By Omoniyi Salaudeen and Onyedika Agbedo
The seeming tardiness by President Muhammadu Buhari in dealing with the raging feud between the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu and the Group Managing Director of NNPC, Dr. Maikanti Kacalla Baru, has elicited sharp reactions from a cross section of the Nigerian public. Concerned stakeholders, who spoke with Sunday Sun, alleged that the president encouraged impunity demonstrated by the NNPC boss by his refusal to take the necessary measures on the petition written by the minister since August 30, 2017 before the matter became a public concern.
Kachikwu had in the said letter accused Baru of awarding unapproved contracts valued at $25bn without due process. The National Chairman of the United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, in an interview with Sunday Sun, noted with dismay the slow response of President Buhari on a critical matter that borders on the economic fortune of the country. His words: “I must express disappointment that the President has not acted swiftly on the underhand game going on in the NNPC. It is also very disturbing that the minister of state for petroleum had to pass through some roadblocks before he could gain access to the president. That gives the whole world the real picture of how our government is being run. I don’t know of anywhere in the world where a minister will not have access to the president. This accounts for why governance is at a snail speed. And it has wide range implication on the investment possibility by foreigners in Nigeria. This is even considering the fact that the sector is critical to the survival of our country, especially at this period of economic recession.”
While urging Buhari to speak up, he noted that the matter had assumed ethnic dimension, adding that “there will be political consequences for all this things the president is doing by allowing some people to get away with acts of impunity.”
“We are waiting for the president to make a statement on the matter. Already, it is a major dent on the anti-corruption stance of the administration. Don’t forget that we still have the issue of alleged corruption levelled against the former Secretary to the Government of Federation as well as the DG of NIA, which is still lying there even after the report of investigation by the committee headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had been submitted. Up till now, the president has not deemed it necessary to issue a white paper on such a very serious issue of corruption,” Okorie lamented. According to him, the feud between the two dramatis personae has assumed ethnic dimension, a development, which could aggravate the ongoing agitations in the country. “The discerning Nigerians are shocked at the level of lopsidedness in the recent appointments in the NNPC. It is becoming clear now that the GMD of NNPC did what he did without reference to the minister or the board. The matter has assumed sectional interpretation and dimension. The impression the man has given by his attitude is that he has been by-passing the minister of state going directly to the president because he claimed that the president knew about what he did,” he declared. Also speaking on the matter, Niger Delta activist, Comrade Joseph Evah, told Sunday Sun that should Buhari fail to relieve the NNPC GMD of his duties, he would have confirmed to the world that he is truly being controlled by a cabal in the Presidency as alleged by his wife sometime ago.
He said: “Buhari’s wife talked about the existence of a cabal in the Presidency sometime ago. What Kachikwu said confirms that there is a cabal in the Presidency manipulating Buhari. How can the minister of state for petroleum be denied access to the president for that length of time?”
Evah, who is the Coordinator of Ijaw Monitoring Group (IMG), urged the president to immediately suspend Baru to preserve his integrity and keep the anti-corruption crusade on course.
“The issue now depends on Buhari. If he wants few people that did not campaign for him to hold him down and destroy his integrity and principles that is up to him. But his wife had warned him about these people before now and he needs to watch it. It is the same cabal that doesn’t want the report of the investigation into the allegation against the SGF to be made public.
“But I want to believe that they are using spiritual means on the president, because Nigerians know Buhari as someone who does not tolerate nonsense. If they are not manipulating the president spiritually, he is supposed to have suspended Baru by now.
We have also been told that Buhari’s Chief of Staff is a member of NNPC board. That alone shows that all is not well with the government and further confirms what Buhari’s wife said. “If Buhari fails to remove Baru from office, that means he has been spiritually caged. He must suspend Baru because that is the only alternative. If he does not suspend Baru and keeps him there and looks for another way to stop the problem between the minister and the NNPC GMD, the whole world would see that Buhari is worse than all other presidents in the history of this country.”
To a Lagos-based lawyer and activist, Mr. Ebun Adegboruwa, the Kachikwu-Baru face off is a proof that corruption is prevalent under the Buhari administration. He said: “The $25 billion contract scandal in NNPC has exposed this administration to ridicule. It has proved that indeed corruption is prevalent even under the Buhari administration. But more importantly, it has shown that there seems to be a selective war on opponents or those perceived to be the enemies of the government. I urge the president to walk his talk and personally pick up the case of the NNPC contract awards scandal.
Let it not be another committee matter like the case of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) that has been swept under the carpet. Let it not be treated as a family matter by the APC government. The president owes Nigerians a sacred responsibility to take action on the letter from the minister of state for petroleum and to show decisively that nobody is above the law. “I believe that the report coming from Kachikwu is a great indictment and since the facts have not been denied, the people who are culpable should be relieved of their offices and criminal prosecution commenced immediately. The facts of this case speak for themselves and there is no need for the government to be dribbling Nigerians by pretending to be doing another investigation when the person who should know has already spoken.”
Adegboruwa warned that “once the president is unable to handle this matter by ensuring that the people indicted are dealt with, it means that corruption has defeated his administration given the cases of the $43 million Ikoyigate and the allegation of corruption against the suspended SGF,” adding that “virtually all those who are in his government who have been alleged to be involved in corruption have so far escaped.”
He added: “Once, this case is swept under the carpet again, it means that corruption has defeated his government. All those people who are being tried in the courts now should be allowed to go home and those who have been convicted and sentenced should be released immediately so that we know that there is no need to be claiming to be fighting corruption.”
Adegboruwa noted that the only way to purge the NNPC of corruption is to pass the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).
“This administration should quickly pass the PIB bill and sign it into law. It is one of the promises of the Buhari government when they were campaigning. It is in their manifesto. It is totally a disservice to the people of Nigeria that for over two years since this government came into power, the PIB bill is still lying in the Senate. The passage of the PIB bill is the permanent solution to corruption in the oil sector and the government should do that immediately,” he added.
From all indications, the raging feud is a big headache for President Buhari, as the administration is now caught in the web of controversy as to who gave the order for the alleged $25 million contract. Although the President had a closed door meeting with both Kachikwu and Baru last Friday, there is public skepticism that the matter might be eventually swept under the carpet. And that will deal another blow to the anti-corruption war of the Buhari administration.