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This is a developing story, as we put it in this profession, or as Americans will put it, an active showdown between the Minister of State (Petroleum) and the Group Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the major parastatal under the minster’s supervision.
In short, respectively, Ibe Kachikwu versus Maikanti Baru. This story is capable of being stemmed or deteriorating and ending usually in a shock of sudden end or gradually receding into Nigeria’s notorious anti-climax in which nothing will happen to the combatants, should they be so described.
Ibe Kachikwu, as the supervising minister, had lodged a detailed/documented complaint with President of the Federal Republic and substantive oil minister, Muhammadu Buhari, on the junior minister’s alleged sidelining and insubordination by the NNPC Group Managing Director Maikanti Baru in all matters on high level appointments/promotions and award of contracts well exceeding 20 billion dollars (not naira).
Such well-documented complaint might be unusual within government circles. But the instant irritation was that a personal, even if official letter of complaint to Nigeria’s president got leaked to the media, thereby creating the impression of trying to force the recipient (Buhari) to act, one way or the other.
There could be only two suspect sources – the Minister himself, to alert Nigerias on his plight. But Ibe Kachikwu’s office instantly denied leaking the letter. The other suspect source could, therefore, be only those bent on doing Kachikwu in, to (understandably) irritate Buhari against his minister for talking to the public on internal disagreement within NNPC.
As legitimate as it might be for Kachikwu to complain about NNPC Group Managing Director, it was even worse, (according to his complaint), that the Minister was treated with contemptuous discourtesy of no response from the Group Managing Director of NNPC.
At the inception of Buhari’s administration in 2015, among the very early appointments was that of Ibe Kachikwu as NNPC Group Managing Director. The man was also on the ministerial list as junior to President Buhari himself in charge of oil ministry. It couldn’t have been rosier for Kachikwu. Then suddenly, Kachikwu was removed as GMD without any explanation to the nation. As government policy, appointment/promotion of high level officers at NNPC as well as contracts of amounts beyond a particular limit are mandatory for board approval. It will be to Kachikwu’s credit today if he followed that policy during his tenure. That is the only legitimate reason to justify his complaint that his successor should comply with that policy.
On the other hand, if that policy was not strictly adhered to during his tenure as Group Managing Director, Kachikwu has no basis to complain. The truth, however, is that there is no way an NNPC Group Managing Director could operate without the approval of substantive oil minister, who, in 2015 and now, is President Muhammadu Buhari.
When he was dropped as Group Managing Director of NNPC, could Kachikwu (even if unknown to him) have been stripped of supervisory power over NNPC? This is mere speculation. Otherwise, how could his successor have the guts to be finalising such high level posts and tens of billions of dollars contract without Kachikwu’s knowledge and involvement?
Compounding the situation was Kachikwu’s allegation that he was blocked from seeing President Buhari. Since when? Oil minister? No discussions on prices or increase or depletion in oil revenue? It is clear that the minister’s problem is more serious than he assesses. Oil minister is blocked from meeting the President and NNPC Group MD has easy access to obtain the President’s approval for top appointments/promotions and multi-billion contracts. In that case, a showdown even with the GMD is not advisable. Surely, something has gone wrong to empower the GMD (impliedly) against the Minister. What that is, only time can tell.
Yet another serious allegation from oil minister, Ibe Kachikwu: “Board members have singularly and collectively raised these issues to no avail.” In short, the Minister is not alone in criticising irregularities in administration at NNPC. How is Kachikwu sure that other NNPC board members will confirm his allegations? For credibility purposes, Kachikwu should have persuaded other NNPC board members to jointly endorse his petition to President Buhari, if it is mandatory for top NNPC decisions to be approved by, or transmitted to the minister. There are two oil ministers and GMD Maikanti Baru, in a clever administrative or indeed political brinkmanship, secured the favour of the senior minister, who is President Buhari. By the way, why are other board members not complaining? It, therefore, can only be hoped Kachikwu is supported by other board members in this crusade.
Again, it may also be disturbing that other heads of parastatals in the NNPC Group also followed the Group MD in treating him (minister) with contempt, on major decisions. Even then, the reality is that these heads of parastatals in NNPC have no option. In normal administration, the proper line of communication for such heads of parastatals (even if to the minister) is through the NNPC Group Managing Director. For example, these heads of parastatals cannot communicate directly with substantive oil minister, President Buhari, except through the NNPC Group Managing Director. The GMD is so designated (for any occupant of that office) to supervise not only NNPC but also all the parastatals.
