NNPC and the Fuss Over Staff Re-Deployment By Gbenga Adeleke

NNPC Headquarters, Abuja
NNPC Headquarters, Abuja

It is hardly tenable that any enlightened interest could question the rationale for the announcement of staff retirement and re-deployment at a public institution the way the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) did last week.

The NNPC last week announced the retirement of 11 senior management staff and redeployment of 19 others in an exercise it described as statutory. Most of those redeployed are to replace those exiting the Corporation into retirement by end of May and early June.

But there have been insinuations about the exercise in the media, and some have questioned while the GMD did it at a time of transition for the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. Some have even read ethnic interests into the exercise.

I am sure the Group Managing Director, GMD, of the Corporation, Maikanti Baru, who must have initially felt relieved being able to get the approval for the retirements and redeployments at once(considering his busy schedule), must be bewildered by grumblings in the media over the exercise. The frustration was almost palpable in a press statement issued by NNPC Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, Mr. Ndu Ughamadu, explaining the exercise.

He described the staff movement as “normal replacement and backfill exercise” to bridge the gap occasioned by impending retirement of some management staff of the corporation, among others. He stressed that the process followed extant rules and that such replacements were always effected before the final exit of the concerned staff.

The NNPC spokesman said it was usual for the corporation to obtain approval on replacements of retiring staff ahead of schedule. He said this was the case with the recent exercise that takes effect as at when the retiring staff departs at various times within the period. Ughamadu said the exercise was effected to ensure uninterrupted operations of the corporation in achieving its mandate and urged members of the public to disregard any insinuations.

It certainly beats the imagination that some vested interests would not see the exercise for what it was- an administrative effort to promote efficiency and prevent lethargy. While it is not always a surprise that some Nigerians would be skeptical about NNPC figures or operational efficiency due largely to the unsavory history of the Corporation, it must be the height of pessimism(or even mischief) to ask questions about an administrative action that did not breach any law or public service rules.

It is quite obvious that the retirement of these officers will open up gaps in the management of some important Strategic Business Units and Commercial Strategic Units of the corporation. This undoubtedly calls for urgency in proposing competent staff within the corporation for promotion to fill up those vacancies. Only an indolent management would allow a vacuum to be created at such strategic units of the Corporation.

It is quite instructive that the faceless critics of the NNPC action are not concerned about those retired. The grumbling, as is to be expected, must be coming from those whose sense of entitlement had been hurt by the exercise. These are NNPC senior staff who had hoped to reap from the retirement of others, but who were, in the wisdom of those at the helm at NNPC, not suitable yet for the offices.

This is why there is such desperation to discredit the exercise as a promotion of cronyism and ethnic interest by those who had waited in the wings, and perhaps lobbied to no avail for those positions.

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It is almost a rehash of the sentiments usually expressed by mischief makers anytime the Nigerian military announced new promotions and posting. The military often found itself having to explain that its exercise was a routine activity which carried no sentiments.

While the NNPC is not the military, those who alleged the exercise did not follow due process have not stated what rules were breached. And those who claimed the redeployment favoured only a section of the country have not mentioned those who were suitable for the appointments but were bye-passed.

It is pathetic that a promotion exercise at a profit-driven public institution such as the NNPC would be viewed as if it were political appointments. Anyone who has cared to look through the list of those recently redeployed would appreciate the thoroughness of the selection process. These are positions requiring special technical and administrative skills. No one has said any of those redeployed was not suitable for the position appointed.

While one cannot claim to know the level of competence of those appointed, we must have faith that those who carried out the exercise knew what they were doing. The NNPC has only one group managing director and the bucks stops at his table. If the GMD has to respond to queries on simple administrative actions from his table like staff redeployment, what right have we to demand efficiency from NNPC?

The fuss over the redeployment is a storm in a tea- cup. It is simply noise making, and it helps no one. The question any serious-minded Nigerian must ask on the exercise are few and simple. First, did the exercise follow extant corporate guidelines of the Corporation? Two, are those retired due for retirement within the month or two or three as required by the rules? Three, are those redeployed to fill the expected vacancies qualified and competent? Is the approval for the redeployments beneficial to the efficiency of NNPC or not?

So far from what is available in the media, the answers to these questions are positive. If the answers to these questions are in the affirmative, it goes without saying that any insinuation about other ulterior or exterior motives must be what it is: mischief!

The NNPC under Baru has earned our confidence, even if it’s in a small way, and we must give him the benefit of doubt. In a first of its kind in recent times, the NNPC was able to detect fraud in its operations and stop it. Through fraud and forensic investigations of activities of its subsidiary groups, the NNPC was able to save $1.6bn that could have gone to the Atlantic Energy Drilling Concept Nigeria Limited. This is already in the public domain.

The companies were fleecing NNPC’s flagship Upstream subsidiary, the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC) and the Corporation got an award against them to refund 1.6 billion dollars to the NPDC. Incidentally, the NPDC is among companies affected by last week’s redeployments.

Baru was the second Chairman of the NNPC Anti-Corruption Committee in 2004, and as GMD he’s ensured all staff of the corporation and its various stakeholders were educated about NNPC’s corporate policies and the various anti-corruption acts in the country in order to avoid fraudulent transaction.

This is why the frenzy over the redeployments is meaningless.

Adeleke writes from Lagos

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