Late on Friday, June 9, 2023, news broke that President Bola Tinubu had suspended the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele. Reports would emerge a few hours later that operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) had arrested the suspended CBN Governor.
Since the suspension and subsequent arrest of Mr. Emefiele, all manner of crimes have been ascribed to him by Nigeria’s vibrant rumour mill. Stories of his alleged crimes have inundated WhatsApp groups and other social media platforms. Conspiracy theories of how his connivance with certain unnamed officials of the immediate past Muhammadu Buhari administration cost Nigerians trillions of Naira flooded the Internet.
Before long it would become apparent that the conspiracy theorists were working from a script. They were laying the foundation for a sinister plot to nail certain individuals, who it would appear, stood in their way. This became clear on Saturday when the Internet became awash with the news that President Tinubu had suspended Nigerian national Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Mallam Mele Kyari. Officials of the Tinubu administration would later debunk the report, dismissing it to what it obviously was, fake news.
Thwarted in their plan and desperate to nail Kyari for whatever sins they feel he has committed, this shadowy group of character finally took off their mask.
A few hours after the fake news of Kyari’s suspension went viral, Timi Frank, a former National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and one of the arrowheads of the “nail Kyari” plot issued a statement on Sunday calling on the Tinubu administration to arrest Kyari and heads of other agencies of the Federal Government under the Buhari administration. In the statement titled, “Why Buhari’s Ministers, CEOs should sink with Emefiele”, Frank said Emefiele and other heads of critical government agencies known to have serially abused their offices and allegedly stole the common wealth of the people must be brought to book:
“Those who illegally benefited from illegal allocation of oil blocks and marginal oil fields championed by the NNPCL and the CBN’s Money Redesign Policy must be fished out and prosecuted”, he stated.
Going through Frank’s statement carefully, it is obvious that the inclusion of the names of the heads of the other agencies is a tactical ploy to mask their real intention, which is actually to get rid of Kyari. And why exactly do they want Kyari out of the way?
There are three possible explanations. The first of these most likely has to do with the removal on subsidy on petrol by the Federal Government. The petrol subsidy regime had cost the Nigerian government trillions of Naira in the last two decades. At the last count, the Nigerian government had spent over N21 trillion on subsidy payments in the 18-year period between 2005 and 2023.
The NNPC has largely borne the burden of these payments. A clear evidence is the fact that despite the spike in the oil price following the outbreak of war between Russian and Ukraine in February 2022, Nigeria has little to show by way of windfall as the bulk of the income has gone into servicing subsidy payments. The funds from this source was not even enough as government had to borrow more to sustain it.
This deplorable situation forced the Buhari administration to do what many oil industry experts had advised for years and this is to end the unsustainable programme, which had become an avenue for a cabal in government working in cahoots with greedy and unscrupulous oil marketing companies to divert money meant for the programme into their pockets. These individuals by their sheer unconscionable criminality subverted the noble idea behind the subsidy programme, which was for government to subsidize the cost of petrol to make it affordable to the masses.
Rather than keep to the terms of the deal with government, these marketers and their crooked allies repeatedly divert and smuggle petroleum products to neighbouring countries where they sell at higher rates and thus make more profit even after collecting subsidy money from the Nigerian government.
The removal of subsidy has thus shut a source of easy money for these crooks and they are clearly not taking it lying low. Kyari is being targeted as scapegoat and Frank’s allegation of certain individuals benefitting from “illegal allocation of oil blocks and marginal oil fields championed by the NNPCL”, is nothing but an attempt to give a dog a bad name before hanging it.
These dubious characters have latched onto the anger by Nigerians at the sudden removal of the subsidy to hatch their nefarious scheme of getting Kyari out of the way but as knowledgeable experts in the oil and gas sector have assured, removal of subsidy will eventually eventuate in keen competition among petroleum marketers, which will ultimately force prices down as was the case with the introduction of the GSM two decades ago.
