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Like Baru, like Yusuf: Corporate governance failures in PMB’s govt

By Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa

ONE of the greatest virtues President Muhammadu Buhari, PMB, is associated with is Integrity. This popularly marketed virtue is the back bone of the faith Nigerians have in PMB to fight corruption. This was the primary promise made to the people of Nigeria and this was also the main reason Nigerians voted him into power.

Therefore one would expect that the President would ordinarily not do or permit to be done anything that would impugn his integrity. When the story about his former SGF Babachir Lawal broke, following Babachir’s indictment by the National Assembly, many Nigerians were shocked that it looked as if he was being shielded from facing the law.

PMB quickly set up an-in house committee to investigate the indictment and he was soon absolved. This was not a surprising outcome. Because friends will always stand behind their friends. The FEC can not investigate itself. That is antithetical to good corporate performance practices. But the National Assembly stuck to their gun, supported by the civil society and subsequently forced PMB to set up another investigative committee now headed by the Vice President. It took nearly six months for the report to be acted upon. Babachir was found culpable by the VP’s Committee which showed the strength of character of the VP and PMB had to replace him. Since then, we have read that the EFCC has begun to question him on the grass-cutter deal. It was bewildering to many that PMB would drag his feet in dealing with a corruption matter.

Given Nigerians’ current revulsion to issues related to corruption and their expectations, they thought that such a weighty accusation should have involved the EFCC immediately the accusation was made by a responsible government body like the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Then enter Dr. Maikanti Baru who was appointed the Group Managing Director of NNPC by PMB. Some time last year, Ibe Kachikwu the Minister of State for Petroleum wrote a memo to PMB which eventually became public that ‘Kanti Baru was awarding contracts without the approval of either the Minister of State or the NNPC Board.

Indeed Ibe accused Baru of insubordination and sidelining of the NNPC board which he chaired. It was then reported that for some of those approvals Baru either went to meet PMB on his sick bed in the UK or went to meet PMB’s Chief of Staff. Baru was reported to have responded that he did not need the approval of the NNPC board to award either procurement or sales contract. Rather he only needed to go to the NNPC Management Procurement committee which he Baru chaired. This explanation was supported by the Presidency and the matter was closed after Ibe was admonished to mind his business, know his limits and to concern himself with the mundane assignments of the minister of state with his lame statutory board.

Baru was vindicated and Ibe was humiliated. In all my years in corporate governance practice, I am yet to come across this kind of arrangement where a corporate statutory board does not have an approving power over certain levels of contracts or procurement, and the Nigerian Government under PMB believes it is okay. Up till today, I find this arrangement bewildering. While we were still trying to understand how this NNPC’s troubling corporate governance structure promotes transparency and ethical conduct, the story of Maina broke out.

Abdulrasheed Maina was accused of misappropriating billions of Naira when he was chairman of a Presidential Task Team on Pensions Reform, PTTPR, set up by President Goodluck Jonathan. He was relieved of his appointment and dismissed from the civil service and later invited by the National Assembly and the EFCC.

He declined the invitations and was declared wanted by the EFCC. Maina took a walk across the border and waited for the fall of President Goodluck Jonathan. PMB came to power and authorised the Attorney General, Malami, to visit Maina in the UK and negotiate his return.

Maina made a triumphant return and between the DSS, AGF, Minster of Interior and the Presidency he got reabsorbed into the federal civil service and received double promotion. The current head of the civil service briefed PMB that the reabsorption of Maina into the service was going to affect PMB’s anti-corruption fight. She was ignored and Maina resumed and was paid his arrears of salary at the new level from 2013 when he was sacked by Jonathan. Maina was posted directly from Presidency to the Ministry of interior, with a copy of the letter sent to the Head of Service.

The civil society and the media raised the red flag and after dithering for a while, PMB authorised his sack. The EFCC invited him again, he refused and rather took another walk across the border back to his base in self exile. EFCC then declared him wanted a second time. And nobody was queried or sanctioned. It was just an ordinary matter. Neither the DSS, nor the Police, nor the Immigration, nor the Ministry of Interior was put to any task. Then the National Assembly set up a committee to investigate how all these happened under the watch of PMB. The AGF goes to court to stop the investigation. Truly bewildering!

When we were hoping that we had seen the end of this kind of troubling incidents, then entered Prof. Usman Yusuf who was (or is) the Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance, NHIS. Yusuf was accused of impunity, corruption and other elements of malfeasance. The Minister of Health, the distinguished Professor Isaac Adewole did a preliminary investigation and sent Yusuf on suspension to enable him do a more detailed investigation. Yusuf resisted going on suspension claiming that he was appointed by the President and, therefore, could not be disciplined by the Minister. After some ding-dong, he succumbed and proceeded on an indefinite suspension.

Meanwhile, the Minister ordered a full scale investigation and thereafter submitted the report to the President. I am told that the report confirmed the indictment. As the Hon. Minister waited for the presidential review of the report and the recommendation, he and the entire Nigerian people were shocked to hear that the Presidency had ordered Yusuf to resume work without recourse to the Minister nor to the recommendations of the investigative panel. Since then, neither Yusuf nor the NHIS has had peace. The workers union and their labour leaders have occupied NHIS in protest against the presidential recall. A few days later a pro-Yusuf group (similar to pro-govt group that demobilized the ‘our mumu don do’group) also joined in occupying the NHIS, fully paralyzing an organization that was already partially paralyzed under Prof. Yusuf’s leadership.

That this would happen where a case of corruption seems to be overlooked and where the authority of the minister seems undermined left me thoroughly and completely bewildered. And I exclaimed like Baru like Yusuf! What litany of corporate governance dissonance. God Help me!

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