Monday, May 24, 2010

Nigerian State Oil Company Defends Management Changes

By Dulue Mbachu

(Bloomberg) -- Nigeria’s state oil company said changes in its top management weren’t influenced by “ethnic or religious sentiments,” a day after a northern political group said President Goodluck Jonathan was favoring southerners.

Jonathan, a southerner, fired Shehu Ladan, a northern Muslim, as head of Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. on May 17, a little over five weeks after he was appointed, and replaced him with southerner Austen Oniwon. Ladan had taken the place of another northerner, Mohammed Barkindo, whom Jonathan dismissed.

“It is a known fact that the industry is undergoing reform,” NNPC spokesman Levi Ajuonuma said today in an e-mailed statement. “This presupposes that changes can be made at anytime along the process” if they are “in the best interest of the industry and Nigeria.”

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with more than 140 million people, is almost evenly split between a mainly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south. Jonathan, a Christian native of the oil-rich Niger River delta, succeeded northern Muslim Umaru Yar’Adua as president on his death on May 5.

NNPC holds an average 59 percent stake in five energy joint ventures that pump most of the country’s oil and gas. The ventures are operated by Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., Total SA and Eni SpA.

As acting president while Yar’Adua was bed-ridden, Jonathan removed northerner Rilwanu Lukman as energy minister and replaced him with Diezani Allison-Madueke, who is also from the delta.

The Northern Elders’ Assembly, a group of political leaders, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday that Jonathan favored the delta region in his recent appointments in NNPC and the Petroleum Ministry, to the detriment of the north.

Ima Niboro, a spokesman for Jonathan, didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone today for comment.

Armed attacks on oil facilities in the Niger delta by militant groups demanding more local control of the region’s wealth cut Nigeria’s output between 2006 and 2009 by more than 28 percent, according to Bloomberg data.

The intensity of attacks has declined since thousands of militants disarmed under a government amnesty last year, allowing crude output to rebound.

Nigeria’s oil production rose to more than 2 million barrels a day last month from 1.75 million barrels a day in July, according to Bloomberg data.

--Editors: Karl Maier, Bruce Stanley

To contact the reporter on this story: Dulue Mbachu in Lagos at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Voss at

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