewed Hope administration in the implementation of energy policy that will monetize all available oil and gas resources of today while paving the way for the total exploitation of new and cleaner energy sources of tomorrow by this distinguished team.”
The GCEO’s reaction to his reappointment was a positive sign that he got the president’s message about the job ahead. A statement issued by the company’s Chief Corporate Communications Officer, Olufemi Soneye, said the GCEO requested stakeholders excited by his reappointment not to send him goodwill messages but to support the company to achieve its mandate.
He said the appointment was a challenge to which he would commit himself in order to stabilise the oil industry and improve service delivery to increase revenue. The oil chief emphasised the importance of all stakeholders’ commitment to driving revenue growth and fortifying resilience for the naira and the economy.
Speaking to Journalists in Abuja on Mele Kyari’s reappointment, Engineer Kailani Muhammad, an All Progressive Congress (APC) chieftain, said “We celebrate this moment not just because Mele Kyari remains in the leadership role, but because he has become a pivotal figure in Nigeria’s Oil and Gas sector.”
The comment reflected the general positive feelings among stakeholders in Nigeria’s oil and gas sector. It’s a perception of Mele Kyari that appreciates his stabilizing role in the industry and the impacts of the initiatives he has institutionalized. A perception that assesses his impact on the economy of the country vis-à-vis the negative domestic and international operating environments.
The last four years of NNPCL under Mele Kyari have been momentous for the oil industry and for Nigeria’s economic wellbeing. Under him, NNPC transited to a commercial profit-making business entity. Now it is on the path of achieving its potential of leading Nigeria towards a future of energy sufficiency, while playing in the big league with other energy powerhouses of the world.
Focus on human capacity development, gas development, refinery rehabilitation and other initiatives that will support the downstream sector and scale output in the upstream sector are helping the country navigate through economic crisis.
Mele Kyari’s digital automation of the company’s processes, which enabled the activation of the Business Continuity Plan (BCP), mitigated the effects of COVID-19 on Nigeria and brought about efficiency, high performance, and sustenance of the NNPCL’s operations post-pandemic. Through the NNPC IT Division, the GCEO automated the Key Performance Indicator Dashboard across the entire IT Enterprise and Architecture, thereby improving reporting efficiency and real-time performance tracking.
The GCEO also activated Microsoft Enterprise Additional Licenses for NNPC Digital Transformation initiatives, leading to an estimated cost-saving of over $1 million for the company.
It was little wonder that while the president’s spokesman was announcing his reappointment, Mele Kyari and the NNPCL were also announced as winners of the 2023 Nigeria GovTech Awards for exceptional service delivery in the public sector. While the NNPCL won the Best Federal MDA in Digital Initiatives in Reengineering Government Processes Award, the GCEO was given the Distinguished GovTech Trailblazer Award.
Mele Kyari must continue to be as professional as he’s been to retain the confidence of President Tinubu. It’s evident that no consideration weighs heavier in Tinubu’s assessment of appointees than performance.
Mele Kyari must justify Tinubu’s confidence in his abilities. He must also make his doubters jettison their skepticisms and force his detractors to apologize.
Suleiman writes from Abuja.