BY EMEKA EJERE
In what looked like a move to calm nerves, President Muhammadu Buhari, on Saturday approved the reconstitution of the board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) with all the six geopolitical zones of the country equally represented. This followed the expiration of the term of the board members appointed in 2016.
The previous constitution of the board was faulted for not being “balanced”.
Although the development may not end waves of upheaval and condemnation trailing alleged lopsidedness in the recent appointments into top management positions at NNPC and its subsidiaries and departments in favour of the northern part of the country, it may suggest that the outcry was not an effort in futility.
A statement by Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, listed embers of the new Board, which will be in place for three years, to include Mohammed Lawal (North West), Tajudeen Umar (North East), Adamu Mahmood Attah (North Central), Senator Magnus Abe (South South), Dr Stephen Dike (South East), and Chief Pius Akinyelure (South West).
Of the six members, three are returning members on the board – Chief Pius Akinyelure, Mallam Mohammed Lawal, and Dr Tajudeen Umar.
“The new board is a true reflection of federal character, but it will not still douse the tension until the same principle is reflected on the management positions of NNPC and its subsidiaries which are currently totally filled up with northerners”, a senior staff of the corporation who pleaded anonymity told Business Hallmark.
Alleged lopsided appointments at the corporation had been widely described as another demonstration of President Mohammadu Buhari’s flagrant disregard for the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which stipulates that no tribe or ethnic region should be given undue preference over another, thereby fueling agitations in the country, especially in the South-East.
The Niger Delta leaders under the aegis of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), had ignited the fire of disapproval last week in an open letter entitled “Re: Addressing the Continued Injustice Against the Niger Delta People Vis the Lopsided Appointments in the NNPC and its Subsidiaries/Departments”, addressed to President Buhari..
The leaders called on the president to urgently correct the abnormality and also reaffirmed the call for proper restructuring of the country.
PANDEF, in the letter signed by its national publicity secretary, Ken Robinson, rejected the alleged deliberate and calculated sidelining of Niger Delta indigenes in appointments and redeployments in the NNPC and its subsidiaries.
The group said the region’s marginalisation at the national oil corporation became even more pronounced in the March 2020 promotions and reorganization which, it said, further isolated the Niger Delta from its mainstream management structure.
PANDEF stated, “Today, under Mr President’s watch, the paradoxical and dismal reality is that in the management of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), through which the federal government regulates and participates in the country’s petroleum industry that operates in our backyards, virtually all top management positions of the corporation and its subsidiaries, departments, and ventures are held by persons from the northern zones of the country that do not produce an ounce of oil, to the exclusion of indigenes of oil producing communities of Niger Delta region.”
PANDEF listed 20 management positions held by northerners in NNPC to include Group Managing Director (GMD), Mele Kyari; Chief Finance Officer, Finance and Accounts, Umar Ajiya; Chief Operating Officer, Gas and Power, Yusuf Usman; Chief Operating Officer, Corporate Services, Farouk Garba Sa’id; Chief Operating Officer, Refining and Petrochemicals, Mustapha Yakubu; Corporate Secretary/Legal Adviser to the Corporation, Hadiza Coomassie; GGM, International Energy Relations, IER, Omar Ibrahim; GGM, Renewable Energy, Kallamu Abdullahi; GGM, Governance Risk and Compliance, Ibrahim Birma; and GGM, NAPIMS, Bala Wunti.
Others are MD, NNPC Shipping, Inuwa Waya; MD, Pipelines and Product Marketing, PPMC, Musa Lawan; MD, Nigeria Petroleum Development Company, NPDC, Mansur Sambo; MD, Duke Oil/NNPC Trading Company, Lawal Sade; MD, Port Harcourt Refining Company, Malami Shehu; MD, Warri Refining and Petrochemical Company, Muhammed Abah; MD, Nigeria Gas Marketing Company, Abdulkadir Ahmed; MD, Nigeria Gas and Power Investment Company Limited, Salihu Jamari; MD, NNPC Medical Services, Mohammed Zango; and Director, Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, Sarki Auwalu.
According to PANDEF, the entire southern Nigeria was allotted only three top management positions in the NNPC.
“The oil-producing zones of South-South, South-East and South-West are left with one chief operating officer each and a few senior and middle level management positions in peripheral and incidental subsidiaries, departments and divisions of the corporation”, the group said.
The Buhari Administration is not new to allegations of lopsided appointments in the key levers of the economy and security. In 2017, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, filed a suit at the Federal High Court in Abuja to challenge the non-inclusion of the south-east zone in appointments to the board of the NNPC.
Agbakoba had argued that the appointments contravened “the provisions of section 14 of the constitution and also the federal character commission act and the provisions of sections 42 of the constitution of Nigeria that prohibits discrimination of any of Nigeria’s ethnic groups such as, in this case, the south-east”.
