The Wily old fox
1999, it was the dawn of a new democracy in Nigeria. General Olusegun Obasanjo is elected as the president of Nigeria. The President appointed ministers but retained direct control of the Oil Ministry. Rilwanu Lukman was appointed Special Adviser on Petroleum and Energy Matters to the President in June 1999.
In the search for a new Group Managing Director (GMD) for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) from the South to ‘balance’ the Geopolitical equilibrium, the President requested for five names from within NNPC to choose the next GMD. Names of the top five personnel of Southern origin were submitted to him based on length of time in service and position. What transpired afterwards is a legendary tale.
President Olusegun Obasanjo reportedly personally interviewed all five names on the shortlist, told them about his passion to turn NNPC around and at the end of each interview asked each of them a question “If not you, who else do you think within the system has the drive and capacity to fulfill the dream of turning the Corporation around”
They all mentioned, individually, who they had faith in to succeed with the President’s wishes for the Corporation. At the end of the interview, four of the participants had mentioned one person and his name wasn’t on the shortlist of the five names submitted to the president.
The name was Gaius Obaseki.
Without a doubt, Gaius Obaseki indeed started a transformational process in NNPC, he was dynamic, classy, a bit uncouth sometimes in his methods but change always comes at a price.
He had been the amongst the first twenty-five Graduate Trainees the then defunct National Oil Company (NOC), which transformed to NNPC had employed, all based on merit and all of them had excelled in the corporation. NNPC had not employed in over 10 years and there was a need to replenish the ranks as the older workforce were getting close to retirement.
He went to the President and pitched his strategy, knowing this would be of National interest. His plan was simple, employ 100 graduate trainees from all the Geopolitical zones of the country but purely on merit. Using his set as an example, his pitch was bought. The president told him that there would be pressure from prominent people and politicians from all over the country to get their ‘candidates’ employed.
The President reportedly sent for a big, brand new dust bin and gave it to the GMD saying “there are some people who will come to me for a note to you, people I cannot say no to, I will give them the note, but I am equally giving you this bin, when the note comes, put it in the trash, don’t read it, some names might intimidate you if you read it, trash it and leave me to deal with the backlash”.
The GMD contracted KPMG Consulting to carry out the recruitment process and advertisements were placed in National dailies.