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Litmus test: NNPC GMD faces speedy reform challenge

The meeting in Aso Rock sounded much like the first sign that speedy of policy implementation will be an abiding character of the new NNPC…

The meeting in Aso Rock sounded much like the first sign that speedy of policy implementation will be an abiding character of the new NNPC boss if he is to get his bearing right with Mr President who looks like a man in a hurry to make an impact.

Oniwon’s immediate predecessor, Malam Shehu Ladan, it is believed, was removed because he was a foot-dragger.  Jonathan is said to have been unsatisfied with the pace at which Ladan was moving at interpreting government’s mission to prepare the NNPC for the planned restructuring of the oil industry through the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) waiting to be passed by the National Assembly.

An “authoritative voice” has been quoted as having said, “The president expected much from Ladan as there is no time to waste. State-owned oil companies in other parts of the world are making giant strides. NNPC cannot afford to be left behind.”


 The Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, has made statements and taken actions to highlight the mood of the Federal Government regarding oil sector reforms. She told staff of the NNPC in a town hall meeting not long after she took over the Petroleum Resources Ministry, that government is committed to aggressive implementation of the oil and gas sector reforms.

She said, “we have very limited time to cover all areas of priority and deliver results…Our focus is on short term goals that will have maximum positive impact on the economy and the lives of Nigerians. Therefore, we must work aggressively to deliver on our areas of priority.”

 When appointed on April 6, 2010, the immediate past GMD of the NNPC, Ladan, was expected to execute the Jonathan administration’s vision of transforming the NNPC into a big global player. Beginning work as the new GMD at the time, Ladan launched a four-point agenda which he said will help his administration ensure efficiency in the industry.

He said at his maiden interactive session with the management and staff of the corporation that he will work with passion to realise the aspirations of the Federal Government for the oil sector through ongoing reforms. Seeking to wake up the staff to the challenges, Ladan charged, “I urge you to give us your maximum cooperation. There is nowhere else to go other than the NNPC.”

How ironic that Ladan would leave the saddle so soon after gingering his staff to what he appeared to have seen as a long future ahead of him at the NNPC.

Two theories confound the public about Ladan’s exit from the NNPC. One is the fairly established perception that Jonathan showed him the way out because he was too slow on the mark. The other has it that he was removed so he could go to Kaduna for the office of the Deputy Governor vacated by Mr Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa who had been promoted to the state’s first office following the elevation of his boss, Arch Namadi Sambo to the office of the nation’s vice president.

Now, why would Jonathan not have removed Ladan in a more honourable way if he was merely being helped out of the corporation so that he could go to the more prestigious office of a state deputy governor? In any case, the new Kaduna State deputy governor in the person of Alhaji Murtar Ramalan Yeri, the state’s immediate past commissioner for Finance, was sworn in Friday, ending all the speculations that Ladan might get the office.


Ladan had become the NNPC GMD in April following the sack of his predecessor, Mohammed Sanusi Barkindo. Ladan who had been retired from the corporation a year earlier by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, was appointed the NNPC’s new helmsman by Goodluck Jonathan. Barkindo had been in the saddle as GMD for a year and three months, having been appointed on January 12, 2009.

By appointing Oniwon to head the NNPC two weeks ago, government had appointed three NNPC bosses in 17 months. Now, Oniwon has officially taken over as the helmsman at the NNPC headquarters in Abuja with the assurance that he would use his experience to impact on the oil and gas industry in Nigeria.

A posting on the NNPC website reports that speaking immediately after taking over from Ladan, Oniwon expressed readiness to ensure efficient distribution and supply of petroleum products across the country. He reportedly promised that his regime will make Nigerians enjoy the benefits of being an oil producing country.

Oniwon has 37 years experience to draw from in the task of navigating the NNPC’s usually volatile sea. He started work with the NNPC in 1977 and rose to become Head of Planning of the Warri Refinery and Petrochemicals Company 10 years later.

