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Mele Kyari’s visionary, inspiring leadership at NNPC, By Alexander Babatunde

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No stolen 48m barrels of crude, ignore reports - NNPC tells Nigerians
NNPC GMD, Mele Kyari

When President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Mallam Mele Kyari in June last year as the 19th Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), it did not come to many Nigerians as a surprise.

Here is a man who, since joining the services of the Integrated Data Services Limited (IDSL), one of NNPC’s upstream subsidiaries, as a Processing Geophysicist in 1991, has exhibited exemplary leadership capabilities at all the places and levels he was opportune to serve.

Colleagues who knew him when he began his career at the corporation attest to the fact that Mele Kyari has always exhibited sterling qualities that points to the fact that he was destined for the top. It was all a matter of time, they say. Fast forward to 2019, when he was announced as the new NNPC helmsman, it was obvious that those special qualities exhibited throughout his 28 years of service are inherent rather than whimsical.

His performance so far as the helmsman at the NNPC since his appointment 10 months ago has further attested to the fact that Mele Kyari looked every inch the right man for the prestigious NNPC job.

What matters most in the story around Mele Kyari’s emergence is not only the experience and exposure but the fact that at every position he held while growing through the ranks at the NNPC, the Maiduguri-born oil and gas executive stepped in at the right time to provide the right leadership. This is because, in the ever-dynamic world of business, one of the greatest undoing could be procrastination or refusing to take the right decisions when it matters.

Therefore, beginning from his early days at the helm of the NNPC, Mele Kyari went straight to work. First, he began by redefining the strategic focus of the corporation which he anchored on the principle of Transparency, Accountability, Performance Excellence (TAPE) vision.

Under the vision, Mele Kyari told the world he would drive NNPC towards, “Global Excellence.” Within the corporation, he made it clear to all staff that going forward, excuses will not be acceptable as an explanation for poor performance. “We either deliver or walk away in shame,” he said.

Similarly, Mele Kyari explained that for NNPC to get to the “Global Excellence” level, the Corporation must be open and transparent to its numerous stakeholders. It must also be accountable to its shareholders who are the over 180million Nigerians. Most importantly, Kyari said NNPC must exceed expectations, regarding its business priorities. Its processes he said, must be efficient while exceptional performance shall be bountifully rewarded and recognised.

Shortly after unveiling his vision, the GMD NNPC followed up with a strong commitment to deliver by charging the Chief Operating Officers of Directorates to develop five key priority areas (KPA). At a ceremony to sign-off on the performance bonds for the priority areas, Kyari maintained that there would be no hiding place for non-performance.

As we speak, some of those KPAs have well been delivered while a few of them are still being pursued vigorously across the entire value-chain of the NNPC business.

For the Upstream Directorate, Mele Kyari is successfully championing the move to grow the nation’s reserves and also increase its production. The efforts are paying off with the nation’s daily crude oil production hitting an all-time high level of 2.3millions barrels per day in April. For the Gas and Power Directorate; the NNPC under him has been expanding the nation’s gas sector footprint towards stimulating industrialisation.

In the Refining and Petrochemicals Directorate, Kyari is pursuing a deliberate shift to get the refineries back to their nameplate capacities using the Operations & Maintenance (O & M) Model, thereby enhancing local refining capacity. A detailed programme of rehabilitation for the four refineries to bring them back to minimum of 90 per cent of installed production capacity by 2023 is being implemented.

In the Downstream Directorate, it is obvious that since Kyari came on board, NNPC has ensured efficient and seamless nationwide petroleum products supply, which is critical in guaranteeing Nigeria’s energy security. That is aside ensuring that all the nation’s critical oil and gas infrastructure are secured. For the Ventures Directorate, several new businesses such as the NNPC Medical Services Ltd, are currently being capitalised and commercialised towards enhanced profitability.

For the Finance and Accounts Directorate, the GMD has ensured the enhancement of the corporation’s revenue through optimisation of costs as well as the improvement of operational efficiency. Close to that also is ensuring that NNPC’s financing remains keenly focused on growth and effective liquidity management. For the Corporate Services Directorate, Kyari has, since coming on board, developed the corporation’s human capital towards more efficiency and excellent service delivery.

It was against the backdrop of this human capital development that he recently repositioned the organisational assets of the Corporation in line with global best standards. The aim, according to Mele Kyari, was not just to further prepare NNPC for the changing global competitive environment, but also to ensure that going forward, succession planning is never an impediment to business continuity and growth. As at today, several management positions have been occupied while other competency-based role alignments have been entrenched across all levels of the organisation.

