The immediate trigger for the sudden sack of erstwhile Group Managing Director, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Andrew Yakubu, is becoming clearer more than a month after Mr. Yakubu and some other top officials of the state oil company were replaced.
PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively reveal that Mr. Yakubu, who spent two years in office, had to go after the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, accused him of insubordination over the appointment of a new Managing Director for the upstream subsidiary of the NNPC, the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC).
Mr. Yakubu, who was appointed July 1, 2012, was the fourth GMD of NNPC in the about five-year reign of the minister.
This newspaper learnt that while the former NNPC boss made a case for an engineer with a sound technical background to be appointed for the company responsible for NNPC’s oil exploration and production operations, reliable presidency and industry sources say the minister wanted a lawyer she considered a loyalist.
Despite being a strategic arm of the corporation, the NPDC had remained without a substantive head for almost a year allegedly over the refusal of the NNPC management, led by Mr. Yakubu, to buckle under the Minister’s pressures.
Since coming on board as the GMD NNPC, Mr. Yakubu was said to have consistently resisted the proposal to appoint a non-technical person into the office, a development that constantly put him in the firing line as he crossed swords with Mrs. Alison-Madueke on several occasions.
Sources at the NNPC and the minister’s office, who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES on condition of anonymity for fear of being victimized, revealed that the appointment of the Managing Director for NPDC was one of the issues that always brought Mr. Yakubu in direct confrontation with the Minister.
“The face-off between the Minister and the GMD NNPC has been raging for a long time,” one of our sources said. “The NPDC issue was only one of several. In fact, the former GMD managed to remain in office that long because of the Vice President, Namadi Sambo, who is from the same geo-political zone with him and always stood up to his defence each time the Minister wanted his head.”
However, the last straw that led to the removal of Mr. Yakubu was the issue of appointment of the Managing Director of NPDC, this newspaper understands.
Our sources said the former NNPC GMD stood up to the Minister on the issue, which some NNPC Board members said generated serious tension for days, resulting in the movement of staff and visitors to the management floors of the NNPC Towers being restricted as the issues was deliberated upon.
The 10th and 11th floors of the A wing of the building houses the offices of the Minister and the GMD.
During the meeting, the Minister was said to have asked the former GMD to nominate candidates for the NPDC top job, ostensibly to create the impression that the NNPC was the initiator of the process that would culminate in the final appointment.
But Mr. Yakubu, our sources say, in line with his conviction that only a person with technical background was fit to be in charge of an important subsidiary such as NPDC, was said to have suggested two candidates, who did not include the lawyer the minister wanted.
A heated argument that ensued allegedly resulted in a stalemate, with the Minister accusing the former GMD of “gross insubordination taken too far”.
Coincidentally, a day after the tensed meeting, PREMIUM TIMES had published an exclusive report highlighting the minister’s lethargic management style of “micro-managing the entire petroleum industry as her personal estate using her powerful personal aides to carry out key policies, rather than designated officials”.
The minister, who was said to have used the media report as another confirmation of alleged insubordination by her subordinates, allegedly fingered Mr. Yakubu as the prime suspect and sponsor of the publication.
In anger, the minister was said to have reported Mr. Yakubu to the vice President before going to the President to demand his immediate sack.
A few hours later, Mr. Yakubu was fired and replaced by his kinsman, Joseph Dawha, who until his appointment was the acting GED, Exploration and Production of NNPC.
The President then immediately approved the appointment of Anthony Muoneke as Managing Director of NPDC.
Mr. Muoneke, said to be an oil and gas lawyer, was Mrs. Alison-Madueke favourite candidate opposed by Mr. Yakubu, who insisted that it would be counter productive to appoint a lawyer to run an oil and gas production company.
Prior to his appointment, Mr. Muoneke, who was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1985, was the Executive Director, Finance & Administration, Niger Delta Power Holding Company Limited, NDPHC.
But even before the minister and the sacked NNPC boss clashed over the appointment of a chief executive for the NPDC, the two officials had for long related with each other with suspicion.
To avoid direct dealings with the former NNPC GMD, the sources said the minister resorted to a management style that saw her using her powerful personal assistants and sidelining the top management of the corporation in implementing some top oil industry policy decisions.
For instance, the sources said the Group Executive Directors (GEDs) of some key subsidiaries of the NNPC were encouraged to undermine the NNPC GMD.
They listed some GEDs of NNPC subsidiaries, who routinely bypassed the chain of command to report directly to the Minister first before their parent management to include those in charge of Pipelines and Petroleum Marketing Company (PPMC), and Crude Oil Marketing Department.
Other officials bypassing the GMD include those in charge of refining and petrochemical, which supervises the operations of the country’s four refineries and petrochemical companies as well as heads of the Legal and Corporate Services Department, which is also in charge of the management of NNPC’s Board secretariat.
Although Mr. Yakubu’s face-off with the Minster had been on for a long time, the sources told PREMIUM TIMES that the sacked NNPC GMD became a marked man whose days were numbered early this year when the N10 billion private aircraft contract scandal blew open.
When the scandal broke, our sources said, the minister and her aides allegedly blamed it on the former NNPC GMD whom they suspected was behind the leakage of information to members of the House of Representatives.
In an attempt to halt the alleged leakage of contract details, the minister was said to have directed the then Secretary to the NNPC Board and Legal Adviser, Anthony Madichie, to take action to protect the confidentiality of the corporation’s official records and block leakers from gaining access.
When Mr. Madichie couldn’t deliver, the Minister reportedly recommended his immediate removal from office. He was replaced by Ikechukwu Oguine as Coordinator, Legal Services and Company Secretary of the corporation.
The Presidency did not offer any reason for Mr. Madichie’s removal in April, the second time members of the NNPC top management would be removed in a space of two months since March 2014, when the President appointed new GEDs.
Industry experts however alleged that the constant changes were part of a grand design by the administration to enable card-carrying politicians, rather than professionals, take over the NNPC Board as well as the corporation’s subsidiaries.
The minister and her aides declined to comment for this story.
Repeated calls to the minister’s known telephone line failed to connect.
Several calls to her Senior Special Assistant, Kevin Alonzo, were not responded to last week.
When similar calls were made to the Group General Manager Group Public Affairs of NNPC, Ohi Alegbe, he requested the reporter to send a text message.
He however did not reply the text message, as well as emails sent to him.