By FEMI ADESINA

The news came like a thundering typhoon last week. For the first time in its 44 years history, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) had made a profit.

Net profit after tax stood at N287 billion in Year 2020, sequel to the completion of the statutory Annual Audit exercise. What year? 2020. Year of the Coronavirus pandemic, when most of the world, including Nigeria, was under lockdown! And here was NNPC, recording profit first time in its history. How did it happen? How can it?

Well, it happened because perhaps for the first time in the history of the country, and of the NNPC, there is a President who is not using the place like a personal automated teller machine. He’s not collecting millions upon millions of dollars by fiat, nor is he giving directives for any under the table deal. And that President also happens to be the Minister for Petroleum Resources.

Before we discuss how Muhammadu Buhari broke the jinx, let’s consider how naysayers responded to the good news. They first pretended it didn’t happen. The announcement came, and it didn’t resonate. They didn’t share it widely on social media, some traditional media platforms didn’t even publish it. Those who reluctantly did, made it sound more like an obituary announcement. What a country!

Remember they had said they would sell NNPC before the 2019 elections, which they had thought they would win. They lost. Flat. And the would-be sellers, and the prospective buyers, were naturally not happy that the oil corporation had made profit: under Buhari.

After first trying to downplay the news, they began to pick holes in it. The profit was only on paper, and didn’t exist in real terms. It was money that should have gone into the Federation Account, and was withheld by NNPC. Blah, blah, blah. The same NNPC they had wanted to sell to their friends.

I like the online interventions to the development by two friends and patriots. Simbo Olorunfemi, author and publisher, said: “To habitually doubt good news, yet never hesitant about embracing bad news, is an eloquent proof of the state of mind.”

Profound. Deep. Food for thought. All the years oil prices hit the rooftops, and NNPC recorded losses, they believed. Now, to hear that the same outfit made profit in a lockdown year, they disbelieved. Thomases! Doubters. Unless I see the mark of nails on his hands, and the spear wound on his side, I wouldn’t believe. “Then said he to Thomas! Be not faithless, but believing.”

The second intervention online is by Kurtis Adigba, a lawyer and ‘one man battalion’ for Buhari, and for Nigeria. He submitted: “Hate is not a stock or equity we must own a piece of. It pays dividends but only in death and destruction.”

Yes. They hated the news of NNPC profit, because it came under a most unlikely man. How dare he? Who permitted him! Anything we don’t do, can’t be done by anybody else.

Now, how did Buhari do it? What did he do differently, that made NNPC a winning corporation? Permit me to recall this piece I did in November last year, which answers most of the questions. It was under the headline; The Essential Buhari: NNPC GMD’s Testimony:

On Friday last week, Mallam Mele Kolo Kyari, Group Managing Director of Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), held an engagement with energy editors across diverse media platforms. Yours truly was invited.

I currently serve as media adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari, but I remain essentially a newspaper man. There’s nothing I love better. And when done in government, the media still beckons, by the grace of God. So I felt quite at home at the NNPC event, which was designed to update the media on current developments in the petroleum industry.

When a General Officer Commanding (GOC) moves, the brigade commanders and all other brass hats move too. At that outing with the GMD were the managing directors of subsidiaries, group general managers, and Who is Who in NNPC. The information garnered was worth its weight in gold.

NNPC is transforming from an integrated oil and gas company into an energy company, Mele Kyari disclosed. And quite contrary to the opacity of the past, operations of the energy company are as transparent as possible. His words:

“Over the past one and a half years, we have tried to keep that promise by sustaining the publication of our Monthly Financial and Operations Report (MFOR). No company, to my knowledge, does this.

“We have taken our transparency drive a notch higher by publishing our Audited Financial Statement for the 2018 and 2019 financial years on our website for all interested persons to see the significant turnaround in our performance recording 99.8% year-on-year.”

Which corporation was the GMD talking about? NNPC? Didn’t we know the place as the automated teller machine of presidents, oil ministers, any political party in power, and also the object of pillage by those who run the place? But under President Muhammadu Buhari, it is a new energy company, because a new broom was in town, and was sweeping so clean. More about that later.

