Unbundling or restructuring NNPC
It should chasten the Muhammadu Buhari government that its announced restructuring or unbundling of the national oil company, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), has generated so much controversy within a broad spectrum of stakeholders. In some cases, stakeholders are challenging the legality of the action. The House of Representatives rightly came up with a resolution that the NNPC cannot be unbundled by “executive fiat’’ because the corporation is a “creation of an Act of Parliament.” Thus, any attempt to unbundle it should be through the introduction of a Bill to the National Assembly to amend the subsisting NNPC Act. The House has also called on President Buhari to follow due process of law, pointing out that the ‘unbundling’ as presented amounted to blatant usurpation of the powers of the National Assembly.
From another front, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and some of its affiliates such as the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas (NUPENG) have vehemently opposed the exercise. In protest, not so much of the announced restructuring of NNPC but against the secrecy that underlined the programme, non-involvement of stakeholders and policy inconsistencies, the unions the other day, embarked on an industrial action that crippled operations of the corporation.
Truth be told, irrespective of whatever the noble intentions, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, who announced the unbundling, restructuring or whatever name the government chooses to call the exercise, failed to appreciate that Nigerians are, for justifiable reasons, not only interested in, but also passionate about, what happens in and to NNPC. The corporation is the pillar of Nigeria’s economy, accounting for over 80 per cent of national foreign exchange earnings and revenue. The unbundling or restructuring of NNPC in a manner that appeared secretive and denied citizens the opportunity, not only of understanding what is intended to be done and achieved but also providing input to the arrangement prior to implementation, is unacceptable. A major shift in the structure of such an important national entity as NNPC should have been brought out for public sensitisation and serious debate before final decision on the way forward.
As it were, the purpose, objectives, rationale and expected benefits of the new structure were never upfront-loaded for public consideration and input. To state the least, this is more than over-stepping the boundary. After all, NNPC is a property collectively owned by Nigerians. It is also a surprise that the government came up with such dream structure for NNPC while the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) that should point the way forward is still lying comatose at the National Assembly. If that Bill had been enacted into law, it would have, no doubt, re-birthed the NNPC perhaps, far beyond the present contemplation of the corporation’s current managers.
It must be clear by now from reactions to the latest exercise that the days when managers of national assets dream at night, wake up in the morning and commence implementation of their dreamt-up projects without necessary consultations have been consigned to the past and never to rise again. This should be a new era where creative thinking and stakeholder engagements prior to consummation and implementation of fundamental changes in all aspects of Nigeria’s national life, are germane for success to be recorded. To make Nigerians feel or believe that contributing to issues that affect them is unnecessary or irrelevant, is an invitation to resistance and avoidable frustration of innovations. Of course, if such opportunities are denied, it will also amount to trampling on the rights of Nigerians, against the principles of democracy and good governance.
It is, therefore, high time individuals and groups entrusted with leading national assets and projects, started giving enough attention to thorough planning and consultations before chasing the wind.
It is in the interest of all Nigerians that NNPC succeeds in carrying out its mandate. But Nigerians have, over the years, witnessed how disappointingly the corporation has performed. Thus, any plan by the government for a fundamental tinkering with NNPC, provides opportunities for those who have suggestions to propound them. That way, unlike the current lone solution offered by the government, alternative solutions may emerge and the best chosen.
So, in the search for a more effective operational structure that will enable the NNPC to perform better, it is recommended that, first, the unbundling or restructuring should be kept on hold until the government publicly makes a case for such exercise and citizens given enough time to make their input for consideration. Second, the National Assembly should hasten the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill and upon receipt of a restructuring proposal from the executive, subject it to public evaluation and contributions. Third, in any planned fundamental restructuring of NNPC, it is important that a long-term vision is articulated, the expected benefits, envisaged challenges and risks as well as how such would be resolved. Above all, total transparency, compliance with relevant laws and stakeholder engagements must guide all operations of the nation’s extractive or any industry.
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