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Chief F. R. A. Marinho: A great boss and mentor

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One of the early pillars of the Nigerian Petroleum, Chief Festus Remilekun Ayodele Marinho, the first Managing Director of NNPC departed this mortal world on January 18, 2021. It was a great privilege for me to work with this patriotic technocrat, policymaker, highly disciplined and skilled engineer, a man of honour and integrity. He was absent at my interview for the job in the Nigerian National Oil Corporation (NNOC) in August 1972. The interview panel was headed by the erudite scholar, diplomat and top administrator who was the Super Permanent Secretary in the then Ministry of Mines and Power, Izoma P.C. Asiodu; with the acclaimed father of the Nigerian oil industry and international technocrat, Chief (Engr) M.O. Feyide, and the affable and unassuming petroleum and mining engineer, Odoliyi Lolomari. 

I took up the job in NNOC on October 2, 1972, and three months later was transferred to the then Ministry of Mines and Power for one year. Chief Marinho was hitherto the Deputy Director of Petroleum in the Ministry of Mines and Power but was via secondment appointed Manager, Exploration and Production Division early 1973 and also made the Chairman of the Management Committee of the Corporation reporting directly to the Chairman of the Board. As I returned to NNOC in January 1974, Chief Marinho invited me to his office for debriefing about my engagements in the Ministry, simply because my immediate Manager, Mr Wilson Uwamu, who hitherto was a top official in the Federal Ministry of Finance was also appointed Manager, Marketing Division at the same time with Chief Marinho seriously agitated to get me back to NNOC, ostensibly because he felt strongly that the strategic assignments I was given to do by Izoma Asiodu in the Ministry should have been part of his job. These assignments included amongst others, computing specific government revenue accruals and royalty attribution based on field locations as against concession areas in all the producing areas; review of the feasibility study by Arthur D Little Consultants for the establishment of three refineries in Nigeria; travelling to London to represent Nigeria at the first meeting of National Oil Companies of OPEC member countries; negotiation to purchase 60% equity for Nigerian government in Shell Oil Nigeria which became National Oil and Chemical Marketing Company (NOLCHEM) which in later years metamorphosed into CONOIL when the Federal Government divested its shares from the Company.

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After returning to NNOC, It wasn’t too long before I perceived that Chief Marinho was having some challenges and frustration with his Chairman and the Board, as quite some memos he often took to the Board did not get approved. I discretely passed to him a copy of the article I had just read in Harvard Business Review which explained the successful tactics of company CEOs consciously setting out to know their Boards, in terms of intimately feeling the pulse of their directors, seeking and incorporating their viewpoints in major memos and papers going to the Board. The directors who were thus privy to the memos beforehand would vigorously defend their viewpoints at the Board meetings to get such memos approved. I also introduced him to two directors I knew very closely, Prof Ojetunji Aboyade, my teacher and mentor at the University of Ibadan who was a close friend of the Chairman, and Alhaji Kaloma Ali, a well-respected lawyer and member of the Board.

With the change of tactics reflecting some of the above-mentioned ideas, Chief Marinho had some respite in his engagements with the Board. However, the irreconcilable differences about the vision, scope of operation, strategy, and policy direction for the Corporation created disagreement and crisis of confidence that eventually led to his being de-seconded back to the Ministry of Mine and Power in May 1975, along with the Marketing Manager who was on the same date transferred to the Ministry of Industries. Mr Ben Osuno hitherto Chief Geophysicist took over from Chief Marinho as acting Exploration and Production Manager while I took over from Mr Uwamu as acting Marketing Manager with effect from May 7, 1975. 

