Senator Ifeanyi Ararume’s appointment as the pioneer Chairman of the new Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has been applauded by many as one of the best by President Muhammadu Buhari since he assumed office over six years ago.
Ararume has robust experience in both the private and public sector, which will rub off positively on the altered NNPC.
The NNPC was created on April 1, 1977 by the then military administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo as a state-owned oil company to play in the oil and gas space. It was patterned after Saudi Arabia’s Aramco and Brazil’s Petrobras.
Mismanagement of the company has made it to descend into a white elephant project, with huge financial losses being declared annually, while its counterparts all over the world are wildly profitable. It recently made its first profit after over a decade of colossal losses.
The stakeholders in the industry that lays the golden eggs for the nation pressed for reforms through the Petroleum Industry Bill recently passed into law as the Petroleum Industry Act, which has changed the status of the NNPC into a Limited Liability Company with effect from February 2022.
Now that the NNPC will be transiting from a government-owned agency ito a profit driven organisation, it needs someone at the helm to provide direction and uncommon leadership in order for it to meet its goals.
Senator Ararume has been here for quite a while. Few people know that he was once resident in Benin City where he owned the largest pharmaceutical chain at the time there. His business interests spreads across the length and breadth of Nigeria and in the process built sturdy bridges across the nation. Although the new NNPC will be privately run as from 2022, as President Buhari seeks further amendments to the PIA law, it also requires someone with a strong political background to effectively steer its ship as it will take some time for it to be completely weaned off from total government dependence. Ararume perfectly fits the bill with his twin public and private sector experience.
He is no political green horn. He was elected senator representing Imo North (Okigwe) between 1999 and 2007 and was the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Power and Steel, Vice Chairman of the Senate committee on the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Chairman Public Hearing committee for South-West zone on amendments to the 1999 Constitution, member of the National Assembly Joint Constitution Review Committee (JCRC) and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debts. He was Chairman of the Southern Senators’ Forum.
But for the flawed electoral system, he would have been Governor of Imo State in 2007 as he won the primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but his name was unfairly substituted with that of Charles Ugwu. His popularity was affirmed as his exit from the party in protest of the gross injustice led to its electoral loss when the people gave a protest vote to Ikedi Ohakim of the Peoples Progressive Alliance (PPA).
Ararume has the grit and street wisdom to lead the NNPC to the path of sustainable profitability as he is a proven and tested manager of men and resources. Imo state where he hails from is a member of the NDDC and he has been in the forefront of resource control and greater devolution of powers to the states as a firm believer in true federalism.
Although his position as Chairman of NNPC will be nominal as the executive powers will reside with Mele Kyari who is the Managing Director, his position is akin to that of the Queen of England who reigns while the Prime Minister governs. He will act as a great stabilising force for a fairer deal for Nigerians in the beleaguered energy sector whose dividends has eluded them since crude oil was first discovered in commercial quantity in Oloibiri in present day Bayelsa State in 1956. His input will be highly valued and he will use his vast local and global contacts to ensure that the corporation becomes commercially successful. The position of the Chairman of a Board, although ceremonial, is usually reserved for the cream of the crop in local and global circles.
Al Gore, former US Vice-President served as a Member of the Board of Directors of Apple after he left the White House in 2001. Condelezza Rice served on the Board of Chevron after her first stint in public office when she served on the committee that permanently dismantled the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
Coming down locally, the nation’s foremost downstream oil and gas company, Ocean and Oil (OANDO), has Major-General Mohammed Magoro, who had a distinguished military career as a minister under the military regimes of Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari when they held sway as military Heads of State, as well as a Senator as its Chairman. Former Chief of Army Staff and Ex- Defence Minister, General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, served as Chairman of Union Dicon Salt, the defunct Universal Trust Bank and many blue chip companies. Prof Pat Utomi, a renowned political economist and management scholar served as Chairman of the defunct Platinum Bank and is on the board of many successful companies, including BusinessDay Newspaper and Linkserve.
There will be the dawn of a new era with Ararume as the new NNPC Chairman. The ailing corporation will be properly guided to profitability with his uncommon leadership, especially at a time when the demand for fossil fuel all over the world is on a steep decline. The United Kingdom, for example, has set 2030 as the exit date for fossil fuel driven vehicles in favour of electric powered ones. Its foremost science and technology university, Imperial College, has scrapped Petroleum Engineering from its curriculum.
There will, no doubt, be a shift to more sustainable areas like gas and renewable energy. Ararume is well prepared with his education obtained from the United States and Nigeria to lead this energy restructuring into the new world order as well as making the corporation profitable.
- Erasmus Ikhide contributed this article from Lagos.