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X-raying the “Noise” about NNPC’s Expat Recruitment: Much Ado About Nothing

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By James Olatunji Samuel

Of recent, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Ltd hired some foreign expatriates into its employ. In one of its communications on the issue, the NNPC said the decision was in furtherance of its ongoing repositioning drive towards enhanced growth, better performance and improved service delivery. The development, NNPC Ltd added in that statement, was in consonance with the company’s renewed aspirations as it consolidates on its journey towards becoming a fully commercial entity, as stipulated in the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) 2021.

Interestingly, the development, typical of any other issue in this country, was making the rounds in the news fora and online discussion circles, with almost every Nigerian having an opinion on the matter. But what exactly are the issues? What is all the fuss about? Put more succinctly, why did the NNPC Ltd decided to hire foreign nationals to head some of its critical business units? Who are these expatriates hired and more importantly, did the NNPC Ltd breach any rule for this action? These and many more posers will be answered in this piece.

Before anything, first things first. The coming of the PIA 2021 has empowered the NNPC Ltd to grow its business portfolio, increase its bottom-line and improve on its operational efficiency. This of course include upscaling skill sets and competences through hiring best-in-class personnel for the job. Moreso, for an organisation that is currently a limited liability company, certain decisions by the NNPC Ltd are now expected to be made purely for business reasons, which basically means the focus should be on improving the bottom-line.

Therefore, in line with the above reasons, NNPC Ltd hired three expatriates to head three of its core business entities. First to be employed was Huub Stokman, a Dutch national who was hired as the Managing Director of NNPC Retail Ltd, one of NNPC’s important downstream portfolios. Next to arrive at the NNPC Towers was Mr. Jean-Marc Cordier, a French/Swiss national who was employed as Head of NNPC Ltd’s trading arm, NNPC Trading Ltd. A few days later, Mr. Nicolas Foucart, a Belgian, was employed as the Chief Operating Officer of the NNPC Exploration & Production Company (NEPL) Ltd.

Now, let us answer the pertinent question: who are these expatriates and what are they bringing to the job? Managing Director, NNPC Retail Limited (NRL), Mr. Huub Stokman, is a 1989 Business Administration & Management graduate from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU Amsterdam). He also holds an International Executive Program (IEP) certificate in General International Management (1999) from the famous INSEAD Business School in France.

Stokman began his career at the BP Nederland BV in 1989, holding several sales management and change management roles at the company for twenty three years. He was at several BP locations in Germany, UK, Austria and Ukraine, where he served at various times as the Divisional Manager Bitumen, Central & Eastern Europe; Executive Assistant to the Chief Executive Refining & Marketing; Manager, Strategy, Business Development & Performance; Manager Retail Operations; Marketing Manager Convenience Retail Europe and Vice President Marketing & Board Member.

Between September 2014 – November 2017, Stokman served as General Manager, Puma Angola, overseeing the company’s retail forecourt operations, fuel wholesale, industrial customers, lubricants, bitumen and aviation business as well as fuel terminals and owned fuel distribution operations. In February 2018, Stokman joined the services of OVH Energy (an Oando Licensee), as its Chief Executive Officer where, for five years, he led the company’s downstream oil and gas activities in Nigeria, Togo and Ghana, spanning over 400 retail service stations and making it the third largest downstream company in Nigeria.

Mr. Stokman’s appointment in October 2022 came with a major significant milestone in the history of NNPC Ltd, as the National Oil Company acquired Oando’s OVH, taking over its downstream assets under the NNPC Ltd’s Accelerated Network Expansion (ANEX). The move saw the NNPC Ltd adding into its fold a reception jetty (ASPM) with 240,000MT monthly capacity, eight LPG Plants, three Lubes blending plants, three Aviation Depots, and 12 warehouses, to the existing NNPC downstream assets. The acquisition also brought over 380 additional filling stations under the NNPC Retail brand in Nigeria and Togo, bringing the national oil company’s outlets to 1,500 stations.

For Mr. Jean-Marc Cordier, he was hired as the Head, NNPC Trading Ltd. A renowned oil trader, Cordier’s appointment was more a less a huge coup by the NNPC Ltd. A French/Swiss national, Mr. Cordier holds a Masters degree in Corporate Finance with Distinction from Paris 9 University. He brings into the job thirty-plus years of experience in global oil markets across Asia and Europe. Notable among the roles he held prior to the NNPC appointment were a former Vice President of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), one of the leading oil giants in the world.

