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Reported ‘sin,’ Kachikwu, Baru and Buhari

Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, stirred the hornet’s nest on August 30, 2017 when he wrote a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari complaining about what he considered a dangerous development at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). In the letter, which was a complaint, in the main, he accused the Group Managing Director (GMD) of the NNPC, Dr. Maikanti Baru, of gross insubordination, award of contract amounting to $26 billion without seeking or getting the approval of the NNPC board, reorganisation of the NNPC, leading to top-level promotions, and taking actions endangering earlier reforms in the corporation, among others.

The minister said his attempts to stop the trend at the NNPC were rebuffed, to the extent that a written request to the GMD for an explanation was ignored. His letter was the cry of what could pass for a frustrated “boss,” who suddenly discovered that he could not discipline a perceived “subordinate.” Therefore, he wanted the intervention of Buhari, who, apart from being the chief executive of the Federal Government, as president, is also the Minister of Petroleum who calls the shots, as it were, at the NNPC and the Ministry of Petroleum, in the real sense of it.

More than one month after Kachikwu wrote and submitted his audacious letter to the Presidency, its content leaked to the public and, thereby, making the issue a topic for national discourse. It is difficult to know who has been blamed for the leaked letter, between Kachikwu and the Office of the Chief of Staff, which received it. However, what is true is that this is the second time a letter to President Buhari has been leaked. The first was the letter Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, wrote complaining about the performance of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Federal Government and the conduct of those around the president. Governor El-Rufai also denied leaking the letter. Now, Kachikwu’s letter has leaked and the Ministry of Petroleum absolved him of blame. 

From these, there is a pattern. It appears letters to President Buhari are deliberately leaked to the public. It is possible that those who leak the letters do so because they fear that their correspondences do not get to President Buhari or that the president does not take actions on complaints brought before him. It is also possible that the letters are leaked because those around President Buhari want to incriminate the writers and paint them black before President Buhari. Whatever is the case, the Presidency should closely examine the activities of those who handle the correspondences of President Buhari

It is good that Kachikwu had the courage to write the president, as there are many who would keep quiet and behave like the proverbial elder who stays at home and the goat delivers in tethers. It is good also that President Buhari met with the minister for a face-to-face discussion on the matter. Good also is the fact that the Presidency met with Baru, who has also, through the NNPC, defended himself. Yes, NNPC, in defending Baru, had faulted Kachikwu, saying the minister got it all wrong. The NNPC had said Baru did not need approval from Kachikwu or the NNPC board for the things he did. As far as the NNPC was concerned, Baru did his job according to the provisions of the law. And the GMD boasted that having headed the anti-corruption unit in the NNPC, he could not have broken the law, as he knows them well enough.

Now Kachikwu believes he has been wronged. Baru, on his part, also believes he has done no wrong. But between the two, one is wrong. Who is it? In any case, what does President Buhari or the Presidency think? Nigerians must know the mind of President Buhari, as a person or the Presidency, as institution of government, on the matter. If Kachikwu is crying wolf where there is none, Nigerians should be told. If he is right that Baru, in not seeking his approval or/and that of the NNPC board, in some of the things he did, Nigerians should also be told. Such clarification would put the matter to rest. At least, it would help Kachikwu know the powers he has or don’t have. There are insinuations that Baru got his approvals from President Buhari.If this is the case, it, therefore ,means one thing: Kachikwu has been made a figurehead. I must say that if a First Class brain like Kachikwu, a former top executive of Mobil, who resigned on merit, could be rendered redundant, more or less, in government, then there is something wrong with us. It is even most ridiculous that there is a controversy over Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s role or otherwise. His aide earlier said he approved the contracts, but he said he only okayed NNPC loan. What a government!

Indeed, the Kachikwu/Baru face-off has brought to the fore the shortcomings in the arrangement whereby a president would also “function” as minister of Petroleum, while appointing a Minister of State for Petroleum. What is the function of the Minister of Petroleum? What are the functions of the Minister of State for Petroleum? Spelling out these has become necessary to solve the puzzle in the Ministry of Petroleum. In other ministries, where there are ministers and ministers of state, there is an attempt for delineation of functions. In the Ministries of Education, Labour & Employment, Transportation as well as Power, Works & Housing, among others, where there are ministers and ministers of state, each knows the areas to handle, even if there is still power play. Such explanation of power/functions should be done in the Ministry of Petroleum. Until this is done, if the head of NNPC deals directly with the President, who is the Minister of Petroleum, Kachikwu should take his fate. It should dawn on him that he has been made a minister without power, who would only attend functions, at home or abroad, and speak all “the grammar” in the world, while top decisions are taken behind him. If this is clear to him and he continues to occupy his office, he should not cry for whatever “humiliation” therein. If he has reservations for this, he should take a walk.

However, the Presidency should not sweep Kachikwu’s complaints under the carpet. It should address them. And Nigerians should see that the complaints have been addressed.  It will definitely be too bad if nothing is said or done, while speculations continue. At present, the Secretary to the Government of the Federal (SGF), Mr. Babachir Lawal, who was accused of a wrongdoing in award of contracts for cutting of grasses at Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps, has been investigated and report submitted to President Buhari. Director General of the Nigerian Intelligence Agency (NIA), Mr. Ayo Oke, has also been investigated over discovery of millions of money in a flat at Ikoyi, Lagos and report submitted. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who headed the presidential investigative panel, in submitting the report, stated that President Buhari would take the final decision on the two government officials. Many weeks after he received the report, President Buhari has said nothing. He has also done nothing.

Technically, the two officials are still SGF and NIA DG, who are on suspension, as their function are done by people in acting capacity. Nigerians expect the final word on them. Also, Nigerians are eagerly waiting for the government to make a declaration on the Kachikwu/Baru saga. It is only when this is done that the government would prove that it is capable of addressing malfeasances within.

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