The sack of Engr. Austen Olusegun Oniwon as the group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was predictable. Mr. Oniwon was asked to go on compulsory retirement, along with three of his group executive directors: Mr. Michael Arokodare, in charge of finance and accounts; Mr. Phillip Chukwu, refineries & petrochemicals; and Mr. Billy Agha, engineering & technology. Appointed to replace Oniwon is Engr. Andrew Yakubu, former managing director of Warri Refinery and Petrochemicals.
Though the president praised the sacked men for their services to the nation and urged the new management team to be fully committed to rapidly implementing the critical interventions needed to positively transform Nigeria's petroleum industry, it all amounts to mere platitudinous rhetoric.
Calls for the heads of the managers of the NNPC have been more strident under Oniwon and the incumbent petroleum resources minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, because of the rot in the oil sector.
Admittedly, they met the rot but the sector, as the nation's major economic mainstay, requires that whoever occupies the office of GMD of NNPC be above board.The corruption in the sector has become an undying phoenix necessitating a myriad of probes from both the executive and legislative arms of government.
Information in the public domain strongly links the petroleum resources ministry, NNPC and its subsidiaries to the "entrenched interests" stalling the sanitisation of the petroleum industry. The Senate had probed allegations of discretional allocation of oil blocks against industry guidelines by the petroleum ministry while the KPMG report that catalogued monumental fraud at the NNPC is a subject of another review.
A 21-man special task force led by former anti-corruption czar Nuhu Ribadu was mandated to clean the cesspit of corruption that the Nigerian oil and gas industry has become. Even the president had to invite the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to review all payments made in respect of subsidies on petrol and kerosene and to take all necessary steps to prosecute anybody involved in malfeasance, fraud, over-invoicing and related illegalities "in an open and transparent manner".
There is also a special task force on governance and controls in the NNPC and other parastatals headed by Dotun Sulaiman.
The N250 billion that was budgeted for subsidies in 2011, the Senate said, jumped to N1.3 trillion, only for the country to end up losing a whopping N2 trillion for the same purpose and, finally, the House of Representatives discovered that the nation actually lost over N2.6trillion to oil subsidy scammers. Oniwon's sack should not be the end of these measures. If indicted he and his team should answer to charges in a proper court of law.
All the main players in the subsidy administration have come up with less than satisfying explanations on the malfeasances in a sector that is the country's live wire. With intractable problems of pipeline vandalism, moribund refineries, unaccounted crude sales, hazy importation regime and Oniwon's admission that oil thieves may one day take over the machinery of government in the country, it was predictable that his time was up.
Indeed, the managing director of Shell, Mr. Mutiu Sunmonu, confirmed to the joint committees on Navy and Petroleum Resources of the House of Representatives on Tuesday that the country loses at least 150,000 barrels valued at $13.5m daily to these thieves.
We only hope Yakubu will fare better than his predecessors and learn how the oil cabal moved them from grace to grass. The government will do well by assisting him with the necessary logistical backstoppings, such as passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill, rejuvenation of the moribund refineries, openness and free hand in handling oil prospecting, importation, exportation as well as oil blocks. Oversight should also be beefed up.