Monday’s response by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company to allegations of insubordination and contravention of extant laws made against its Group Managing Director, Dr Maikanti Baru, by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, should show Nigerians on whose side the pendulum of authority swings in the shameful public spat.
Given that both men had audiences at Nigeria’s presidential palace last week, one would expect that President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who, last week, met Kachikwu and Baru respectively, would have debriefed both parties, mediated as need be and appealed for a sense of calm to save the government from the disrepute that such an internal war brings on it.
That Baru would go on to issue that statement, is ample testimony to the fact that the fathers of the nation did not see any sense in settling this family disagreement within the home. It is also a pointer to the fact that they have taken sides in the matter.
Significantly, neither the Presidency nor the NNPC attempted to shroud the support for the NNPC’s position. In the opening of its statement on Monday, the NNPC had informed: “Following the publication of alleged lack of adherence to due process in the award of the NNPC contracts, the President ordered the Group Managing Director and Management of the NNPC to consider and respond expeditiously to the allegations.”
So, now, the President did not seek an in-house explanation, which would clear doubts that the minister of state may have and bring peace to this sector wherein any turbulence may reverberate negatively. But he allowed the NNPC to engage Kachikwu in the public space such that Nigerians are now easily split into two groups discussing the accusations and counter-accusations from two people called to serve at the pleasure of the President.
Perhaps, it would also have been easy to accept this as an innocuous response only meant to put the issues in proper perspective before the public, but for direct attempts made to impugn on the qualification of the minister to expect deference from the GMD. Hear this:
“It is important to note from the outset that the law and the rules do not require a review or discussion with the Minister of State or the NNPC Board on contractual matters. What is required is the processing and approval of contracts by the NNPC Tenders’ Board, the President in his executive capacity or as the Minister of Petroleum Resources, or the Federal Executive Council, as the case may be.”
The import of these few lines is that Kachikwu is just a busybody poking his nose into issues that are not his business!
Unfortunately, this may be correct. It is in fact something no one should have to remind the Minister of State of.
At a time, not too long ago, Kachikwu was the most powerful man in the oil and gas sector in Nigeria. He strolled into the President’s office at will and pronounced policy directions with enviable independence. From the professional point of view, it seems that a lot of people think he used the opportunity to the advantage of the country but then, Kachikwu had his time.
However, for reasons known to the President, Kachikwu was taken out of the NNPC and made junior minister. Now, in this new position, he is to assist a minister who is also President and Commander in Chief.
Although in addition to his ministerial status, he was made chairman of the NNPC Board, Kachikwu should have realised that he is merely a delegate of the President in that position. He would therefore have assumed too much to imagine that the donor of that power could not withdraw the same without notice. Especially here, in a country where the power of life and death resides with the President.
To make matters worse, this same board that the junior brags to chair has the compliment of a certain Mallam Abba Kyari, a man, believed to be one of the most powerful people in the country currently, one who is chief of staff to the President cum Minister of Petroleum Resources. Should the Minister of State not have seen that all he had was power without authority?
And I think this should really make us begin to question the value of ministers of state beyond satisfying the national hypocrisy surrounding the federal character issue. Nigerians will recall that the current Minister for Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo-Udoma, rejected an appointment as Minister of State by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999.
Udoma, then representing the Akwa Ibom South District at the Senate, had said that the minister of state portfolio was beneath him as a Senator and chosen to live out his tenure at the Senate.
In the current dispensation, the only visible Minister of State is perhaps Sirika Hadi, who had his job as Minister of State Aviation in the Ministry of Transportation cut out ab initio.
Unless roles are clearly spelt out as in the case of Hadi, a minister of state is susceptible to the manipulation of the senior minister and all forms of abuse and disrespect from agencies under the ministry.
These are facts that Kachikwu should have known, especially as his principal is one who has not hidden his interest in personally supervising Nigeria’s cash cow, the oil and gas industry. Unfortunately, the minister got plagued with that disease common to all men– inability to discern the time to stop dancing when the music has stopped.
Otherwise, on his announcement as the Minister of State, he should have seen the handwriting that he had been promoted out of relevance on the wall since he was removed from the NNPC and moved on to something more profitable for him.
I understand that line about people being committed to giving their best in the service of Nigeria and all, but is there really any semblance of sanity in this sector two years on?
Are the refineries now functional as we were promised? Has the era of subsidy regimes gone with the past as we were told it would? With all he said to the President in the letter that was systematically leaked last week, can we say that the accountability that Kachikwu promised to institute in the sector has become entrenched? What has the executive done about the all-important Petroleum Industry Bill so far?
If the minister cannot truly say that he has achieved any of these in a sustainable way until date, hanging on to that position where he has received so much disrespect from a statutory subordinate, where it has become Herculean for him to get the attention of the same President with whom he wined and dined a few months back, is ill-advised.
Men are ultimately defined by the choices that they make. In the extant circumstance, there are two clear choices before Kachikwu; one being quietly living by whatever comes or fails to come his way in his duty as minister of state and the other being, quitting the position to serve Nigeria in some other positions that are not necessarily governmental. Either way, the ball is in Kachikwu’s court and posterity is in the wings.