One annoyingly difficult phenomenon to manage is public perception. Once formed, it will take extraordinary efforts to correct or amend. Consider the tag of corrupt entity eternally fixed on the national oil corporation, NNPC.
Can that label ever be changed? Can genuine efforts by a truly incorruptible chief executive induce the public to review the negative rating of the corporation? Perception managers are hard put to answer that question.
The interesting thing is that even officials in the corporation seem to be given up on this battle of perception. The negative reasoning is so overwhelming that there is the feeling of “Our conscience is clear” and so we are not bothered.
Something new is however emerging. There appears to be an institutional fight back of sort.
The focus seems to be not on denials and defence.It is more of actions and deeds. Maikanti Baru, the NNPC boss, earns accolades by his sincerity on the subsidy payments. Despite the political risks, he came clean.
He has demonstrated same candid viewpoints on excessive fuel imports, refinery politics, and pipeline developments among other critically explosive challenges plaguing the sector.
The oil sector guru does not double speak nor sugar coat his presentation like his predecessor.
In his dealings with stakeholders too, he attempts to always speak the truth to the discomfiture of the establishment.
The penchant to say the truth no matter how embarrassing is a new style never witnessed in the past.
Is this new level of frankness a gimmick or a cover to lure the public into a new sense of reality? Whatever it may be, that style represents a breath of fresh air.
It signifies an acceptance that the public actually wants to know the truth no matter how bitter. This may in turn over time positively attune public perception to the agency.
Certain developments also raised positive eyebrows. Internal management processes within the corporation appear to have been firmed up. Anti -corruption seems to have been raised to a new level.
It is no longer a mere slogan but an enforced mantra. Insiders constantly noted how difficult it is to get slush fund.
However, that does not mean things are changing. It does not mean the corporation is no longer the alleged headquarter of corruption, as many perceived.
It might indicate one reality though-a conscious attempt to demonstrate a new lease of transparency and accountability in the sector.
Yet, the citizens will for a long time remain skeptical.And this may be quite frustrating for a Chief Executive especially one who had suffered recently personal tragedies.
Baru has passed through hell and miraculously survived. That baptism probably deepens his style of truth and openness.
However, this is Nigeria where distrust of public officials is at all time high.Skepticism is now national anthem. In addition, the public may have strong justifications.
Is NNPC really changing for the better? Her management says yes. Just recently, the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Dr Baru was forced to express hint of such frustration.
He had to publicly affirm his readiness to prove to Nigerians that the Corporation is the most transparent organization in the country.
Baru said this at a stakeholders’ workshop on validation by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) in Abuja.
Represented at the event by the Group General Manager, Crude Oil Marketing Division of the NNPC, Mr. Mele Kyari, Baru noted that things had taken a turn for the better in the corporation under his purview.
According to Baru, “efforts are presently on to disabuse the mindset of Nigerians that wrong things are happening in the corporation.
“We have never had it so good in this country since the last two years. I mean in terms of transparency of our transactions, validation of our activities, the unfettered, unobstructed participation of the secretary to the government, who has never asked us to do anything different.
“Today, we need to get people out of the mindset that something wrong is happening in the NNPC. Nothing wrong is happening.
“We have passed that stage. We are now probably one of the most transparent companies in this country.
“We have seen a number of governments, worked with a number of them, but probably in the two years, we have not had the opportunity to put our cards on the table as we did in the last two years.”
He said the corporation was working in alignment with EITI objectives and opportunities.
“Most particularly, I am sure our colleagues in the NGOs would recognize today, that things are just different and together all of us will make our country greater and I believe this is the core objective of the EITI.
“I am assuring the EITI Board and all stakeholders that things are different,’’ he reiterated.
In his presentation entitled: “Deepening EITI Implementation in Nigeria’’, Kyari said since May 2015, steps the NNPC took to ensure transparency include the elimination of dual pricing for domestic crude allocation and the automation of its transactions.
“We have re-enforced auditing of our operations including third party and the direct sale of crude oil to refineries, reputable traders, upstream companies and Nigerian entities,” Kyari said.
More than anything else, it is actions and deeds rather than any advocacy that can speed up the correctional process.
The more open the management is to disclose critical information as it did on the subsidy figures, the more Nigerians will accept that truly things are changing in the top oil company.
Public perception can change especially when there is a consistency of movement on the path of reforms in close coordination with the extractive agency. Let Baru continues to speak up.
Soon Nigerian will review their stance and probably their perceptions.
…Ms Bolade Olawale is youth corps member serving with Abuja Chambers of Commerce and Industry