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Baru: The Life & Times of a Peaceful, Inspiring and Dedicated Oil Technocrat

-By Musa Bashir Usman

On the night of Friday, May 29, Maikanti Baru, former group managing director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), drew his last breath after a brief battle with illness.

I, like many others, received the shocking news around 6am Saturday morning from a friend. thereafter, my phone was besieged with messages by friends who normally contact me for any oil and gas related enquiries. First, I checked the twitter timeline of the current GMD, Mallam Mele K. Kyari, which confirmed my fears. considering the sophistication of the merchants of fake news who in recent times can clone peoples’ social media platforms and use it to disseminate fake news, I later placed a call to some close aides of the former GMD just to be sure.
The raft of condolences that poured in following his passing summed up the personality of the late Baru as a peaceful, brilliant, observant, inspiring, compassionate, dedicated and a gentleman of all times.

President Muhammadu Buhari who was among early mourners expressed his condolence over the death of the erstwhile NNPC GMD.

In his own tribute, Mele Kyari, current NNPC GMD described Baru as a mentor who “was of exemplary character and disposition.”

The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva described the news of the demise of Dr. Baru, as sad and shocking.

Sylva, in a statement while sympathising with the family and friends described the former GMD, as a dedicated technocrat who would be greatly missed by the oil and gas community and the nation at large.
Also, the former Minister of State for Petroleum Resources Dr. Ibe Kachikwu described him as a gentleman. Dr Fahad Taffaq UAE Ambassador to Nigeria said the death was a huge loss to Nigeria.

The Bauchi State Governor Bala Mohammed who expressed shock, described his death as a great loss not only to the people of Bauchi State and Nigeria, but to the whole world at large.

In his tribute the Managing Director of NNPC Pension Fund Limited B.M Isah, said that Baru demonstrated a true definition of good leadership which a lot of his subordinates who were privileged to work closely with him believed is an impracticable theory.

According to him, Baru’s achievements as a person and GMD were so enormous and obvious nationally and beyond.

He added that Baru’s tenure as the GMD brought some pragmatic reforms in the pension scheme amongst other things; closing of lingering funding deficit since the inception of the Scheme to a surplus status.

Baru’s Last Days at the NNPC
Born July 1959 in Misau, Bauchi state, Dr. Maikanti K Baru was appointed the 18th Group Managing Director of the NNPC by President Muhammad Buhari on July 4 2016.

After serving in office for 1000days approximately, on July 8, 2019, Baru bowed out in a colourful event that was never seen in the history of the corporation.
Late Maikanti Baru was said to be instrumental in leading reforms that helped the oil sector in Nigeria become more viable, particularly ending long queues associated with fuel scarcity in the country.

Tracking Dr. Baru’s footprints in oil and gas is made easy by his numerous achievements. Baru once attributed the successes to his engineering background, a discipline, which according to him, wholesomely prepared him for the great task ahead.

A few days after he assumed duty, Baru launched his Corporate Vision of 12 Business Focus Areas (12 BUFA), detailing initiatives that would put NNPC on the enviable path of growth and profitability.
In the three years at the helm, the implementation of some of the initiatives led to, amongst others, the restoration of Nigeria’s national oil production from 1.3million barrels of oil per day (1.3mbopd) to 2.2 mbopd by end of 2016.

Similarly, Nigeria’s crude oil reserves rose to 32billion barrels, with a target of 40 billion barrels. The Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC), NNPC’s major upstream arm, was refocused and rejuvenated towards achieving 500,000 barrels per day oil production and 1.5 billion standard cubic feet (scfd) gas production by 2020.

During Baru’s tenure, outstanding Joint Venture (JV) Cash Call Arrears were renegotiated leading to repayment agreements with JV partners. The successful execution of that strategy ensured the restoration of confidence, as well as spurring spending to increase production and reserves. It also impacted positively on the upstream unit cost of production, reducing it from $27 per barrel to $22 per barrel.

Baru’s tenure also saw the optimization of existing oil and gas infrastructure such as depots, jetties, etc, across the length and breadth of the country, which has ensured stability of products supply and distribution nationwide.

NNPC also made vigorous efforts at frontier exploration.With support from the Federal Government, the NNPC under Baru recorded successes in oil search, particularly, at the Kolmani River-II Well in Bauchi and Gombe States end of the Benue Trough.

His tenure also witnessed an enduring industrial harmony, applauded by the workers unions.

At a valedictory session organised for him, he spoke of his high hopes for the NNPC and appreciated all those who supported him during his nearly 1,000 days in office.
From his speech at the event, it was evident Baru was fully in charge during his tenure; he knew everybody by name. Like a true leader, he was full of praise for his men for their effort in changing the fortunes of the NNPC; he didn’t ascribe the glory to himself.

As he went down memory lane on his exploits in NNPC and the challenges of choosing his successor, Baru went emotional.

“Every good parent wants to see his children be better than him; I can’t be better than you. The success of turning around the fortunes of NNPC is success for all of us. Our in-house union, the PENGASSAN, I cannot thank you enough. I will always be proud of your support, especially the mutually beneficial engagements that we had across dialogue tables.”

To President Muhammadu Buhari, he said, “I thank Mr. President for giving us the opportunity to serve this great country Nigeria. He trusted our judgment and supported us with the resources and policy directions that have manifested in the quantum accomplishment that have characterised our tenure of 1099 days. Thank you Your Excellency; I cannot thank you enough.”

To the management team and staff of NNPC, he said, “Today is the perfect time for me to say goodbye and take my leave, as I watch and count the successes the corporation will be recording in years to come,” he said amid resounding applause.
In his tribute to Baru at the event, pioneer NNPC GMD Chief R. A Marinho, said, “This for me has been an occasion that has actually brought tears to my eyes, tears of joy. After over 40 years, we are having this first and unique occasion of this kind. A total of 16 GMDs have come and gone and there was no occasion to have this kind of thing for them. Not because of any wrongdoing on their part, but simply because of the kind of situation we have in Nigeria. We have the leadership where if you cannot add value to anything that is put in charge of, you then turn and add value to yourself; this is what the situation has been,” the elder statesman noted.
Turning to Baru, he said, “When I was invited to this occasion, I knew it was going to be a grand one and I was thinking to myself, ‘what would I say?’ Few days ago, I read something in the newspapers, which was a tribute of the Speaker of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila to Baru. I thought all I needed is to say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I concur with all that he said.”
He continued: “But I think Baru is more than that. We’ve had in recent times encomiums from different places, both local and international; I think he has earned every word of that. But for the fact that old age has made me lose my grasp of English grammar, the words I would have used for Baru, you would have had to use your dictionaries. Maikanti baru, God bless,” he concluded.

It takes time to understand why certain things happened in life. When Baru brought together many personalities from all works of life including about 85per cent of all the living former GMDs of the NNPC, to that eventful valedictory ceremony, little did we know that he was bidding us farewell.

Indeed life is like a shade of a tree, it appears and disappears. Maikanti K. Baru’s life did appear, and many people, including the nation and his state, did benefit from it. Today it has disappeared, and even though he is no more, his good work will always be in our heart. May his soul rest in Aljannah.