On the other hand, Kachikwu’s petition is not entirely unwarranted to put on record that those decisions, appointments and contracts were taken without his knowledge or approval. As unpleasant as that might be for Ibe Kachikwu, he is offered consolation by William Shakespeare that “there is some soul of goodness in things evil, will men observingly distill them.” The NNPC is notorious for almost institutionalised post-tenure, probe of its officials, including ministers. Kachikwu’s tenure will not be an exception. In which case, his present plight will only make matters easy for him when the time comes.
Minister Kachikwu also denied accusation of being anti-North. He should not even have bothered his head about that. Such accusation is a mischievous routine employed by fellow-citizens for purposes of acquiring undeserved political, social, economic, administrative, even sporting advantage, embellished with disgusting desperation.
The worst victim at such accusation is President Buhari himself who is always accused of being either anti-South or anti-Christians. Depending on accidental place of birth, fellow citizens accuse one another of being anti-North, anti-Igbo or anti-Yoruba depending on their convenience.
On his part, the NNPC Group Managing Director, Maikanti Baru, should exhibit some tact and humility. As he was alleged to have claimed that he obtained President Buhari’s approval for all decisions he took at NNPC, Baru could still have, for good human relations, responded to some of the concern raised by Minister Ibe Kachikwu. Both can still be friends in the future.
Avoidable crocodile tears
For some unknown reasons, Patience, wife of former President Goodluck Jonathan, demanded to be treated as her husband treated Aisha, wife of President Muhammadu Buhari. There may not be a single Nigerian to recall how Jonathan purportedly treated Aisha, since the need never arose. Aisha was, at that time, the wife of a rival presidential candidate. To be fair to Aisha and Jonathan, both comported themselves with dignity.
There is, therefore, no doubt that Patience is still under the illusion of her days at Aso Rock. Those were the days of shameful unlady-like conduct. Not one First Lady before or after her ever went so low. Those were the days when microphone was snatched from a state governor at a public reception, followed by abuses. Those were the days when northerners, as a group, were insulted for allegedly breeding almajiris. The days when Nigerians were incited to stone rival politicians if ever they campaigned for votes. A period when a rival presidential candidate was described as brain-dead. Of course, all these were under the palpable ignorance of a First Lady enjoying the immunity of her husband. Whatever that immunity was, ended when President Jonathan lost the elections.
Disturbing revelations thereafter necessitated the trial of Nigerians found to have looted the treasury on such an unprecedented scale that even members of the past administration found unbelievable. The suspects had to be disgorged of the billions of naira of suspected proceeds of financial crimes.
Patience unnecessarily involved herself in avoidable controversy. When accused of heavy lodgment of millions of dollars and billions of naira in her accounts, Patience seemed to dare the authorities, specifically the EFCC, obviously under the illusion of enjoying an immunity, which never existed even when the husband was in office.
Patience Jonathan was advised in this column to pursue private dialogue to explain herself. She behaved as she did when her husband was in office.
In one case, directors of company entered a “no contest” plea and forfeited the company’s assets to Federal Government. Only for Patience Jonathan to chest out, claiming ownership of the company and the assets running into millions of dollars and naira. She made herself liable for explanation of how she came about all such assets within six years at Aso Rock or even before Aso Rock. That is due process of law and victimisation.
Other similar lodgments of money in number of bank accounts, if traced to or claimed by Patience Jonathan, also rendered her liable for interrogation, if not prosecution. The reality now dawns on her that she does not enjoy any prosecution.
Did (ex)President Jonathan discover such financial lodgments in Aisha Buhari’s account, even as wife of a presidential candidate?
Whoever reasoned cry of victimisation for Patience Jonathan to demand that President Buhari should treat her how Jonathan treated Buhari’s wife. Patience Jonathan was hosted by the House of Representatives, which looked into her petition against alleged harassment by EFCC. What was the outcome?
Nigerias know the major difference between Patience Jonathan and her successor. Patience Jonathan created her predicament. If she claimed ownership of suspected proceeds of financial crime, full explanation is needed.