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Arthur Mbanefo: A fulfilled life of service – Part 3


Arthur Mbanefo

Arthur Mbanefo

On the UAC Board – when Arthur Mbanefo – joined were Christopher Abebe, Ernest Shonekan, Silas Daniya, Alhaji Isa Kaita, Michael Omolayole, Louis Edet, and the former Inspector General of Police. It would seem that the British is still not ruling Nigeria!! They never left. My mother was right – she never believed the British would leave Nigeria. Chief Abebe is the mother of Stella Obasanjo, the powerful first lady from 1999 until her passing away.

The board had a former Inspector General of Police: In Isa Kaita you could hardly find a more distinguished Nigerian. Ernest Shonekan, who ended up being Head of State – albeit for a short time – all these people within one board. You had all the elements for the most powerful posts in Nigeria and all owed allegiance to the British!!

I have always been worried about people who do not have classmates. Arthur had many whom he named. He went to St Patrick College Calabar and his description of the school leaves no doubt that he was there. Many Nigerian politicians cannot name their classmates, or cannot even geographically locate the university they claim they went to.

All the details of his education are clearly mapped out including the games he played in Calabar and during his teaching stint at Christ the Kings College (CKC) in Onitsha. Perhaps INEC should ask Senators, Members of the House, Ministers to name their classmates. I believe more than half of them would not be there earning the ridiculous salaries they now do.

My mother was very fond of the Queen. She once asked me: “That man with the mark across his face cannot rule Nigeria.” God had sent us the Queen. What did she do to you people? You mean we won’t be singing “God Save the Queen” again? Na lie – whether we sing it or we do not, God has already saved and blessed her and she (Queen Elizabeth) is still alive but alas, my mother, her subject, is no more.

Arthur was a member of the Irikefe panel set up to investigate the apparent disappearance of US$2.8 billion in 1978. This was a result of an audit query raised by Coopers and Lybrants when auditing the accounts of NNPC. The panel found that General Buhari who was the then Minister of Petroleum had not diverted the money to his personal use, nor did NNPC have a secret account in Midland Bank to which the money was diverted.

Nigeria had joint venture agreements with International Oil Companies (IOCs), 51/49. There was an oil glut and apparently NNPC was unable to dispose of the 51% of the oil belonging to it. The IOCs easily sold their share. But they were also the contractual operators of NNPC, so they were supposed to produce the quantity due to NNPC, which they did and sold. But instead of returning the money to Nigeria, they claimed that Nigeria’s portion was deemed to still be underground. The Irikefe panel was able to burst this fiction through Arthur’s calculation – what does “deemed production” mean? To cut a long story, the IOCs were made to refund the US$2.8 billion being proceeds due to NNPC.

Furthermore, that panel was able to pin point all the accounts shortcomings of NNPC which made stealing huge sums of oil possible; it asked that a daily production schedule of oil be published, it recommended a system which had it been followed would have saved us from the problems still facing NNPC to-day. So Mr. Cameron, if Nigeria is “fantastically corrupt”, we are deemed to be so because we had excellent teachers from Britain and other Western nations.

Horatio Agedah was the Chairman of NNPC having been nominated by Governor Okilo. Following the US$2.8 billion scandal, the new Chairman wanted to reform NNPC. In the end, the firm of Booze Allen was chosen to reform NNPC. It recommended that the company be broken up into 15 companies, with standardised operating and accounting procedures, etc. Booze Allen needed a local consulting firm to help it navigate the alligator infested bureaucracy and the general opaqueness of the oil industry in Nigeria.

They chose Mbanefo Associates who worked closely with them for over a year, produced reports, which still remain valid to-day but are gathering dust in some NNPC store room. (How did Booze Allen come to Nigeria? One day I will tell the story).

Arthur has also looked at NEPA – most of the so-called IPP, Gencos, etc. programmes, which are to-day being implemented were suggested 35 years ago – the idea to break up NEPA into a generating company, a distribution company and a marketing company, were canvassed then. Efficiency is not magic: it is the application of appropriate methods to problems leading to solutions and synergies including maintenance capacity, increased productivity. Somehow a simple concept like this has eluded Nigeria despite the best efforts of Arthur and several others. We seem to prefer the dark arts to transparency.

To-day immediately appointments are announced the first reaction is to see if any appointee is from your state. If there is none, that list is automatically flawed.

Arthur was such an exceptional talent that he applied himself to various walks of life and disciplines without loss of concentration, ability and achieved great results. He is the only person I know who had been Pro-Chancellor of three universities successfully – he was first at the University of Lagos, then Obafemi Awolowo at Ile Ife and finally at Ahmadu Bello University.

He left his usual footprint of efficiency and achievement in all these institutions, riding the rough with the smooth, with equal equanimity and candour. Each university received the Mbanefo treatment of efficient administration, landmark buildings, legacy and amenities largely because of his personal access to the various Heads of State who appointed him.

Arthur was on the board of several banks and other financial institutions, for example, trying to save a comatose African Continental Bank and establishing the short-lived Orient Bank. He later joined the board of City Bank, whose principal share holder was his old friend and partner at Akintola Williams and Co.- Chief Charles Sankey.

In reading Arthur’s life of service, I now understand how the accountants seem to be inevitable fixtures in most of our largest companies. I had always thought of accountants as good but uninspiring even dull people, nitpickers and experts at sleight of hand tactics. But with Arthur and one or two other accountants you find knowledgeable observers who can be stubborn and strict and exceptionally brilliant with an incredible sense of humour.
• To be continued tomorrow
Dr Cole OFR, is a former Nigeria’s Ambassador to Brazil, among other diplomatic postings. He wrote this as a review of Ambassador Arthur Mbanefo’s book

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