A mischievous comparison

By Dunni Aladefa

In an article I wrote some months ago entitled, “Opportunists, Scavengers and the Attacks on Mele Kyari,” I drew attention to a coordinated attack on the Group Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), Malam Mele Kyari.

At the time, an anti-Kyari campaign had been initiated in the media by certain individuals whose aim was to get him relieved of his appointment as boss of NNPCL to pave the way for their sponsor who was manipulating the whole affair from behind the scenes.

Their caper was so apparent because the “charges” they brought against Kyari beggared belief. They were as harebrained as they were laughable. Among other things they accused him of being responsible for Nigeria’s declining oil production output, a challenge, which had been with us as far back as 2013 when the Goodluck Jonathan administration decried the effect of oil theft and pipeline vandalization on national oil production output.

Kyari was also accused of being responsible for the Naira dipping in the forex market! As ludicrous as the allegations against him were, they were part of an organized ploy to deny him a well-deserved renewal of appointment after successfully revamping and repositioning the NNPCL during his first stint.

President Tinubu, himself, very knowledgeable about the oil sector having worked there for a long time, rightly ignored their shenanigans and renewed Kyari’s appointment.

President Tinubu’s re-appointment of Kyari dealt a mortal blow to their scheme. Devastated, they slunk into their crevice to await another opportunity to continue with their act of malfeasance. This week, one of them writing under what is obviously a pseudonym tried to revive their inglorious enterprise. In an article entitled, “Compare and Contrast: Yemi Cardoso and Mele Kyari,” the writer who identified himself as Bello El-Yakub, sought to demean the personality of Kyari and tarnish his reputation. He drew comparisons between him and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Yemi Cardoso. While he tried to create the impression that in comparing and contrasting the qualities of the two public officers, he was objectively assessing their performance in office, it was clear to anyone with the ability to read in between the lines that his effort was an ill-conceived and poorly executed hatchet job. A few examples will suffice.

The writer accused Kyari of talking too much and accompanying President Bola Tinubu on foreign trips all the time, whereas Cardoso stays behind in his office in Nigeria and works quietly without talking too much. He also praised Cardoso of clearing a $7 billion backlog of FOREX owed by the Federal Government and castigated Kyari of presiding over an NNPCL that allows Nigeria to lose dollars that ought to accrue from the sale of oil through a decline in oil production even as Nigeria’s petroleum refineries refuse to function.

Here, the writer’s mischief is apparent and is clearly a rehash of an earlier allegation I addressed in my last article. The challenge of sustaining oil production levels is a challenge that has exercised the imagination of successive administrations in Nigeria since the return to democracy in 1999. The issues have ranged from the unwholesome activities of Nigeria Delta militants’ blowing up of pipeline and kidnap of oil workers (Nigerians and expatriates) during the Obasanjo and Yar’Adua administrations, to oil theft by sophisticate criminal cabals as oil pipelines vandalization by miscreants.

It is on record that the Jonathan and Buhari administrations, worried by the growing malfeasance, hired private security outfits to complement the efforts of the National Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in policing oil pipelines and other critical national infrastructure. How these have suddenly become problems created by Kyari and NNPCL will surely rank as the eighth wonder of the world.

Rather than criticize Kyari, he even ought to commend the NNPCL helmsman for his efforts at ensuring that crude oil theft is drastically reduced if not altogether eliminated. For instance, under his watch,

The NNPCL designed “The Crude Theft Monitoring Application”, a portal with application options for reporting incidents, with prompt follow-up and responses, and another for crude sales documents validation.

Before the application was unveiled, Kyari had in 2022 taken senior officials of the Nigerian government, including the then Minister of Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, Gen. Lucky Irabor, then Chief of Defence Staff of the Nigerian military, and Mr. Gbenga Komolafe, Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Upstream Regulatory Commission (NUPRC) to Niger Delta creeks to try to bring the menace under control. His effort paid off for within a short period, the NNPCL announced the discovery of a four-kilometre illegal oil connection line from the Forcados Terminal into the sea where for nine years criminals had been siphoning Nigeria’s oil.

Kyari’s efforts had a salutary effect on oil production output as Fourth Quarter 2022 figures released by the NNPCL showed that besides Nigeria’s oil production rising to 1.6 million barrels from the erstwhile figure of 1.2 million, Nigeria had regained its position as Africa’s largest producer ahead of Algeria (1.021mb/d) and Angola (1.088 mb/d.

As for the historic record of refineries not producing oil, the writer ought to have known that even right from the time of Nigeria’s late military dictator, General Sani Abacha, the decision on turnaround maintenance of Nigeria’s refineries have always been taken at the highest level of government which overtime elapsed into chronic inefficiencies in operation.

It is, however, shocking that the writer totally ignored recent verifiable efforts at revamping the refineries for greater productivity.

It is clear from available evidence above that Kyari’s stewardship at NNPC has helped in transforming the oil behemoth into a goal-driven and ethically disposed business organization whose operations are underpinned by an adherence to global best practices.

Kyari is not in competition with Cardoso. He doesn’t need to. Both men are accomplished professionals in their own right. Whilst Cardoso is working assiduously to impose sanity and order into Nigeria’s monetary policy and foreign exchange regime, Kyari has since his first appointment in 2019, transported NNPCL from years of uncertainty and opacity to an efficient and result-oriented business entity committed to the growth and development of the national economy and the oil and gas sector.

The records are there for all to see. As the writer Aldous Huxley noted many years ago, “facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”

That El-Yakub and fellow mischief makers choose to overlook Kyari’s many accomplishments as NNPCL’s GCEO does not blind millions of Nigerians to the reality that Kyari’s tenure at NNPCL has been a blessing to the organization in particular, and Nigeria in general. As a thoroughbred, Kyari is always exploring avenues to create opportunities for Nigeria to maximize its potential in the oil and gas sector.

A forward-looking individual, he is always looking for ways to see that Nigeria’s fortunes in the oil sector improve rather than dwindles. A key case in point is the recently unveiled Project Gazelle, the code name given to the structured crude oil backed forward-sale finance facility sponsored by Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited (“NNPC Ltd”), which is the seller.

By this arrangement, NNPC Limited has dedicated a specific number of barrels of crude oil to a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) which has in turn approached international financial institutions to provide the funding required to pay for the forward-sale. The proceeds of the forward-sale are thus made available to NNPC Limited for its use.

For many Nigerians who wondered why the NNPCL would get involved in such an arrangement, the reason soon became obvious. As of June 2023, the Central Bank of Nigeria had over US$6 billion of unmet obligations comprised largely of forward contracts with third party institutions that were past their expiry dates. These unmet obligations put immense pressure on the nation’s external reserves and resulted in a significant devaluation of the Naira. NNPC intervention is thus to help shore up Nigeria’s reserves and ultimately provide dollar financing to the federal government.

The icing on the cake is that this pre-financing arrangement allows the government to receive in advance, foreign exchange inflows that allow the immediate resolution of its unmet forex obligations.

El-Yakub failed to see the nexus between the Project Gazelle and the CBN’s clearance of its backlog of forex obligations. If anything, Kyari should be commended for his vision and commitment at such a critical period in the nation’s history rather than being criticized.

•Aladefa, a lawyer, writes from Lagos.

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