An added advantage is that with the elimination of subsidy payments there will be entry of new players into the sector. Furthermore, without the regulation provided by the subsidy regime, oil marketing companies can import products or buy locally and sell it at their commercial prices.
Kyari as CEO of NNPCL has helped the government lay the foundation for this new policy. Since he came on board in 2019 initially as the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), which the NNPCL has now succeeded he has worked assiduously to help give teeth to the provisions of the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) 2021, which seeks to revolutionize the operations of the Nigerian Oil and Gas sector to contribute maximally to the growth of the Nigerian economy.
His leadership of NNPCL anchored on his “ Roadmap to Global Excellence” fastened to the TAPE Agenda, which he unveiled within days of his appointment as NNPC GMD has served to save Nigerian millions of dollars. Through the TAPE, which represents Transparency, Accountability and Performance Excellence, he has dutifully steered the NNPCL as a responsible corporate entity. Since 2021 when he became boss of NNPCL, the fortunes of the company have been turned around. As CEO of the company, he has dared to tread where his predecessors feared to.
One of his key achievements in this regard is the launch of the “Crude Theft Monitoring Application” (CTMA) to check the theft of Nigeria’s oil which over the years runs into billions of naira.
The CTMA has application options for reporting incidents, with prompt follow up and responses and another one for crude sales documents validation.
Before the CTMA was launched Kyari, determined to put an end oil theft and vandalization of pipelines, in March 2022, accompanied the then Minister of State, Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva and Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor, and security operatives, to the creeks of the Niger Delta on fact-finding.
In an operation afterward, a four-kilometre illegal oil connection line from Forcados Terminal into the sea and which had been in operation for nine years, was discovered. Kyari’s effort at checking the theft of Nigerian crude is yielding result as Nigeria’s daily oil production has risen to 1.6 million barrels per day.
Kyari’s success in this regard has left oil thieves miffed and the current attempt to get him out of office could most likely be coming from these criminals with deep pockets who are ready to deploy their ill-gotten resources to force his removal.
In addition to these two groups of people, Kyari may also be a target of political jobbers; individuals seeking a foothold in the new administration of president Tinubu. Arising from a perception built over the years, many see the position of the head of the NNPCL as a lucrative gold mine. Given that it is the tradition that every new government appoints its loyalists into sensitive positions, it may be that someone somewhere has eyes set on Kyari’s job and the only way to get him out in their estimation is to demonize him by throwing all sorts of flimsy allegations at him.
It is difficult to know at this time, which of these three groups Frank is fronting for. What is clear though is that they may be embarking on Sisyphean toil. For one thing, Kyari’s appointment is tenured in line with the provisions of the PIA 2021. It is not likely that President Tinubu, a well known democrat and technocrat will succumb to the blackmail of these selfish and unpatriotic individuals and fire Kyari with good reason.
In the main, Kyari has been an asset to Nigeria. His stewardship in the last four years first as GMD of NNPC and then as CEO of NNPCL has boded well for this nation. His efforts to stem the mindless theft of Nigeria’s oil, he has helped push ramp Nigeria’s oil production figures. According to Fourth Quarter 2022 figures released for November 2022 by the NNPCL, Nigeria regained its position as the largest crude oil producer in Africa, ahead of Algeria’s 1.021mb/d and Angola’s 1.088mb/d.
In addition to this commendable effort, Kyari’s appointment as GMD of NNPC ended years of sustained losses by the Corporation. In 2022, the company posted its second consecutive year of ‘profit’ announcing N674.1 billion in the 2021 financial period and growing it from N287 billion in 2020. The figure represented an increase of N387 billion or 134.8 per cent when compared to the previous N287 billion recorded in 2020.
Clearly, President Tinubu is not going to discount these impressive strides and succumb to cheap blackmail and remove the NNPCL helmsman. More than anything, he needs Kyari’s expertise to guide him through the early days. He will be the bridge between the past and the present helping to point the way forward to the Nigerian government charting a new course for the oil and gas sector in the post-subsidy era.