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Baru Returns To Meet Old Challenges

Many industry captains who spoke on Dr. Baru’s appointment nod in the affirmative. Over the period after he left NAPIMS, players in the industry have nursed full respect for him, pointing at his strength of character, strict adherence to rules despite pressure from interests, honesty and self confidence.

Sopuruchi Onwuka

The emergence of Dr. Maikanti Baru as the Group Managing Director (GMD) of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has established him as recurrent phenomenon that conjures up mixed feelings of hope and fear in the minds of investors in the petroleum industry.

The choice of Dr. Baru for the position, though political, makes him one in a very few professionals that grew up in the system in recent times to scale political odds and become the GMD. He is also one of the few that have occupied the three strategic positions of Group General Manager in charge of the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (GGM NAPIMS), Group Executive Director in charge of Exploration and Production (GED E&P), and now GMD. Most of his forerunners that took the same route were washed aside by political interests when it came to stepping into the summit of ranks.

Many factors are responsible for perceived difficulty in former NAPIMS bosses who become GEDs of E&P to attain the commanding position of NNPC GMD. At both positions, they exert great influence on the operations of all upstream players in the industry, determine industry budgets, approve projects and associated contracts.

Whereas the GED E&P oversees operations of the key upstream subsidiaries of the corporation including the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC), NAPIMS and Integrated Data Services Limited (IDSL) his firm grip on ventures not operated by the group makes the role of NAPIMS most outstanding.

Thus, NAPIMS remains one of the most crucial and influential strategic business arms of NNPC, and running the agency entails exposures that make or mar personal and business relationships with a mix of multinational and indigenous oil and gas companies that fetch over 85 percent of total funding support to government’s annual budgets. And considering their volume of investments and strategic role in the economy of the country, the upstream players have immense influence on the government with remarkable capacity to dismantle common business obstacles.

During his tenure at NAPIMS, Dr. Baru had a successful but turbulent sway on the upstream industry. Industry captains accused him of executive arrogance which according to them affected necessary business relationships, impacted approval processes, delayed project budget endorsements and elongated delivery deadlines.

Dr. Baru, as GGM NAPIMS, was also accused of working against full delivery of policy targets, objectives and long term goals of the Nigerian Content Policy in the petroleum industry following complaints from some local fabricating companies that NAPIMS had approved jobs for some foreign facility producers in disregard to provisions of the policy.

In his only media parley as GGM NAPIMS hosted in Sheraton Hotel, Lagos, Dr. Baru had dispelled some of the allegations from the wailing industry players who were expressing frustration at him, saying that NAPIMS strictly followed established systems and processes in discharging its functions as senior partner to the oil firms and prime driver of government’s policies and programmes in the industry.

However, Dr. Baru hardly survived the wave of attacks from the industry and had to be redeployed to other important positions that required less industry interface. His reappearance as GED E&P at a point of speedy management changes at the corporation was little surprise. Unexpected changes in government from Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to All Progressive Congress (APC) precipitated unexpected shake up in the management structure of the corporation, and coupling the office of the GMD and that of junior Petroleum Minister for Dr. Ibe Kachikwu had eclipsed Dr. Baru who was instead made an adviser to the rookie GMD.

Before his announcement as the helmsman of NNPC, Dr. Baru’s career was the object of concern by industry observers who thought that he was being blocked from the position by unseen hands from the industry where he had uneven relationship with players. The concern for Dr. Baru finds support from observed move to repopulate the corporation’s top management cadre with young inexperienced crowd that arrived with Dr. Kachikwu from multinational oil firms!  To create space for these young crop of lucky sojourners, Dr. Kachikwu had swept off top management personnel of the corporation on arrival.

Fortunately, Nigeria’s prevailing pro-north political arrangement has Dr. Baru as the best candidate from the region to complete regional occupation of the driving seats of government parastatals.

Thus, retention of Dr. Baru after the clean sweep at NNPC supported longstanding rumours that Dr. Baru had been anointed to succeed Dr. Kachikwu; and on several occasions, the media had jumped the gun by reporting appointment of Dr. Baru into office of GMD.

With speculations laid to rest and Dr. Baru in office will the industry players have a clearer understanding of his character?

Many industry captains who spoke on Dr. Baru’s appointment nod in the affirmative. Over the period after he left NAPIMS, players in the industry have nursed full respect for him, pointing at his strength of character, strict adherence to rules despite pressure from interests, honesty and self confidence.

Sources close to Dr. Baru said he never lobbied for any position or retention in any position all through his rise in the hierarchy of ranks in NNPC. They point out that the attributes of strictness and steadfastness most feared about Dr. Baru have formed some of the greatest qualities for which he is remembered and admired.

Dr. Baru, according to them, has been thoroughly Muslim and holds high Islamic values despite his level of education and height of status. Thus, industry players who are bound to relate with him as overriding partner must be detailed and convincing enough in their proposals to get speedy response as Dr. Maikanti Baru is said to be largely unchanged!

According to close associates, Dr. Baru is not given to backstage deals. He is hardly caught at social events and remains very elusive to those who strike deals at parties and places of entertainment. Those that have worked with him add that Dr. Baru does not hunt, haunt, hound or taunt; but cannot be influenced easily to do what he is not convinced about.

But the position of GMD of NNPC has always been seen as dividend point for politicians and party stalwarts that invest in the deep pocket contest for political power. The job also entails management of intricate and complex commercial interests that determine the flow of global investment funds into the local petroleum industry. The industry is currently averse to fresh investments following huge NNPC debt liabilities, disputes over shares from deepwater production, low government investments, multiple taxation, and a myriad of other issues to which NNPC must seek resolution.

There are also internal issues relating to endless reforms at NNPC. It has spanned over 13 years since NNPC embarked on a journey to be efficient, transparent, profitable and competitive in business with cleat goal to deliver on prime national economic aspirations for which it is set up.

Dr. Baru should also be prepared to lead Nigerian petroleum industry on multilateral trade interactions within global energy bodies like Organization of Petroleum Countries (OPEC), Gas-OPEC, World Petroleum Council (WPC) and regional economic pacts that are based on energy policies.

How Dr. Baru would adjust his highly reputed correctness to accommodate all business, political, social and diplomatic interests that will challenge his reclusive nature will justify his choice for the job.

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