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NNPC, Buhari and his feuding lieutenants

By Rotimi Fasan

THERE might be fewer ways to get to the root of the feud between Ibe Kachikwu and Maikanti Baru than to question the role of President Muhammadu Buhari in the disagreement between these two of his lieutenants.

The Buhari government (including the conclave of so-called cabal, the ‘inner’ cabinet within the government- I’ll come to that shortly) continues to present the image of a house divided against itself. Let’s not forget it was in this same government, just several months back, that a damaging report was sent out against the president’s anti-corruption chief, Ibrahim Magu, by one of the president’s men, another member of his inner circle of kinsmen turned state officials.

That report has been the main excuse needed by the National Assembly to deny the Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC, chair a substantive status. It is the reason Magu has so far remained an Acting Chairman. It is the reason he has been hobbled somewhat in the performance of his duties. And it will be one of the main reasons Buhari’s anti-corruption posture would remain questionable and, emptied of its abrasive rhetoric, might one day be shown to be worth nothing more than a puff of hot air.

Kachikwu, Buhari and Baru

But to return to my opening remark- President Muhammadu Buhari has a lot to explain about the disagreement between his Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and the man he has accused of insubordination and gross violation of laid down procedure in the award of contracts and appointment, the Group Managing Director, GMD, of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, the body over whose board Kachikwu presides as chair.

How does Buhari come into this narrative of disagreement and possible misuse of power and corruption? He is the Minister of Petroleum Resources, the substantive boss of both Kachikwu who briefly occupied the office of GMD of the NNPC and Baru the current occupier of that office. The first question to ask is- What’s Buhari’s business with being Minister of Petroleum Resources? He is already the president, the one to whom all ministers give account of their stewardship.

Other than identifying the NNPC as the country’s cash cow and primal house of sleaze, filth and unprecedented corruption, what point does his insistence on being Minister of Petroleum Resources prove? To have oversight, which he is obviously not doing, over what goes on in the petroleum sector? He can still do the same without taking front seat in a sector he would still have to depend on others for the performance of his role. From all that has so far emerged in the unfolding controversy between his two appointees, the president has been nothing but a bench warmer as the Minister of Petroleum.

He has merely duplicated the position of Minister of Petroleum Resources by his appointment of Kachikwu as Minister of State while splitting his responsibility as the ‘junior’ minister between him and the GMD of NNPC. Buhari has only been minister in name and is responsible for the confusion in responsibilities between Kachikwu and Baru. He left loopholes for ambitious people to exploit.

He has been presiding over a sector he barely has any interest in directly managing, and he would have been better off delegating that responsibility to those who know more about it and who could be held responsible for whatever goes on the sector. The president stands guilty of dereliction of duty. Let’s be clear about this: Buhari’s failure to perform his duties as Petroleum Minister is not necessarily because he has been ill and away from his duty post for many months, after all he has remained president in spite of that. He simply does not appear to have had any desire to directly function in that office if at all he has the time.

He would appear more interested in the optics of his position, more interested in showing that he has his eyes in the petroleum sector and playing Mr. Follow-follow, following a trend set by Olusegun Obasanjo who as president was his own Petroleum Minister. But did Buhari ask why Obasanjo took that step or how he functioned?

To want to keep an eye on the petroleum sector is not bad in itself given the level of corruption that goes on there. But Buhari could as well have done that even while somebody else presides as minister. Holding on to the office has only led to motives being imputed to his action. It has only created the impression that in spite of the near invisibility of the Igbo in his administration he could not trust the only Igbo man he appointed as minister, even if in a ‘junior’ capacity to effectively oversee things for him. This in spite of the fact that the individual concerned is eminently qualified by experience and training. You could hardly find many more qualified individuals than Ibe Kachikwu at the time he was appointed- going by his credentials.

The point about Buhari’s lack of trust, as uncharitable as it may seem, is lent credence by the fact that Abba Kyari, the president’s Chief of Staff, is a member of the NNPC Board. What other role does he have to play on that board except to serve as the president’s ears and eyes? What is the connection between being chief of staff and serving as member of a board such as the NNPC?

Must certain categories of Nigerians from particular parts always have their hands in the country’s apple jars while others are excluded? What creates this sense of entitlement? If Kyari as chief of staff, Buhari’s own Hamza Al Mustapha, is directly responsible to the president, determines his schedule and clears all who see him on a daily basis, how come the president’s own Minister of State for Petroleum could not for months get an appointment after several attempts? Not even after more than a month after he wrote his letter, which was later leaked, to the president out of frustration?

How would anyone believe that Abba Kyari, a member of the NNPC Board, was in the dark about Kachikwu’s desire to see the president? This all goes to prove what many Nigerians have complained about- the overbearing influence and activities of members of the president’s inner cabinet of relations by whom he is surrounded. They randomly, it would seem from this case, take matters into their hands and run the Nigerian state in the name of the president.

They are always at loggerheads with state officials appointed by the president and other elected members of government. Even the president’s wife is not immune to the influence of this stag caucus of the president’s extended family. Buhari’s presidency would succeed to the extent he is prepared to run a transparent administration devoid of primordial considerations.

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