I have been genuinely troubled lately by the turn of events in this current political dispensation; especially as regards the recent fracas between Ibe Kachikwu, minister of state for petroleum, and Maikanti Baru, group managing director of the NNPC.
Recently, Kachikwu accused Baru of handing out contracts amounting to the tune of $25 billion, without recourse to the NNPC board which he (Kachikwu) chairs. Kachikwu also accused the NNPC GMD of gross insubordination in the discharge of his duties; and of basically humiliating him, in his capacity as minister.
According to Kachikwu, the law stipulates that all contracts exceeding $20 million should be brought to the NNPC board (which he chairs), for authorization and permission to proceed.
After much outrage from various Nigerians over Kachikwu’s leaked memo to President Muhammadu Buhari over the matter, the president reportedly saw both men, and asked Baru to respond to the allegations leveled against him.
In response, Baru gave reasons why he was not mandated to report about the multi-billion-dollar contracts to the NNPC board which is headed by Kachikwu. In his released statement, Baru stated: “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 Minister of Petroleum, or the Federal Executive Council, as the case may be.
“There are therefore situations where all that is required is the approval of the NNPC Tenders Board while, in other cases, based on the threshold, the award must be submitted for presidential approval.
Likewise, in some instances, it is FEC approval that is required.” This now begs the question – what exactly is Ibe Kachikwu’s role in the Buhari administration and in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources specifically, if he has no oversight duties over situations like this?
If Maikanti Baru is allowed – by law – to overlook Kachikwu (the minister of state for petroleum resources) and report directly to Buhari (the substantive minister of petroleum resources), then what exactly is Kachikwu’s role in the ministry?
A recently released report from a major publication further alleged that Baru had been instructed by VP Yemi Osinbajo (who was acting in Buhari’s stead while the president was receiving treatment in London), to go to the minister of state (Kachikwu), for approval for personnel changes. According to the report, Baru allegedly refused; and waited until Buhari returned from London, to seek approval for the changes.
Why would the NNPC GMD refuse to receive permission from the minister of state for petroleum, to effect personnel changes in the national oil corporation? Let’s go back to the beginning. A lot of eyebrows were raised when the president suddenly removed Kachikwu as NNPC GMD and installed Baru in his place.
Even though Kachikwu was made the chairman of the NNPC board, it did not help assuage fears that Buhari was ‘consolidating the position of the North in the federal government’, while sidelining the southeast and southsouth. It did not help matters also, that Buhari made himself the substantive Minister of Petroleum Resources!
Now, while it is quite astounding that Baru would basically side-step Kachikwu’s office and position and report directly to the president who for all intents and purposes does not have the time and attention to focus on the Ministry of Petroleum on a day-to-day basis, it seems like the president’s decisions were what created the atmosphere for this blatant insubordination and disrespect. But this ought not to be so.
It ought not to be so because it is actually Kachikwu, who is hands-on with the ministry on a daily basis. While Ibe kachikwu has only one task- to focus on petroleum matters- Buhari is saddled with the responsibility of running the nation…this means that the president’s attention is divided between so many issues on a daily basis.
So, I ask again, if Ibe Kachikwu cannot exercise authority over Maikanti Baru’s office in certain situations, then what is he good for, as Minister of State for Petroleum?
This brings me to the heart of the matter – did the president deliberately set Kachikwu up for humiliation and/or failure? Is Buhari in cahoots with Maikanti Baru and the northern oligarchy, as so many people are starting to believe?
It has not helped matters any further that recently, the president of the World Bank revealed that Buhari had asked him to focus the bank’s developmental efforts on the North. Is there really an orchestrated plot to keep the southeast and southsouth away from the inner chambers of power?
Or is Muhammadu Buhari really unaware of the implications of certain questionable actions that he has taken as president? To be more forward, has the president become a ‘stooge’ for the cabal as is being widely reported?
What exactly is happening in Aso Rock? Time would not permit me to go into more detail about the allegations of corruption which have been leveled against certain members of the Buhari inner circle- including the ‘Babachir Lawal grass-cutting scandal’ and the ‘Abba Kyari MTN bribery scandal’- and how we are yet to have a conclusive verdict on those matters till date.
But with this added Baru-scandal, it is clear that if the president does not put his house in order immediately; his reputation would be tainted completely! So where does Buhari go from here?
Personally, I think Muhammadu Buhari is a man of sound character; but if the president is really the leader of ‘all’ Nigerians (as he says he is) and biased in favor of ‘none’, then this would be the right time to take appropriate action. Ibe Kachikwu’s allegations against Baru should not be swept under the carpet.
Even though both men appeared smiling together at the Economic Summit recently to give an impression of normalcy, we know all is not well! Whether or not Kachikwu’s allegations eventually prove to be true, the president has a duty to order an in-depth investigation into the matter and get to the root of things.
Muhammadu Buhari needs to start acting like the leader of ‘all’ Nigerians! And while he is at it, the president should ensure that an honorable minister is allowed to carry out his duties effectively, and not undermined and humiliated by another public official, who ought to be his subordinate!
This opinion piece was written by Buchi Obichie.
Editors’ note: The writer, Buchi Obichie, questions Buhari’s motives for replacing Ibe Kachikwu with Maikanti Baru as NNPC GMD; especially in light of the recent allegations of corruption and insubordination leveled by Kachikwu against Baru. She urges the president to take immediate action to show that he is not biased in favor of the north, and in order for his reputation not to be tainted completely.