Opinion | By Jackson Onukwu | 29. 09. 2021
If you are from my part of the Niger Delta, Imiringi, in Bayelsa, you would appreciate President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent nomination of Gbenga Komolafe to head the newly created Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC).
The NUPRC was created courtesy of the Petroleum Industry Act, PIA, the novel piece of legislation which suffered several years of failed abortion and vicious mutilations before its bill was finally passed by the National Assembly, NASS, and accented to by President Buhari as an Act of parliament.
Never mind the loose bolts and joints, this piece of legislation which Buhari has the historical benevolence of signing into law has stood him out as a lover of Nigerian people, particularly the oil-bearing communities. Needless restating that the Bill had passed through three presidents, several shelf lives in the National Assembly, endured several thousands of sittings in the NASS before it was finally birthed by the 9th Assembly. On this, history will remember Buhari and the 9th Assembly with fond memories.
Beyond this, where the President scored the Bull’s eye is in the nomination of Komolafe as pioneer Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Upstream Commission. It clearly showed how much relevance Mr. Buhari attaches to the PIA and its implementation. First, the President did not nominate a politician. He insulated the new commission from the often savage shenanigans of bitter politics. He went for an industry person, not someone who would come into office bereft of the knowhow, language, nuances and sophistry of the critical Upstream sector. It will go down as one of the most fitting appointments made by the President. It underscores the President’s commitment to full and effective implementation of the PIA.
The President also nominated another industry person, Sarki Auwalu, the Director/CEO of the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, to oversee the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA), also in accordance with the provision of the PIA. Both nominees eagerly await the screening and confirmation of the Senate.
President Buhari deserves commendation for these two nominations. First, both the Commission and the Authority are new regulatory bodies. They require seasoned hands, not greenhorns. They should be run by persons of relevant industry experience, consummate skills set and the courage to lead regulatory agencies whose actions and inactions directly impact on the nation’s economic well-being.
To fully appreciate the significance of these two nominations, it’s imperative to, first, understand their roles and job descriptions. While the Commission is responsible for the technical and commercial regulation of the upstream petroleum operations; the Authority is responsible for the technical and commercial regulation of the midstream and downstream operations in Nigeria.
To further insulate them from any red tape and administrative encumbrance, both agencies are exempted from the provisions of any enactment relating to the taxation of companies or Trust Funds. This makes their place in the management of the nation’s oil and gas value chain very critical. The President opting for experience in lieu of politics in filling the headships of the new agencies comes highly laudable. By hindsight, we have had cases of new regulatory agencies that failed to make impact from infancy because their leaderships at the beginning failed to exert the right pressure and ultimately the right impact.
A good example is the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, the nation’s telecoms regulator. Not many Nigerians knew of the existence of NCC until year 2000 when President Obasanjo appointed Dr. Ernest Ndukwe as the Executive Vice Chairman.
He was the one who gave Nigerians GSM phones through a digital mobile auction that birthed mobile operators each of which paid as much as $285 million for operating licence. Nigeria did not only make money from the sales of licence but also joined the league of nations where both the rich and the poor have access to telephony services.
The digital mobile licence auction happened in January 2001 while rollout of services commenced in August of same year; whereas NCC had been existing since 1992 when the telecoms sector was deregulated.
Two persons had been EVC of the commission before Ndukwe’s appointment. Analysts and experts in telecoms have attributed the sound success recorded by Ndukwe to his experience as a top-notch player in the telecoms ecosystem, his competence and thorough knowledge of the global dynamics in telecoms, an advantage he brought to bear on his office as EVC.
This is also why the nomination of Komolafe has continued to trigger both excitement and optimism not only in the oil and gas industry but also in the wider spectrum of the national economy. He’s perceived as a fitting round peg in a round hole.
He will be coming to his new beat with an intimidating profundity of experience, a bouquet of academic accomplishments and global best practices culture accumulated over the years as an engineer, lawyer, labour management specialist, marketer and administrator. Indeed, President Buhari chose the best for the nation to manage the all-important Upstream sector of the oil and gas industry.
Komolafe is coming to his new station from a position of strength as Managing Director, Nigeria Pipeline & Storage Company (NPSC). A man of scholarship and proclivity to knowledge, he runs on the props of three degrees in the diverse fields of engineering, law and labour relations, with certifications and professional training garnered from top institutes around the globe.
The NPSC where he currently oversees its day-to-day operations is a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Here, he stamped his imprint of professionalism and excellence. Here, he brought the innovation of public-private engagement. His business model for maintenance and operations of NNPC pipelines and depots through a private Joint Venture (JV) has removed the lethargy and administrative sludge which hitherto dogged pipelines and depot management.
Komolafe’s industry experience lends him to the new responsibility of overseeing the nation’s Upstream sector. He was at various times Group General Manager, Special Duties at NNPC, Group General Manager, Crude Oil Marketing Division and Executive Director (Commercial), Pipelines and Petroleum Marketing Company (PPMC), among others.
He was also at some point General Manager, Operations, Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF), General Manager, Operations of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), among other portfolios. Those who have encountered him on and off-duty say he’s a task-driven, self-motivated polymath endowed with knowledge ranging from science through arts to legalism.
This has earned him a place of honour among professionals: a Fellow of Nigerian Society of Engineers, Council of Registered Engineers of Nigeria, COREN and member of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). He embodies the real Nigerian spirit of academic distinction, professional finesse and worthy moral rectitude.
All of this will count for him when he assumes office. Such polymathic profile is needed to steer the ship in the newly created Upstream regulatory commission.
Often the oil and gas sector is globally perceived as a foundry for sleaze and corruption, lacking in transparency. Some top players have, however, debunked this theory by offering services shorn of duplicity. Komolafe is in this class. And he showed his passion for openness as Group General Manager, Crude Oil Marketing Division, where he instituted a culture of accountability to the acclamation of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI). Without any doubt, the Ondo state-born engineer, lawyer and administrator is the right man for the job.
But he must realise that he carries a burden. President Buhari has trusted him enough to nominate him. He must, as a necessity, reciprocate by giving his best as soon as the Senate confirms him, a confirmation many Nigerians believe will happen given his rich pedigree of industry knowhow and experience.
*Onukwu writes from Ogbia, Bayelsa