WHEN THE HEADLINES caught fire with news that four oil firms including the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) were planning to acquire a stake in Dangote refinery which goes into operation soon, many tongues started wagging. The interest of international companies is understandable, after all Dangote himself has interests in other countries. But a state-owned NNPC? Why would one of the cesspits of opaque oily deals and incompetence dole out public money to buy shares in a private company?
This question becomes more pertinent when you consider the fact that NNPC has failed to successfully run government-owned refineries in Nigeria. This country, which is Africa’s biggest crude oil exporter, imports virtually all of its fuel due to the moribund state of its refineries. It is the view of many analysts that NNPC’s reason for continued existence today is its continued monopoly of the importation of refined petroleum products. There is no greater scandal than the fact that NNPC imports what it is supposed to be producing, thereby picking the pockets of Nigerians through high prices.
Should any company that cares about its reputation be found in bed with NNPC which loses $340 million per month on PMS sales alone?
Dangote oil refinery, a 650,000 barrels per day (bpd) integrated refinery and petrochemical project, It is expected to be the world’s biggest single-train facility, upon completion. The US $12 billion project is expected to process a variety of light and medium grades of crude to produce Euro-V quality clean fuels including gasoline and diesel as well as jet fuel and polypropylene.
NNPC’s Chief Operating Officer, Refining and Petrochemicals, Mr Mustapha Yakubu, was reported as saying that discussions were already going on with the Dangote Group for the acquisition of the stake which, he said, would further ensure undisrupted product supply to Nigerians.
That disclosure riled Dr Uju Ogubunka, a former Executive Secretary of the Chartered Institute of Bankers who wondered how NNPC would give what it did not have: “NNPC has not adequately managed its own assets too well”, he said. “The four refineries under its supervision have not refined at an optimal capacity over a decade” he said, noting that most successful acquisitions were better perfected by private entities.
It is understandable if firms from Western and Middle-eastEast countries in their quest to secure crude supply agreements, seek to have 20% minority stake in the $19.5 billion Dangote refinery which is scheduled for mechanical completion in 2021 with commissioning by January next year. It is understood that Dangote Refinery has held talks with firms including Vitol(VITOLV.UL) and Trafigura (TRAFGF.UL) over the supply of crude and lifting of petroleum products for sale abroad.
If the disclosure of NNPC’s intention to buy into Dangote Refinery was but kite-flying by government officials to test the waters of public reaction, it is in the interest of the country and even Dangote himself that the kite be shot down quickly.
Anyone with a nodding knowledge of PR 101 will tell you that a continental can-do brand like Dangote should not be seen in partnership with a company that symbolises everything that is wrong with Nigeria. Because of NNPC and the corruption of subsequent governments, Nigerians are forced to wash their faces with spit even though they live beside the stream.
A brand that enjoys positive perception may shoot itself in the foot when it unwittingly sends negative or subliminal messages in terms of whose company it keeps. It is possible for a company which has not done anything wrong to be negatively perceived — the baggage of the people they’re associating with will drag them down.
Reputation is forever fragile. Experts have compared it to a deck of one trillion playing cards, some of which are meticulously positioned to form the base of a mighty pyramid. Just one costly mistake on your behalf (or a force from elsewhere), they say, can send the whole lot tumbling down (especially when social media plays such a huge role in our daily lives).
A cursory evaluation of what people are saying on social media shows that Dangote has to be wary of the political fallouts of this rumoured romance with NNPC. Whether rightly or wrongly, there are already a lot of people out there who consider Dangote the prime beneficiary of government policies and import duty exemptions. In my neck of the woods, when you’re suspected of being a thief, you must avoid carrying a baby goat under the pretext of dancing with it.
Allowing an underperforming public entity like NNPC to invest public money in an iconic project like Dangote Refinery is to force the new refinery to start on a dark note. Questions will be raised at the national assembly as to why a Dangote Republic is being created with public funds in the petroleum sector. More questions will follow on how many other Nigerian enterprises the government has bought shares in. Why, for instance, has the government not asked to buy 20% of Innoson Motors or Proforce Auto plant?
And those would be the least of the kind of questions that will be asked, aside from the combustible mix of ethnicity and religion, both of which fault-lines Dangote seems to have risen above, but which nonetheless come in handy as weapons of brand destruction.
There are many things to admire in Aliko Dangote and his group of companies. It will be sad if all the hard work put into building the Dangote brand over the years is allowed to be smeared by NNPC. Investing public money in private enterprise may be good in some instances but this is not one of them.
This kite ought not to fly. And if it attempts to, it should be shot down.
In reaction to the mass abduction of children from an Islamic school in Tegina, Niger State, Sheik Ahmad Gumi wants the federal government to employ some compliant bandits to fight hardened ones in order to bring banditry to an end.
We are all horrified by the sight of mere children, some as young as seven, under the guns of kidnappers, but what kind of desperation would make anyone think that one criminal can serve as a mercenary to destroy the satanic kingdom from which he rose? We might as well employ armed robbers to help us tackle armed robbery and employ Boko Haram to tackle Boko Haram. And also negotiate with ISWAP to help us defeat ISWAP.
“Government needs to be proactive with them. We have a lot of them that are ready to fight the bad ones. Use the bad to fight the ugly, and use the good to fight the bad ones when you’re done with the ugly. Look at Boko Haram, who finished Shekau? Was it not the splinter group? So, it is easy, says Gumi.
According to him, “All these agitations you see, if the government can do a splinter group and the splinter group is empowered, every man wants power and money, they will do your job. There are many ready to submit themselves. All the ones you see me meeting in the bush, they are all telling us, ‘we are ready,”
If the circumstances hadn’t been so tragic, Gumi’s suggestion would have elicited uproarious laughter from Badagry to Sokoto; from Maiduguri to Yenagoa. But this is a tragedy of unmitigated proportions and wooly reasoning can’t be deployed in pursuit of a solution.
Should we disband the armed forces, the police and secret security agencies so that we can hand over law enforcement to bandits?
Many people will interpret Gumi’s suggestion as a backdoor way of achieving his clamour that bandits be given amnesty and employed by the government. In my books, a bandit is a satanic phoenix that cyclically burns to death and is reborn from its own ashes. Nothing good can come out of collaborating with outlaws.
Perish the jejune thought!
- Wole Olaoye is a public relations practitioner and a public affairs commentator and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org