A renowned international oil trader, Cordier comes into the role with a rich background spanning over 30 years in physical oil, oil derivatives and risk management, with significant experience in reorganizing and creating a trading business. He spent 24 years with Elf Trading/Total Trading in various positions as Trader, Trading Desk Manager in Geneva and four years as the Global Trading Manager at Addax Energy in Geneva.

At the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) in Abu Dhabi, he served as Vice President Middle Distillates, Senior Vice President Risk Management, Senior team member in charge of building the Trading activity for ADNOC and the launch of ADNOC Global Trading (AGT) in December 2020.

For the NNPC Ltd, Mr. Cordier’s appointment will help towards achieving NNPC Trading Ltd’s strategic direction which hinges on optimizing crude trading and diversification of portfolio (products and NGLs); expanding local portfolio and penetrating international markets – Europe, Asia and Middle Asia as well as operating as a fully integrated international trading company with equity in at least one refinery and one blending plant in addition to strategic alliance with a storage facility. With Mr. Cordier’s plus three decade experience in building successful international oil trading businesses across various jurisdictions, this is achievable.

Mr. Nicolas Foucart was also hired as the COO NEPL Ltd. A Belgian national, Foucart is a 1993 graduate of Civil Engineering from the Universite Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and has a 1994 M.Sc. in Offshore Engineering from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Mr. Foucart also has an MBA in Global Energy from the University of Wawrick (2014). He began his career as a Project Engineer at the Spanish oil giant Repsol, working in the company’s productive assets and development projects in the Issaounne oilfield in Algeria. He has over 25 years of oil and gas industry experience at Repsol’s locations in Algeria, Spain, Bolivia, Venezuela and Colombia.

Between April 1997 to April 2013, Foucart rose through the ranks at Repsol working as Construction Manager, Asset Manager, Production Engineering Manager/HSE Coordinator, Project & Engineering Manager and Director. Between May 2013-October 2015, he was seconded by Repsol to Cardon IV in Venezuela where he was responsible for Phases 150 and 450 of the Development Project of the Offshore Perla Field.

Between November 2015 – September 2018, Foucart was back at Repsol, serving as the E & P Cost Efficiency Director and Programme Director for the company’s RISE (Resilience, Innovation, Sustainability & Engagement), a vehicle designed to support Repsol’s E & P in achieving its business objective. In October 2018, he was promoted to Chief Operations Officer at the Repsol Sinopec Resources UK Limited in Aberdeen, Scotland, UK, where he was accountable for safe and reliable operations of nine assets (1 FPSO, 7 fixed platforms and one onshore terminal).

Having performed exceptionally well in the COO role, he was in September 2022 promoted to the position of Chief Executive Officer of the same Repsol entity. As the CEO of Repsol Sinopec Resources UK Limited in Aberdeen, Scotland, UK, Foucart was instrumental to the improvement of the company’s operational performance in line with strategic objectives.

So, did NNPC breach any rule in hiring these expatriates? The answer is plain NO! NNPC Ltd is not breaching any law by employing expatriates into its services. As a National Oil Company, the NNPC Ltd, like any other multinational company operating in Nigeria has a duly approved expatriate quota from the Nigerian government for good reason. The Nigerian Local Content law is very clear on this issue. Multinational companies deal with business partners from different countries across the globe and to facilitate international business, there may be the need for services of non-indigenous manpower and expertise.

This is in addition to the fact that a truly commercial company is expected to be more concerned with recruiting the right skill sets and competences, without any recourse to trivialities of nationality or ethnicity. Moreso, the idea of employing foreign nationals aligns perfectly with injecting world-class technical expertise into a company that has over 99% of Nigerians as its staff. As long as the company has not exceeded its expatriate quota, it is well within its rights to recruit qualified personnel from wherever they may be found in the world.

Those who have chosen to get emotional over NNPC Ltd’s new hires should ask themselves this pertinent question: At what point did the Nigerian LNG started having a Nigerian as its Managing Director? Still, why is the telecom company MTN Nigeria headed by an expatriate? Instead of crying wolf where there is none, the naysayers will do well by helping the NNPC Ltd to operate as efficiently and as profitably as its global peers by doing the simplest of tasks: keeping quiet if they cannot clap.

James Olatunji Samuel, a Public Affairs commentator, wrote in from Lagos.

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