The NNPC has another Group Managing Director in the name of Dr Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu who until his appointment, was the Vice-Chairman of Exxon-Mobil for Africa. He is about the fourth GMD for NNPC in half a dozen years. So volatile is this job, so open to abuse, political interference and pressure, that you wonder whether to congratulate the present occupant or commiserate with him. Yet, so important, nay, so vital is his job that it is in our collective interest to wish him the best.
And speaking of expectations, did the succeeding MDs fully understand why their predecessors were removed? And if they did, why did they take up the job? What was their expectation?Which brings me to the questions. Why did the Jonathan administration appoint so many GMDs in quick successions? Was it a case of square pegs in round holes? Or a question of poor judgements or different expectations?
To glory in the job and make as much money as they could or to genuinely seek to make a difference? And who is to judge them if the former—even if it meant they would last just one year—was their goal?
To understand these questions and the answers to them is to understand the psyche of Nigerians when it comes to public offices. It is also to understand why the noises around the appointment of Kachikwu, as annoying as they are, have come to be expected.
Sometimes in the history of Nigeria, we decided that the best way to fill public offices was by the quota system. This system in theory, was to ascertain even and inclusive distribution of available jobs without jettisoning merit. But we all know how it has panned out. The quota system thrived more in its abuses than in its uses. Equity and justice, the very reasons the quota system was introduced, suffered. Merit suffered.
Motivation suffered. The whole system went downhill thereafter. And as it always happens when merit is jettisoned, nepotism thrived; ethnicism thrived. Our political leaders in uniform and out of it, took advantage of the fact that they did not have to justify their appointment on the basis of merit and competence, to appoint cronies to plum jobs. In fact, the juicier your appointment, the closer you were deemed to be to the big man.
It got to a stage when a former President was alleged to have said to a crony: ‘don’t tell me you are broke when you leave this office’. And another regional leader once said of his protégée, ‘it is our oil money. Let him steal it’. Unfortunately, the populace which should have cried foul at this open abuse of the commonwealth, took ethnic sides. Each time a prominent appointment is made, we look at where he comes from before we approve or disapprove.
And when that person abuses his/her office by stealing the nation blind, the tribal war lords are the first to carry placards and advertorials on how their son/daughter is being victimised. To the question, ‘did they steal?’ the usual answer is ‘everyone is stealing. Why should they be singled out for punishment’. It does not matter that these people have not added value to their country, their towns, or even their villages. Instead, they have in fact, compounded the woes of the common man by their selfish and self-centred decisions.
Enter Dr Kachikwu. Everyone agrees that he is very cerebral, with a first class degree in law from the University of Nsukka and two Harvard law degrees under his belt. Everyone agrees he has the requisite experience having been in the oil industry virtually all his life and risen almost as high as he possibly can. Most people agree that he is very comfortable and therefore not desperate for a job.
It is also a fact that he is who he is by dint of hard work and a good use of God’s gifts. So by all obvious standards, he is qualified to do the job. Therefore, all those claiming ‘ownership’ by referring to his ethnic background as if he is chosen because of his tribe and not on merit, should stop insulting him. He is a Nigerian eminently qualified to do a job for all Nigerians. We also stop insinuating that a favour has been done.
It is such a tough, thankless job that I almost pity him—as I would anybody with a name to protect who takes up this kind of job. A story is told of a Yoruba man who was weighing his options about taking a top job during the early post-independence period. A group of Yoruba elders met with him to convince him that the Yoruba race would lose out if he declined.
He looked them in the eye and told them he was being offered a job because he was qualified and not because he was Yoruba. End of story. Some people need to be told this more often. Now, I do not expect that Kachikwu would be a six-month or one-year casualty. He has too much going for him. I also expect that he would have tried to find out the expectations of his employers and see if they tally with his own expectations.
I assume he would have negotiated his freedom from unnecessary political interference. I also assume he would have found out why the tenures of his predecessors were short and ignominious and learnt one or two things from it. In spite of the above, there are some things he has to look out for if he is to have a truly memorable tenure. He has to realise that the expectations are high because of the importance of his job and the extent of the rot in NNPC.
He is there to cleanse and not perpetuate that rot. He will have himself to blame if he panders to ethnic sentiments; bows to the pressure which will definitely come from powerful oil barons; succumbs to political interference of any shade; or listens to biased foreign ‘advisers’ who just want to exploit the country.
Above all, he has to resist the temptation to enrich and thereby compromise himself. His name will be written in gold if he can reposition NNPC and make it a corporation where integrity matters. He also has to put Nigeria first and not self in ALL his decisions.
The message I sent to him is the message I send to my friends who find themselves in sensitive public offices—‘please make us proud’. Unfortunately, very few have.