4 June 2012

Nigeria: Finally, It's Lights Out for Ajuonuma, the Man With the Survival Instinct

Only penultimate Tuesday, I had spoken with Dr. Levi Ajuonuma over a story on the Warri Refinery which the House of Representatives Committee on the Downstream sector had wanted shut down.

I had wanted to know the thinking at the Nigerian National petroleum Corporation (NNPC) over the Lower House's decision and, specifically, his reaction to this, and especially if he thought the decision of the House Committee on the Warri Refinery was the best for the downstream sector.

And as usual, our friend was neither here nor there. Though he spoke at length but, honestly, I couldn't readily pin him down to a particular position on the issue, and I concluded by telling him I would send a reporter to him for a proper interview to be published in LEADERSHIP's 'Focus Pages'.

Earlier in the year, I had also spoken with Levi, as he is fondly called by some of his friends and colleagues, over the rumour flying across the newsrooms like a wild fire that he had resigned his appointment at the NNPC as the Group General Manager, Corporate Affairs over alleged revelations of fraud and corruption at the petroleum corporation.

He had bluntly replied, "O boy, na lie o! I still dey. Please my brother, let it be established that the services of Dr. Levi Ajuonuma is still very much intact at the NNPC."

With this response coming directly from him, my mind was at rest that after establishing this successful contact, it was clear that the thought of resignation was not anywhere near the truth.

"Please ignore these blackmailers. It's not true at all; in fact, I have just returned from work. Please circulate to all our friends on Facebook and BB," Dr. Levi Ajuonuma was to later follow a few minutes later on my wall.

Levi Ajuonuma, until his death yesterday in the Dana Airline crash yesterday in Lagos, was one man with a great survival instinct. You could call the fabled undefeated wrestler, "Amalinze the cat" until yesterday when his back painfully touched the ground in the most fatal and unexpected way.

That Levi survived the politics, power play and all the intrigues at the NNPC for so long spoke volumes of how fiercely loyal he was to his job and his bosses. That he survived five group managing directors at the NNPC (Engr. Funsho Kupolokun, Abubakar Lawal Yar'Adua, Dr. Mohammed Barkindo, Alhaji Shehu Ladan, and the present GMD, Engr. Austen Oniwon) and three ministers of petroleum resources, Dr. Edmund Daukoru, Alhaji Rilwanu Lukman and Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, tells of his staying power and professional competence on the plum job as NNPC's mouth piece.

Even when he was transferred from the NNPC to the Nigerian Institute of Petroleum Studies in Kaduna in a remarkable and unexpected power play, some of his bosses insisted that he be returned to the very place where it mattered, the NNPC House.

That Levi was on top of his job was an understatement; for he was, at any given time, ready to defend his job and articulate his point of view in such dramatic and mesmerising manner, one of the obvious qualities that endeared him to his employers.

However, not a few of his media friends would really tell you that Levi could be over-bearing and unnecessarily hostile when it comes to doing his job; a case in point was the severe rebuke and sharp tongue many journalists got from him over the story with the banner headline which indicated recently that NNPC was broke.

It was story which showcased the bad finances and status of the corporation.

Until his death, Levi was the Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division of NNPC, having begun his career as a media personality with the programme he anchored with Ray Power radio on "Open House Party." He was also host of the former NTA "Sunday Show" before he joined NNPC in 2002.

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