Kyari said there was no information anybody wanted about NNPC operations that was not already in the public domain., adding: “I can say that we have kept our word as far as transparency and accountability are concerned. We will continue to do more until the word opacity is no longer associated with the Nigerian oil and gas industry.”

Some exploratory successes by NNPC, according to the GMD, include oil find in commercial quantity in the Upper Benue Trough, very high prospect of oil find in Kolmani River III Well, while seismic data collection is ongoing in the Bida Basin, “and we are relaunching exploration work in the Chad Basin.”

The world focuses more on gas as energy of the future, rather than petroleum, and the NNPC Boss said Nigeria was not left behind:

“We are investing aggressively in gas to take advantage of the energy transition and get Nigeria ready for the future in the face of the dwindling fortunes of petroleum liquids.

“You may be aware of the NLNG Train 7 and other gas infrastructure projects…all these are aimed at ensuring that Nigeria takes its rightful place in the emerging global energy order where natural gas is envisaged to play a pivotal role.”

The Yuletide season is often characterized by severe fuel scarcity. But the GMD assured that the energy company has solid arrangements in place to sustain fuel supply across the country., “and we are sure of maintaining zero fuel queues throughout the Christmas and New Year festive season into 2021.”

Can there be a parley between the media and NNPC at this time, and deregulation of the prices of petrol not feature? It would sure be incomplete. Hear the GMD: “Even though gasoline price is as high as N464/liter in Niger and more than double our N160/litre range in most West African countries, we would continue to ensure Nigerians benefit from lowest comparative prices in West Africa and beyond.”

He gave comparative prices of gasoline in some West African countries as at November 16, 2020 thus: Senegal, N549. Mali, N438, Chad, N368, Sierra Leone, N274, Liberia, N328, Ghana, N325, Cameroon, N446, and many others.

The GMD used the opportunity of the parley to debunk allegations that NNPC failed to remit funds that should accrue to the Federation, and that it illegally withdrew money from the NLNG Dividends Account.

“Such is not possible under the TSA (Treasury Single Account) arrangement,” he posited.

Talking further on the new order of transparency in NNPC, he said President Muhammadu Buhari, who doubles as Minister of Petroleum, “has never made any demand of us, has never asked for a single thing for himself, or for any individual.”

He added: “Anytime I see him, and we need to take a decision, he only asks; ‘is this in the interest of the ordinary Nigerian? Is it in the interest of our country?’ Once we can defend that, he gives approval. Not once has he asked for anything personal.”

In this Nigeria? A President will not give orders to NNPC to cut corners, and bring out millions upon millions of dollars, to fund private projects, or simply stash such money away? This Buhari is sure a strange one, a worthy example of probity, transparency, accountability. No wonder the Hausa man calls him Mai Gaskiya (the honest one).

He was military governor. Oil Minister for over three years. Head of State for 20 months. Chairman, Petroleum Trust Fund. Now President for six years running. Yet, he owns no petrol station, not to talk of an oil bloc. Do they make them like this anymore? I doubt.

I recall a testimony also given by Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, former two-term Governor of Lagos State, when he was Minister of Power, Works and Housing. He said not once, not even half of a time, did President Buhari ever send anyone to him for patronage of any kind, nor did he show preference for anybody. And I ask again: do they make them like this anymore? I doubt.

A final recall. One night, I had visited the President at home, just on a social call. It was about 8 pm, and just two of us were in his waiting room. The other man is ex-this, ex-that in the country, having held many prominent positions. He told me: “Look at this sprawling place. Only two of us waiting to see the Big Boss. It didn’t use to be like this. This place would be like a market till about 3 am daily, as people come to cut deals, and take a slice of the National cake. But President Buhari does no deal with anyone. That’s why only two of us are here.”

What a man! What testimonies all round! Surely, they don’t make them like this anymore. Or do they?

*Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity

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