For Dr. Kennie Obateru, the Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), September 24 this year is not only remarkable, but also special and historic. Besides being his yearly birthday, along with his equally erudite twin brother, Dr. Taye Obateru, a distinguished scholar and quintessential academia who lectures Mass Communication in the University of Jos, Plateau State, it is a milestone when he is retiring from the NNPC, having clocked the mandatory retirement age of 60 and has put in 29 years of hard work and consummate service in the corporation.
Indeed, there was hardly any doubt that Dr. Kennie Obateru assumed office as the NNPC’s spokesman at a tough, difficult and challenging time in March 2020, one and half years ago, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was a period when more than three quarters of the countries of the world, including Nigeria, were being ravaged by the coronavirus and were going into lockdown, particularly banning air travels, restricting domestic movements and traffic and steadily shutting down economic activities in order to turn the tide of the spiralling spread of the COVID-19 pandemic as there was then no vaccine yet for it. Obateru, however, is one who brings passion, excellence and diligence to the work of communications and public relations.
Under his new charge, the award-winning public relations professional, working with the staff under him, collaboratively continued to burnish and gleam NNPC’s new vision and the ideals of leadership of the Group Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Mallam Mele Kyari, to tell the corporation’s amazing story and create a truthful and dependable reputation with its large spectrum of publics, clarifying the issues around its activities within the Nigerian economy and the outside world in the convulsing and unsteady global oil sector.
A Fellow of both the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, NIPR, and the Institute of Management Consultants, Obateru remodelled communications and reputation strategies for the nation’s major revenue income-earner, building a high-responsive and effective two-way communications and public relations division, composed of highly resourceful staff members across a broad portfolio of communications units, including social media, web publishing, visual arts, internal communications, media relations and executive communications.
An alumnus of many prestigious institutions locally and overseas, including the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Lagos; University of Ilorin and University of Stirling, Scotland, United Kingdom, where he respectively obtained a Certificate in News Reporting, a B.A. (Hons) Performing Arts and M.Sc. in Public Relations, Obateru is also a member of the International Public Relations Association and senior member of the Africa Public Relations Association as well as a member of the Nigeria Institute of Management (NIM).
Specifically, he joined the NNPC in 1992 and held many important positions in the Public Affairs Division. Between 2008 and 2010, he was Manager, Public Affairs Department, Port Harcourt Refining Company (PHRC). Just before he was appointed Group General Manager, UK, a position prior to his appointment as NNPC’s spokesman, he was Manager, Public Affairs of the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS), a corporate service unit of the NNPC between 2010 and 2015.
Obateru was also Manager, Media Relations in the Group Public Affairs Division from 2007 to 2008; Deputy Manager, Media Relations in GPAD between 2006 and 2007; and team member in Project PACE-SMS, CP Core Process Teams between 2005 and 2006. From 2001 to 2005, he was Supervisor, Budget & Planning in GPAD, when also doubled as Supervisor, Audio Visual, between 2000 and 2001.
His journalist skills and expertise redound to his credit when he was appointed Editor, ‘NNPC News’, a monthly publication of the Group Public Affairs Division from 1998 to 2000. Between1993 and1998, Dr. Obateru served at least two Ministers of Petroleum Resources, as a Protocol and Consular Officer between 1992 and1993. He joined the doctoral club of eggheads in 2012 when he was awarded a Doctorate Degree in Management (Honoris Causa) by the Commonwealth University, Belize.
He also attended numerous professional courses and conferences at home and abroad, including three International Public Relations Association Conferences, five World Petroleum Congresses (WPCs) and 15 OPEC Ministerial Conferences, among others. The trajectory of Obateru’s life, work experience and excellent academic qualifications is enthralling and engaging. It is also distinguishing and distinctive. Added to his humility, patience and urbane character, he is a rare breed. And stakeholders from the oil and gas sector, including those who have had the opportunity of working with him in the NNPC attest to his excellent human relations and good character.
From interactions in the NNPC, staffers said it was usually difficult to always accept the reality of Obateru’s transfer from any unit, as it was the case in NAPIMSS when he was transferred to the UK from the unit in 2015. Also, across the media, the story is the same.
Mr Seyi Fasugba, a veteran journalist, who was Editor of Daily Champion and National Mirror, said he continues to celebrate a quintessential public relations and media manager, Dr Obateru. Mr Fasugba, who now publishes NewsreelDaily, an online newspaper, said: “Obateru is a man that history will not forget in a haste, given the way he succeeded in organising the relationship of the NNPC with the mainstream media. Where others before him failed, he made the difference going by the patronage a large number of media outfits benefitted from the goodwill of the oil corporation which others mismanaged in the past.
I cherished the arrangement due to the experience of the past where the person you know was the order in giving recognition to media patronage.” He added: “Before retiring from the service of the Corporation, you have laid a solid foundation for others to follow in sustaining the media relationship which the NNPC needs even now that it is being incorporated as contained in the PIA.
“At 60, I wish you better days ahead as you eat the fruits of your labour in good health, wishing you long life and prosperity from above. Congratulations.” Also, from personal experiences and on behalf of his childhood friends, a testimonial reads: “We are glad, happy that Kennie served Nigeria, your fatherland well. We still remember that day you came to Lagos, that you have been offered employment at NNPC.
Fashomi writes from Lagos