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N9 Trillion: Contract by another name? by Josef Omorotionwan 

Josef Omorotionwan
T
HIS is a world of seemingly unending creations: God made man; man made money; and money made man mad. We have since stopped being amazed when Nigerian Officials engage in semantics and create schisms between terms that are ordinarily mutually inclusive.

KACHIKWU and BARU

Suddenly, our immediate-past President, Goodluck Jonathan, took everyone on a folic and a merry-go-round when he struggled to justify that stealing was not corruption.

The bottom-line still remains, would a man rather prefer to be called a thief than a corrupt man?

Lately, officials intent on privatisation or the sale of government property have coined up a more elegant phraseology – “concessioning”.

Today, a crisis of confidence has erupted between the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu and the Group Managing Director, GMD, of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Dr. Maikanti  Baru.

The Minister says the GMD has awarded $25 billion contracts, which by today’s exchange rate of N360 to the Dollar amount to N9 Trillion, or in more realistic terms, more than four years implementable budget of the Federal Government, without consulting his office or the NNPC Board of which the Minister is also Chairman.

Kachikwu accuses Baru of insubordination, lack of adherence to due process; running a “bravado management style”, and sidelining him on major decisions and appointments.

Kachikwu’s complaints were encapsulated in a protest memo dated August 30, 2017 to President Muhammadu Buhari.

Baru’s arguments cannot fly. First, he claims that the contracts were not contracts but mere short-listing of those to lift and supply petroleum products. This argument fails to capture the real essence of a contract as an agreement between two or more parties; and more so, the barrels of crude oil have measurable value in monetary terms.

Whereas the NNPC Act requires that “All contracts above $20 million would need to be reviewed and approved by the Board of the NNPC,” Baru chose to make his tender’s board the approving authority, thus enthroning himself as the owner of the entire process as he appoints members of the tender’s board; and they are answerable and loyal only to him. For want of a better name, we shall, for now, refer to what happened in the NNPC as deals.

Baru claims he could only deal with the Minister of Petroleum Resources, not the Minister of State; and that, indeed, the President’s approvals were obtained for the deals. Here lies the “CATCH 55” situation: if the deals were carried out with the President’s approval while he was away on medical vacation, they were definitely illegal. For all intents and purposes, Kachikwu was the Acting Minister of Petroleum Resources at that point in time.

Even where we choose not to call the deals contracts, they possess the full colours of contracts – they translate to monetary gains, which is also what contracts do.

Nigeria’s alert system stands on a delicate balance – if you hear of a crime, call police; and if you see smoke, call the Fire Department. Some could argue that Kachikwu saw a cigarette smoke and called the Fire Department. While the Fire equipment was yet on the way, Kachikwu rushed to the press to announce that he had seen a big conflagration capable of consuming the entire nation. He informed people that the fire was set by Baru.

This is the type of story that a whistle-blowing society wants to hear. From that moment, Baru was on his own. He could go and gather all the Holy Bibles, the Holy Quran, and all the “otumokpo” in Nigeria and swear to his innocence. Nobody is listening. After all, some section of the Nigerian media has quickly insinuated that Buhari is beginning to mop-up funds for the 2019 presidential election.

Buhari is on a familiar terrain here. Close to four decades after, the $2.8 billion saga that blew across the NNPC in his first coming as Minister of Petroleum Resources is still simmering, waiting to expire.

This is where utmost care is required. There are moles in this government. They want to pull down the government by all means. No government worth its salt ever tolerates such. The leakage of the Kachikwu papers must be thoroughly investigated.

Kachikwu’s memo dated August 30 has just leaked, which means, if we are really to call a spade a spade, the defacto Minister of Petroleum Resources and Chairman of the NNPC Board, who should have a direct line to the President’s inner room, has for two months been waiting desperately to see the President without success! Meanwhile, Baru can jump in and out of the President’s office or residence at will! What better proof does anyone need that the President meant business when he asserted in the beginning that Ministers were not necessary? Change should begin from here!

The Kachikwu/Baru affair is messy but we must resist the urge for its outright cancellation. What shall we tell those foreign partners – that we were drunk when we signed the deals?

There is an impartial contact that cannot be ignored in this episode – Laolu Akande, Senior Personal Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Office of the Vice President, who can provide an escape route out of the imbroglio. He is already doing a yeoman’s job. Hear him: “… Both the Crude Term Contract and the Direct Sale and Direct Purchase agreements are not contracts for any procurement of goods, works or services and therefore do not involve the use of public funds. Instead, they are simply a short-listing of off-takers. They do not carry any financial values but simply state the terms and conditions for the lifting and supply of petroleum products….”  This situates the Vice President who was the Acting President at the time at the epicenter.

Buhari can heed the Miranda Warning and remain silent because whatever he says can be used against him; but his anti-corruption war impels him to speak out on this issue, and pronto too!

Baru is clever by half. Those lopsided appointments must be brought back to the table for necessary remediation! Federal character is a fact of life in Nigeria.

 


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