President Muhammadu Buhari has finally revealed what will be the fate of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, saying the national oil company will be divided into two successor entities under his administration.
The President, who stated this in an interview with journalists in Washington DC during a four-day visit to the United States, an extract of which was made available to Saturday PUNCH, explained that the decision would form one of the key steps of his reform of the country’s oil and gas sector.
The NNPC is considered a cesspool of corruption and fraud signposted by the non-remission of revenues from oil sale to the Federation Account. Hence, one of the first reform moves by All Progressives Congress –led administration is expected to start at the NNPC.
There had been insinuations that Buhari would unbundle the NNPC into four companies but the President, in the Washington interview, said rather than breaking the NNPC into four companies, it would be divided into two – regulator and investment vehicle.
While one of the successor companies will be an independent regulator, the President said the second would operate as an investment vehicle for the country.
He said, “I am reforming the oil and gas sector, breaking up the NNPC into two parts – the first will become an independent regulator for the sector, while the second will act as an investment vehicle for the country.”
Buhari also said there would be a new bid round for oil blocks in the country, adding that he favours transparent auction process.
“I will also end political control of the awarding of drilling and exploration rights by introducing a system of independent, transparent auctioning for licences,” the President said.
Senate President Bukola Saraki had, recently, described the NNPC as the engine room of corruption.
He lamented that none of the perpetrators of illegal deals in the corporation had so far been apprehended and brought to justice.
“You hardly see where people who are the real engine room – which is the NNPC – where most of these corruption cases on oil are, being put on trial,” he said.
Similarly, Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, had last week called for the setting up of another national oil firm as he argued that the present NNPC would kill Nigeria if it was allowed to continue running.
“If you don’t kill the NNPC, it will kill Nigeria,” el-Rufai said.
Buhari, as part of the ongoing reform of several strata of the country, said his administration would merge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission into one strong and more effective anti-graft agency.
He said, “Corruption is one of the top three issues facing Nigeria, along with insecurity and unemployment. We must act to kill corruption or corruption will kill Nigeria. I am determined to lead that fight.
“My government is already taking several steps to cut out the cancer of corruption that has been eating away at the state for so long.
“We are reorganising the existing plethora of anti-corruption bodies into single powerful agency that will have the focus, power and budget to clamp down on corruption at the federal and state levels.”
The President said ministers would no longer have power to award contracts while announcing the introduction of a new system of plea bargaining to encourage looters of the government money and oil thieves to return the people’s stolen commonwealth.
He said, “I have already acted to remove political control over awarding of contracts away from ministers who use them to get political favours and kickbacks.
“I will introduce a new system of plea bargain, that will allow those who have stolen assets and funds to return them – but if they do not take that opportunity we will pursue them through the courts.”
Buhari insisted that his administration would not relent in asking foreign countries, including the US, to help in returning stolen funds that are sitting in private accounts abroad, but rightfully belonging to the people of Nigeria.
The President lamented that the country had become over-dependent on oil because of the incompetence and corruption of government that concentrated on “how best to steal oil revenues instead of how best to use our oil windfalls to invest in a modern, growing economy.”
Rather than continue to depend on oil, Buhari said Nigeria must become a manufacturing giant.
“I will not be satisfied until the label ‘Made in Nigeria’ is as common globally, as the label ‘Made in China,’” he added.