NNPC: The power brokers behind Buhari's new dream team

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Barely three weeks after he was declared winner of the Feb. 23 presidential election; and even before he was sworn-in into his second mandate; President Muhammadu Buhari undertook a major shake-up replacing eight of the most influential members of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). 

The house-cleaning saw the departure of Maikanti Kacalla Baru, who retired as NNPC GMD and replaced by Mele Kolo Kyari. Until now, Kyari, who hails from Borno state like his predecessor, was managing director of NNPC's crude oil marketing division, a position he had held since 2015. Kyari was also appointed governor of Nigeria for OPEC in June 2018; a highly political posting as it required the direct personal patronage of the president. 

 

In his prior role, Kyari was in charge of drawing up a list of trading houses authorized to sell the NNPC's crude oil. These lists were made with the close collaboration of Buhari's all-powerful chief of staff, Abba Kyari. The latter, who also hails from Borno state, has no family ties to the new NNPC boss. Being in charge of marketing NNPC's output is also a highly political role because he needs to screen the oil firms which are offered oil swap contracts. Of course, these oil companies are reportedly close to the president and his Hench men, especially in an anomalous situation where Buhari is the substantive oil minister. It matters less whether the companies actually have the capacity to do the job. 

 

Seven Chief Operating Officers were also appointed at the same time as Kyari, but Huhuonline.com has learnt from NNPC sources that only three of them are in the inner circle that wields absolute power in the NNPC. These three have been euphemistically referred to as Kyari's backup crew. They are: Roland Onoriode Ewubare, head of E&P, who had been in charge of the notoriously dysfunctional National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS) since 2017. 

 

Ewubare came to NAPIMS after a bitter war of attrition between his predecessor Dafe Sejebor, who was locked in a power tussle with then Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu over policy proposals to lower production costs in the Niger Delta, which all but deadlocked and almost ground the NNPC into gridlock. Kachikwu had talked of a $32 barrel, whereas Sejebor asserted production only stood at $23 per barrel. Unable to reconcile their differences, President Buhari intervened and directed Baru to hand over NAPIMS to Ewubare; a newcomer to the NNPC galaxy. Ewubare replaced Sejebor during the great switch-up of more than fifty executives within NNPC, after the rancorous power tussle within the agency that culminated with Sejebor not serving for the statutory two years. 

 

Born in Niger Delta region, Ewubare first worked for Schlumberger before becoming secretary of the National Human Rights Commission. Since March 2016, he has been the managing director of NNPC subsidiary, Integrated Data Services Limited (IDSL). He is known among many oil companies as a hardline negotiator, offering little leeway during talks over oil developments that needed NAPIM's stamp of approval. The Harvard law graduate hashed out the terms of all of Nigeria's field development projects with oil firms (Bonga South West and OPL 245). 

 

The other person in Kyari’s backup crew is Umar Isa Ajiya. The new COO in charge of finance had been at the helm of Pipelines and Products Marketing Co (PPMC), responsible for distributing NNPC petroleum products, since 2017. The final piece of the triumvirate is Farouk Garba Said. The new COO in charge of corporate services had overseen the highly political steering of the pipeline project between Nigeria and Morocco since 2017.

 

It is this quartet of Kyari, Ewubare, Ajiya and Said, who met President Buhari's chief of staff Abba Kyari to pick the oil firms to sell NNPC crude. The award of oil allocations by the Kyari duo has dealt a new hand to the Nigerian traders. The grant of NNPC's annual crude exportation rights in late June led to an assorted set of trader alliances comprising strange bed fellows. The final list contained 14 groups. While sector giants the likes of Total, (TOTSA), Sahara Energy, Gunvor and MRS Oil all came away with their usual lot of individual permits, other heavy weights had to team up with local firms, as BP did with AYM Shafa. The latter is run by Yakubu Maishanu, who owns Nanman Nig Oil.

 

The more modest bidders filed their tender as a consortium. They included Amazon Energy, owned by Lagos pastor Trevor Akindele, who picked up his contract with Banjo Omisore's Bono Energy, selected for the third year running. Akindele is a board member of service supplier Rit Beulah, of the former secretary of state for energy and former OPEC secretary general Edmund Daukoru, the king of Nembe, Bayelsa sate. The consortium includes Arkleen Oil and Gas, owned by former head of investments at NNPC, Gregory Omosigho Ero, and Eterna Oil & Gas, headed by Mahmud Tukur; son of Bamanga Tukur, chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party during the reign of former president Goodluck Jonathan.

 

The last group of traders is led by billionaire Uchechukwu Sampson Ogah's Masters Energy. Ogah lost the election to be Abia State governor in March. He is joined by Cassiva Energy, led by Buhari chum Alhaji Nasir Danu, and Eyrie Group, headed by Amina Maina, a member of the board at MRS Oil. The affluent Abdulkabir Adisa Aliu's firm Matrix Energy, which previously worked with trading house Mercuria is in a consortium with Michael Hacking's South African firm Mocoh and Levene Energy, run by Asue Ighodalo (Banwo & Ighodalo). Prince Nasir Ado Bayero, the son of Kano emir and founder of Platform Petroleum, is a board member of Levene.

 

It is now all but obvious from the list of Nigerian marketers selected to sell NNPC crude by the puppet masters at the NNPC, that President Buhari has gone all-in to rewards those who supported his 2019 re-election with crude oil contracts.