Meanwhile, in what could be termed as a new dawn, the latest reshuffle and appointment to the corporation’s management positions reflected national spread, without compromising competence, with every geopolitical zone of the country adequately represented.

Not only that, Mele Kyari demonstrated a bold move in appointing the highest number of women into Management positions, another unprecedented development in the history of the Corporation. To mention a few, NNPC’s Chief Operating Officer (Downstream Directorate), Chief Strategist/Planner and Chief Research/Innovation Officer are all exceptional women who rose through the ranks in the Corporation.

It will not be out of place to list other key achievements recorded by Mallam Kyari in the course of his 10-month headship of NNPC so far. These include: superintending the discovery of crude oil in the Kolmani Structure in the Upper Benue Trough; signing of a Funding & Technical Services Agreement (FTSA) and Alternative Financing deal for NPDC’s OML 13 (US$3.15bn) and OML 65 (US$876mn); achieving 20 per cent year-on-year revenue reservoir studies alongside the upgrade of IDSL’s Data Processing Center; US$300 million reduction in AKK project cost via contract renegotiation; completion of feasibility studies for Condensate Refinery Project and the award of its Front End Engineering Design (FEED).

Others are, Improved petroleum products accounting through “Operation White”; launching of NNPC Retail Lubricants into the Nigerian market; commissioning of Ilorin Depot, two tanks at Calabar and Satellite Depots; recovery of over N80 billion and $45 million debt from NNPC’s gas off-takers; increased process automation across all businesses and crucially, signing off on the Final investment Decision (FID) for NLNG Train 7 (T7), which, potentially, could generate over $20billion of revenue to the Government, 10,000 direct and 40,000 indirect jobs over the project’s lifecycle.

NNPC, as Mele Kyari always says, is not all about the NNPC itself. It is about the over 180million Nigerians. Little wonder that as the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to ravage the world and Nigeria in particular, Kyari stepped up to the plate once more and, for the umpteenth time, led the entire Oil and Gas Industry from the front.

In a never-before-seen gesture, the GMD, under the guidance of the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, within a short period rallied his colleagues in the Industry to come up with a intervention initiative to the tune of $58 million (N21bn) to support the Federal Government’s efforts at combating the deadly COVID-19.

The support will cover provision of hospital consumables, in-patient support services and building of lasting infrastructure that will outlive COVID-19′. It was an unparallel exhibition of corporate compassion and empathy during such a major national crisis.

One area where Mele Kyari has also shown leadership was in ensuring that nationwide petroleum products supply and distribution remain sufficient and intact, even during the lockdown period. Series of critical stakeholders’ engagement with state governors, Nigerian Union of Petroleum & Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD), PENGASSAN, Depot owners and relevant security agencies was spearheaded by him to enable fuel tankers deliver products to every nook and cranny of the country unhindered.

In a tweet via his personal Twitter handle, Mallam Kyari assured Nigerians of adequate fuel supply following sit-at-home order in some states to contain the spread of the COVID-19. As could be seen by all and sundry, supply of petroleum products has never been an issue during this period of lockdown. “States have all consented to allow movement of fuel trucks and operation of stations during any sit-at-home action. Our stock and supply plan are robust and there is no need to buy more than you require at any time. We will keep supplying,” Kyari’s tweet assured.

When it comes to crisis situations, Mele Kyari is not shy of leading from the front. During recent explosions in Lagos, some of which were triggered by unwholesome activities of pipeline vandals and other saboteurs, he was always among the first at the scene of incident. In a rare exhibition of compassion, Mele Kyari was always on hand to sympathise with victims of the unfortunate occurrence. In the same vein, he was always bold and honest to let the authorities know that unless and until the Corporation’s Pipeline Right of Way (PRoW) is secured, the last will never be heard of such explosions.

Nothing exemplifies a true leader than his actions during a crisis. It was John F. Kennedy, the former US President who once said that the best thing that could ever happen to an organisation is to have a leader who sees opportunity, instead of danger, during crisis. Mallam Mele Kyari mounted the NNPC saddle at a time of crisis of declining crude oil prices worsened by the recent COVID-19 pandemic. But if the quality of leadership so far shown by him in confronting these challenges headlong is anything to go by, then it is safe to say that the over 180million Nigerians, and indeed the many stakeholders of the corporation have every reason to be hopeful.

Babatunde, a Public Affairs Analyst, writes from Lagos

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