Nigerian state-run oil firm chief replaced: govt

Nigerian Minister of Petroleum Emmanuel Kachikwu, seen in June 2016, said he expects there to be zero oil proudction shutdowns in 2017 "as a result of militancy" (AFP Photo/Joe Klamar)

Abuja (AFP) - Nigeria's junior oil minister Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu has been replaced as head of the country's state-run oil firm, President Muhammadu Buhari announced on Monday.

Buhari said in a statement that Kachikwu would step down as group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) but continue as chairman.

The former oil executive was effectively in charge of the day to running of the NNPC and overseeing the key sector, in an arrangement that was viewed by some in the industry as a conflict of interest.

The new group managing director will be Maikanti Kacalla Baru, a 57-year-old trained engineer who had been NNPC group executive director of exploration and production.

Buhari, who appointed himself oil minister in November last year, also named a new board of directors, including his chief of staff Abba Kyari.

Kachikwu, 59, was only given the job in August last year as part of Buhari's efforts to overhaul the NNPC and tackle rampant corruption in the sector.

The Harvard-trained lawyer ordered a forensic audit of the company's accounts and publication of its oil receipts for the first time in a move to bring greater transparency and accountability.

Top management positions were trimmed and plans announced to split up the NNPC into 30 separate companies to boost efficiency.

Buhari, who took office in May last year, has pledged to recover what he said were "mind-boggling" sums of public money stolen by corrupt officials, including those at the NNPC.

In 2014, former central bank governor Lamido Sanusi accused the company of withholding some $20 billion in oil revenue, which led to his ouster.

OPEC-member Nigeria, which relies on oil sales for some 70 percent of government revenue, has been plunged into a financial crisis because of low global oil prices.

Militants have also stepped up attacks on installations in the oil-producing southern delta region, cutting production. The NNPC is one of the companies targeted.