When he was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari as the Executive Secretary of Petroleum Equalization Fund (Management) Board (PEF) in October 2016, not much was known about Alhaji Ahmed Bobboi in the oil and gas sector.
Stakeholders, especially, individuals and groups doing business with PEF, an organization set up in the 1970’s to ensure uniform pricing regime of petroleum products across the country and its distribution was written off as someone who would not hold the fort not to talk of making impact in an agency that was facing a myriad of challenges.
Just as the common adage which says that what an old man sees while sitting down, a child will not see the same even if he climbs to the roof top, people could hardly fathom the justification why President Buhari appointed Bobboi to man PEF especially against the backdrop that the Adamawa-born bureaucrat had clocked 60 years and had served for two decades in the same organization.
Critics never believed that Bobboi is a man full of ideas and that he was only waiting for an opportunity to explode. Available evidence has shown that Bobboi has distinguished himself as the man with the Midas touch and one of the best appointments that President Buhari has made going by the unprecedented achievements he has made just within one year in office. It also shows that appointing those who had served in a system as chief executives can be both rewarding and strategic.
It is on record that within his one year in office, PEF which was known for nepotism, favouritism and divisive politics in the past has stabilized.
Observers say that the organization hardly made giant strides since the past four decades when it was established because square pegs were put in round holes based on a practice where staff deployments were made based on closeness to the chief executive and not on levels of competence.
So far, the 330 staff of PEF now work in harmony as each has been deployed to a team. Bobboi has also refocused their energies just as he had made them to realize that PEF is a national institution whose operations must be in line with the national vision. To achieve the feat he had to reassess staff competences.
To ensure the sustainability of the arrangement, Bobboi introduced a staff posting and deployment policy, the first of its kind in the history of PEF. The unique policy which is reminiscent of what obtains in corporate organizations, insists that for a staff to attain the level of a manager he/she must have worked in the field and served in various departments so as to be well rounded and equipped to function. The policy is structured in such a way that no staff serves in one department for more than four years. Bobboi benefitted from such arrangement having served in at least seven capacities before becoming the Executive Secretary.
One spectacular achievement of Bobboi is in the area of Information Technology (IT) which has become a core area. All the 130 locations of PEF operations at depots and tank farms have been fully automated in line with IT needs of the agency and refocused to deliver services at minimum costs and maximum benefits.
The fund is currently working with National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) to develop software that will make it possible for PEF to ascertain the quantity of products available in ships, tank farms, depots, trucks, pipelines and outlets. His interventions in IT has also saved at least N150 million for the Federal Government. From N350 million being paid yearly for IT services in the past, PEF paid N200 million in the one year he has been in office.
Furthermore, through his interventions in IT, payment of marketers has become more efficient and credible as PEF now pays based on services rendered as against amounts quoted on invoices, a major area of leakage in the past years. Payments are now done on weekly basis. On the other hand, allowances accruing for government from the marketers are now being remitted regularly courtesy of a new policy which allows PEF to withdraw its personnel from depots where marketers fail to live up to their financial responsibilities. Relatedly, any marketer that owes is not allowed to import products based on the new rule that PEF must give its nod before any marketer is allowed to engage in such transaction.
A new data center being built in Lagos has reached completion. The centre will serve as a backup for the retrieval of information in case a crash happens in any of the 130 operational locations.
On personnel development, Bobboi has made training compulsory just as such activities are tailored towards staff competences. Staff morale is very high as can be evidenced by the positive comments made about Bobboi’s one year in office. The same sentiments were expressed by members of PENGASSAN and NUPENG who confirmed that they are being carried along by the PEF boss in decision making process.
In the nearest future, Bobboi says that rail equalization is his next target and that the whole idea is to reduce pressure on the roads. To make this possible, an interaction between National Association of Road Transport Workers (NARTO) and Nigeria Railway Corporation is in the offing. The interaction is necessary so as to avoid unhealthy competition for business space by members of the two bodies.
In addition, a transportation differential zone mapping that will cover mountainous and riverine areas is in the works. The essence is to seek ways of reducing the high cost of transporting products to difficult terrains in the country..
The equalization of gas distribution to rural areas is also being packaged. This will serve as PEF’s contribution to environmental protection because all the fire wood used in cooking in the rural areas contributes a lot to deforestation. A study on the equalization of gas has been commissioned.
In line with the Federal Government’s war against corruption, Bobboi never shied away from wielding the big stick on erring staff. Since he assumed office, five members of staff have been relieved of their jobs after being found guilty of infractions, while four others have been suspended. Likewise, those who distinguished themselves were rewarded.
Going by his performance within one year, only time will tell the status PEF will attain when Bobboi’s tenure in office runs out in the next three years.
Ugoji is an Abuja-based Public Affairs analyst.