On July 29, 1975, there was a change of government with General Muritala Muhammed as the new Head of State, about a week thereafter, I was invited to high level debriefing session with the two principal members of the new regime and also, Chief Alison Ayida, the Secretary to the Government, and Chief S.B Awoniyi, who had just been appointed as the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources and Chairman of NNOC. At the end of the meeting, I was instructed that Chief Awoniyi would now be my new boss, to whom I should be reporting and that I should prepare a number of memos/reports on some industry issues and NNOC. Subsequently, Chief Marinho was appointed as the Director of Petroleum Resources. Even though I was reporting directly to NNOC Chairman, Chief S. B. Awoniyi, but with Chief Marinho performing the role of Chief technical adviser, I ensured that a copy of every memo or report submitted to the Chairman must go to Chief Marinho since Chief Awoniyi would routinely seek his comments or viewpoints. Invariably, Chief Marinho would make comments on such reports I issued out before passing it to the Minister and eventually taken to the Head of State. However, there was a little drama on one of such reports that drew me and Chief Marinho closer especially in terms of understanding and orientation. Chief Marinho made a two and a half page comments on a memo I submitted to the Chairman and I reacted to his comments with an eight-page rejoinder, which prompted Chief Awoniyi to intervene on the memo exchange. What a remarkable and exemplary gesture from a great leader in Chief Marinho who immediately called me to his office to express his apology and appreciation for my hard work and quality performance and that I must have completely misunderstood him. He went further to send a note to me with the same message. From that moment, Chief Marinho would always call me to his office to discuss issues while I, in turn, always sought his viewpoints during the preparation of memos and reports on major policy issues.

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When Mr S.B Awoniyi resumed in the Ministry of Petroleum as Permanent Secretary and with the appointment of Chief Marinho as Director of Petroleum, the duo took a critical review of NNOC situation in regard to the government decree establishing and setting out its functions as well as direction and performance over the five year period of its operation at the time. This was juxtaposed with the programme of the new government for the oil and gas industry. It was strongly felt that the objectives of meeting government aspirations for NNOC would only be achieved by harnessing the executive and technical manpower resources of both NNOC and Ministry of Petroleum. The two leaders came up with the novel idea of merging both the NNOC and Ministry into a single entity, to be staffed with focused, competent and resourceful personnel. This would also checkmate the conflicts and rivalries that were prevalent between the staff of NNOC and Ministry hitherto stunting the growth and development of the oil industry public sector.

Consequently, a couple of us in NNOC and the Ministry were instructed to collect necessary information and data for the merger exercise aimed at creating a viable national oil company for Nigeria. For example, I was mandated to collect information about the structure and operations of national oil companies in various OPEC member countries and their corresponding ministries. It was an open secret that a number of national oil companies of OPEC member countries such as Sonatrach of Algeria, NIOC of Iran, PSVDA of Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia Aramco were doing remarkably well. 
The memo for the formation of NNPC was completed late 1976 which was followed by intensive consultations and lobbying. Chief Marinho, working with S.B Awoniyi, a no mean wordsmith himself in preparing government policy and council memos/reports, was extremely pivotal in this exercise and practically put together all the materials based on his expertise, historical knowledge and experience about the operation of the industry. We were often amazed at his versatility and brilliance, an engineer handling legal, regulatory, fiscal and financial as well as technical matters like crossword puzzles with ease and dexterity borne out of his fountain and reservoir of knowledge and experience. His masterpiece autobiography, “NIGERIA’S PETROLEUM INDUSTRY: A MAVERICK PIONEER” provides comprehensive details of his contributions at all phases of Nigeria’s oil industry development. 

The final stage of the merger exercise was consultations with ministers and heads of government corporations. The idea of the merger, being a revolutionary and unorthodox arrangement in Nigeria provoked mixed reactions, and indeed some of the opponents of the idea strongly fought that the merger would not happen. The core of the arguments was that practically all parastatals in Nigeria were supervised by appropriate government ministries with Cabinet Ministers; they could therefore not imagine a foremost corporation responsible for the strategic Nigerian oil and gas resources would operate without a government supervising ministry that should normally formulate and implement policies and provide oversight functions for the corporation. The serving Minister, Colonel Muhammadu Buhari, vigorously engaged in networking with some of his military colleagues who were Commissioners (ministers); Chief S.B. Awoniyi, a very influential Super Permanent Secretary with a lot of clouts within the Northern establishment and his Yoruba extraction combined with Chief Marinho who, engaging the heads of parastatals, made the struggle to get the approval of the memo a very intensive test of will and battle of the titans. On my part, I encamped with Chief Mobolaji Ajose-Adeogun, who was the Commissioner (Minister) for Information, a former Manager in Shell Nigeria Limited. Comments flowed from various ministries and arguments with different shades of opinion and viewpoints. At the end of the campaign and struggle, the Memo was approved by the Council of Ministers; and viola! NNPC was born! A Petroleum Inspectorate was created as the Regulator for the industry which later transformed into Department of Petroleum Resources when Ministry of Petroleum Resources was again recreated.
The formation of NNPC was revolutionary with the struggle greatly imbued with the spirit of patriotism and desire for excellence. The single-minded consideration by the various protagonists was to establish a viable entity that would meet the aspirations and yearnings of Nigerians to develop and operate a high performing national oil company for the benefits of Nigerian people. Thus, Chief Marinho working with his administrative boss under the leadership of Honorable Minister, Colonel Muhammed Buhari, created an organisation with a lot of promise and opportunity to effectively develop, operate and manage Nigerian oil and gas resources. And thus was the origin of NNPC without a supervising ministry routinely and legally diving into policy making and implementation, as well as oil and gas operations. This structure was expected to be reviewed some years later after NNPC would have matured by way of developing both technical and executive manpower resources. With the mission of establishing NNPC on a solid foundation.