He said in a statement that the reason for the action was that the federal government had always discriminated against Nigerians indigenous to the states in the south-east zone in appointments to the board of the NNPC.
“One of the instances of discrimination of that on 5 July 2016, the federal government of Nigeria appointed the following persons as members of the board of the 2nd respondent (NNPC): Dr Tajuddeen Umar (north-east), Dr Maikanti Baru (north-east), Mr Abba Kyari (north-east); Mr Mahmoud Isa-Dutse (north-central); Mallam Mohammed Lawal; Mallam Yusuf Lawal; Dr Emmanuel IbeKachikwu (south-south); Dr Thomas MA John (south-south), and Dr Pius O Akinyelure (south-west),” he said in the suit.
“None of these persons appointed to fill the nine positions are from the states comprising the south-east geopolitical zone, while more than one person were appointed from some of the geopolitical zones.
Few days later, the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), a Yoruba sociocultural group, corroborated Agbakoba’s position, stating that by his lopsided appointments, President Buhari had contradicted the constitution he swore to uphold.
In a press conference convened by Dr. Fredrick Fasehun, its founder (now late), the group also asked the president to immediately cancel the then recent appointments of directors for the NNPC, which, according to the group, had 67 per cent of the appointees from the North.
“OPC joins other well-meaning patriots to ask President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately cancel the NNPC appointments. Out of the 15 new directors, 10 (67 per cent) come from the mostly Hausa- Fulani North, three are Yoruba, two come from the South-South and none from the South-East.
”President Buhari must urgently review these appointments to reflect federal character, failing which the Senate should bar the appointees from resuming in office.”
The recent appointments at NNPC and its subsidiaries have further vindicated many who fear that there is no end in sight to the current administration paying scant regard to the principle of federal character as well as equity and fair play. This many groups and individuals have described as unhealthy for national cohesion.
Reacting to the development, a former Bayelsa State State commissioner for finance, Mr. Preye Ogriki, lambasted political office holders from the South, wondering why they should allow the marginalization to continue without resistance.
In an interview with Business Hallmark, Ogriki said, “Is it only in NNPC? That is what is happening in every aspect of the country.”
“And our governors, senators and House members where were elected to represent the people are not speaking, maybe, because they think they’re comfortable with what they’re getting as individuals.”
He argued that no nation can grow with an unhealthy rivalry where one part thinks it is stronger than the other and uses that strength/power to press down the other, without realizing that it will also be down by so doing.
Ogriki said, “The ideal thing should have been for both sides to synergise and move the country forward. If you’re just using your power to press down the other person, you too will be down. Then, the country will not make progress.”
An obviously devastated southerner who did not give his name said, “Jokes apart, I read this in the ThisDay if yesterday, May 17, 2010 and I couldn’t contain my embarrassment and anger. This should be a source of shame and embarrassment to all the southern states of the artificial entity called Nigeria.”
On his part, a university don and human right activist Dr. Adesida Omowale, told Business Hallmark:” One thing that should be noted is that this administration is destroying sacred institutions such as federal character that hold us together , albeit tenuously , there is life this administration. But an unpredented dangerous precedent has been set.
A high profile Nigerian of northern extraction, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, noted that the furore over recent appointments in NNPC is justified.
He said, “The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation is a parastatal within the Ministry of Petroleum and as you know, oil has for a long time remained the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy. This is something we draw from the South-South and South Eastern part of Nigeria and for you to make managerial appointments without involving those who own this resource, I think it is greatly unfair.
“I think their outcry is justifiable. This attitude of the government of the day to want to marginalise certain parts of the country, especially the oil rich areas, is something that is worrisome.
“This points to the fact that, if nothing is done to remedy the situation, the unrest and vandalising of oil facilities in that part of the country will continue.
“I want to appeal to the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government to do something urgent to remedy this situation and restore justice to the South-East, South-South and other parts of the country who are being marginalised in the recruitment and promotion process; the earlier we do that, the better for this country.”
In his reaction, prominent Lagos lawyer, Mr. Fred Nzeako, described the recent appointment pattern at NNPC as a very clear breach of the provision of the section of the constitution that requires respect for federal character principle.
“It is a provision that was inserted in the constitution to ensure that there is fairness, there is equity, there is inclusiveness and above all, there is unity between the North and South of Nigeria, having come out of the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates, Nzeako said.
He speaks further: “So if only the North is considered in top management appointments, that is a breach of the spirit and letters and intendment of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And that should not be encouraged by any way, manner or form.
“I hereby call on the federal government, especially the presidency to ensure that there is balance and equity in all appointments.”