He became the Technical Assistant to the Group Executive Director (GED), Downstream, in 1988, and Head, Engineering and Technical Services Department (ETSD) of the Kaduna Refinery and Petrochemicals Company in 1991. That same year, Oniwon was made Head, New Business Development, Corporate Planning and Development Division; a post he held until his appointment as Head, ETSD at the Port Harcourt Refinery from 1993 to 1999.

Between 1999 and 2000, Oniwon was General Manager, Information System, Engineering and Technology Directorate; before moving on to work as Senior Technical Assistant to the GMD and General Manager (GM), Information Systems Department, at the GMD’s office.

Months afterwards, he was appointed the Managing Director of the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), a subsidiary of the NNPC. From there, he moved to the Eleme Petrochemicals Company Limited as Managing Director (MD) and was there from 2003 to 2009.

Shortly before his new appointment as GMD, Oniwon was the Group Executive Director (GED), Refining and Petro-chemicals, and the most senior group executive director (GED) in the NNPC.

Oniwon who is a fellow of the Nigerian Society of Chemical Engineers (FNSChE), holds a BSc (Hons) in Chemistry from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He also has a Diploma in Business Management from the Harvard University, United States and a Diploma in Petroleum Management from Oxford University, United Kingdom.


Oniwon’s appointment was announced through a directive by Jonathan to the Minister of Finance, Mr. Olusegun Aganga to have the NNPC probed. But what will the ordered probe achieve?

NNPC has been probed severally, mostly by the National Assembly, since 1999 when the current civilian administration came to be. To say that there have been probes or at least, a threat of it in every of the last 11 years is to state the fact modestly. All past GMDs and numerous government officials have recently been called to face the National Assembly over how they handled funds while in office.

The Federal Government instituted a probe into the NNPC in 2008 and placed embargo on the release of funds to the organisation. Odein Ajumogobia who was the Minister of State for Energy (Petroleum) at the time, said NNPC’s predicament arose from its not receiving subsidy payments over the years amounting to about N78 billion.

“The president simply sought independent verification of the amounts claimed by NNPC,” the minister explained.  

Exactly a year ago, the Federal Government said it was probing the NNPC over the subsidy it paid itself on refined petroleum products imported into the country. And now, the probe ordered by Mr President.

Curiously, none of the probes before now has produced any result that could show the fire in the smoke that has so often prompted the probes. People are in fact beginning to feel that the innumerable probes have only always become a payoff from individuals being probed into the pockets of those who have taken charge of the probes.


Oil was discovered in Nigeria in 1956 at Oloibiri in today’s Bayelsa State. The Shell-BP which was the sole concessionaire and made the discovery, brought on stream its first oil field in 1958. It was producing 5,100 barrels per day and made its first oil shipment from Nigeria that year. After 1960, exploration rights in onshore and offshore areas adjoining the Niger Delta were extended to other foreign companies.

Nigeria joined the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1971. In 1977, it established the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), a state-owned business concern from the beginning which is a major player in both the upstream and downstream oil sectors.  

NNPC has operational interests in exploration, refining, petrochemicals and products transportation and marketing. It constructed refineries in Warri, Kaduna and Port Harcourt within 11 years (between 1978 and 1989), and took over the 35,000-barrel Shell Refinery established in Port Harcourt in 1965.

In 1988, NNPC was commercialised into 12 strategic business units covering exploration and production, gas development, refining, distribution, petrochemicals, engineering, and commercial investments.

The subsidiary companies include: the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS), the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC), the Nigerian Gas Company (NGC), the Products and Pipelines Marketing Company (PPMC), and the Integrated Data Services Limited (IDSL).

Others are Nigerian LNG Limited (NLNG), the National Engineering and Technical Company Limited (NETCO), the Hydrocarbon Services Nigeria Limited (HYSON), the Warri Refinery and Petrochemical Co. Limited (WRPC), the Kaduna Refinery and Petrochemical Co. Limited (KRPC), the Port Harcourt Refining Co. Limited (PHRC), and the Eleme Petrochemicals Co. Limited (EPCL).

The industry is regulated by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), a section within the Ministry of Petroleum Resources which ensures compliance with industry regulations; processes, applications for licenses, leases and permits; as well as establishes and enforces environmental regulations.

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