Chief F.R.A Marinho was appointed the first Managing Director of NNPC with effect from April 1977, while Chief S.B. Awoniyi retired from the Federal Civil Service in June 1977.

My relationship with Chief Marinho became stronger in 1977 when he became the Managing Director of NNPC during which I naturally moved into marketing function having been performing the role since May 1975. Working as Head of Crude Oil Marketing Department and given the strategic factor of government revenue yields made me to interact with him and the Minister almost on daily basis. With reports I prepared, we often went to see the Heads of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo to obtain his approval on these issues including policy guidelines on any forthcoming OPEC meetings. General Obasanjo would never give cheap approval without brainstorming and drilling you to confirm and verify the information provided with the memos and reports submitted to him. 

This process went on till the end of military administration that handed over power to Shagari Government on October 1, 1979, and we moved to work together with the civilian administration until the $2.8 billion oil money missing hoax which led to the compulsory leave for about 9 staff of NNPC. While 8 suspended staff were recalled on the day of final sitting of the Justice Irikefe Judicial Panel, Chief Marinho and Chief A.K. Hart, the Chairman of NNPC were not recalled. However, he was re-appointed as the Managing Director in January 1984 until he was finally disengaged with NNPC in 1985.
Finally, I hold this statement sacred: Chief Marinho was a man of courage, conviction and honor as well as defender of truth. He was seriously aggrieved about the false allegation made against me that he voluntarily requested to testify on oath at a military tribunal over a case I had been used a prosecution witness that I did not do anything wrong on my job and in the performance of my duties.

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In summary, it was a privilege for me to work with such an amazing boss and mentor, a man of honour and integrity. The core of my oil industry career and experience was garnered under the mentorship of Chief Marinho, apart from two other eminent public servants who immensely added value to my professional career, Izoma Philip Asiodu and Chief S. B Awoniyi. Chief Marinho was a thorough professional who demanded the best from those working for him almost in a manner of a perfectionist, a man who had no tolerance for mediocrity, tough and sometimes hard in the mode of a taskmaster, but would give all the encouragement to discharge your responsibilities. To work under such a man was a great honour and privilege and I could not have wished for my career journey under a different mentor. 

Chief Marinho visited me in my office some 10 years ago and brought one of his sons that he wanted me to mentor. I was indeed humbled by his request and a great honour for me to introduce him to some of my managers and engineers, who were incredibly excited when I gathered them to introduce my boss and mentor I talked so much about when counselling them that he worked me to be thorough almost to the point of a perfectionist, and the second boss after S.B Awoniyi that made me to work for an average of 15 to 18 hours everyday for many years, including a working lunch in his house on a Christmas day. It was a joyous occasion and many of my managers thanked him profusely for making me to be a good professional from whom they had been learning a lot in their career development especially with strict instruction or guidance to always pay attention to details. Some five years ago, He also brought his grandson to intern at my company’s Engineering Centre, and the young man reportedly had fulfilment and fun during his internship.
Nigeria should celebrate the life of this great man if we sincerely appreciate our heroes for the good works he did for this great country and the Nigerian oil and gas industry, while his legacy lives on.

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