It’s being called the toughest job in the Petroleum industry: turning around the fortunes of beleaguered NNPC, which has come under severe criticism by Nigerians for corruption and mis-management. Recently an independent analysis by the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) revealed that over $32 billion oil revenue was lost to NNPC’s mismanagement of Domestic Crude Allocation (DCA), opaque revenue retention practices and corruption-ridden oil-for-product swap agreements.
But now, the NNPC, which is undergoing reformation, has Dr Ibe Kachikwu, the 59-year-old former Executive Vice Chairman of ExxonMobil (Africa Operations) as the man to turn its fortunes around. The Presidency described Kachikwu’s appointment as “part of efforts by the government to lay strong foundations for the future success of our national petroleum corporation.” That’s a tall order for anyone, and many analysts are skeptical about whether it can even be done. “Mr. Kachikwu faces an uphill battle in turning around the ministry,” said Bode Adefowope, an oil industry analyst with an oil & gas research group. “But I also believe he is about to experience one of the most exciting parts of his professional career.” In a telephone conversation with Per Second News Saturday evening, respected former Senate leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN) described Kachikwu as one of the best hands for the job. “ I have no doubt that he will strengthen the corporation to achieve unprecedented results, said Ndoma-Egba.
Stephen Riesling, an independent oil & gas consultant based in London, says that Kachikwu can handle the turbulence — he has a history of taking on tough challenges. “He has not taken easy positions in his career,” said Riesling. “You want someone calm and battle-hardened for this role, and that’s what he is, according to research done about him. He’s got really superb real-world experience facing and overcoming challenges.”
Kachikwu’s most recent experience at ExxonMobil seems to bode well for his new position. He joined Mobil in 2001 as General Counsel/Secretary, Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited, when the multinational company was facing tough competition from Texaco, Shell, BP and Agip . In 2003, as Executive Director, ExxonMobil Group of Companies, Kachikwu steered the company through several difficult battles, he managed to expand its trans-Atlantic services and reposition it as a more service-oriented company. ExxonMobil also staved off competition from other multinational oil firm like Texaco, at the same time contending with full- multinational oil giants in the region, such as Shell.
In 2009, he was made the Executive Vice Chairman/General Counsel, ExxonMobil Companies in Nigeria and Oversight Counsel, ExxonMobil Companies in Africa.The Odogwu of Onicha Ugbo had influenced over $10 billion investment from ExxonMobil Group into Nigeria and other African countries. It is also on record that he set major policy planks on, government relationship, investment policy and corporate governance for ExxonMobil in Africa and was a member of many highly influential policy and investment teams for ExxonMobil Corporation. “Under Kachikwu’s strategic leadership, ExxonMobil has been transformed into a strong, consistently profitable oil firm with a clear strategic direction, a resilient business model as a value corporation and an improved cost base.”
Not everything in Kachikwu’s life has gone as smoothly. In an interview with Udo Okonjo in 2013 he revealed that he had made some mistakes in the past as an investor. “If Mr. Kachikwu succeeds, he will be lauded as a management genius,” said Riesling. “If he fails, he will be able to argue that the corporation was near ‘terminal’ before he got there and that external factors were simply too great.”
He must also restore trust in a brand that is currently synonymous with corruption, according to the perception of most Nigerians and the international community. A perception that has for long heavily tainted the corporation’s name. “That won’t be corrected by a new name or livery. It will be led by fundamentals such as having excellent on-time performance, as well as exploring how it can better improve its administration with discipline, “said Riesling. It would be a herculean task for anyone, experts agree.
Kachikwu once revealed that his guiding principle in life is to make a success out of whatever he touches, and to aim for the top so that “if you fall you will land at the middle and not at the bottom” . He seems to have hit the ground running. Industry experts believe the corporation needs to build relationships and be more transparent in their operations. A process that Kachikwu seems to have kickstarted by reaching out to staff, industry players and the media in a bid to build trust. Kachikwu scored historic points last week when he released the monthly Financial and Operations Report of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), showing his clear dedication and commitment to transparency.
In an interview recently Kachikwu said that “no success is as important as relationships” . He revealed that he has never left a meeting so upset that he would not want to talk to a colleague or other party.” Lawyer, actor and writer Kachikwu believes that disciplined administration by staff of the corporation will help a long way in the reformation process.