Kachikwu vs Baru: Why Buhari must intervene on the side of integrity
ONCE again, the polity is fouled by a nasty squabble between a government appointee and an official of a government agency.
This time, it is between Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, and the Group Managing Director, GMD, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Mr. Maikanti Baru.
The face-off became public knowledge on account of Dr. Kachikwu’s petition to President Muhamnadu Buhari, accusing Mr. Baru of insubordination, illegitimate reorganisation of the corporation, awarding contracts and making appointments without input from the minister and the NNPC Board, which Kachikwu chairs.
Although, the petition was dated August 30, 2017, it became an issue, last week, when it was leaked to the media. Kachikwu resorted to petition writing, after many fruitless attempts to secure appointment to see President Buhari, he claimed.
Yet, a more tempered view suggests that other more confidential and secure channels of communication could have been explored since it had become very manifest that an appointment with the principal is like attempting to force a cow through the eye of a needle.
While Buhari’s intervention is awaited, some observers have decried what they perceive as a pattern of northern government officials treating their southern supervisors with contempt and disregard.
For example, the Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, had a spat with the Customs boss, Col. Hamid Ali (retd), who reportedly refused to take instructions from her; the National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS boss refused to take instructions from the Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole; and there was the NIA boss misunderstanding with the EFFC Chairman, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, that caused Nigeria a monumental embarrassment in the international community following the Ikoyi cash haul.
In the petition, Kachikwu called for the cancellation of the recent appointments in the NNPC, saying that for over one year, he had tolerated the disrespectful and humiliating conducts of the GMD to his office and decided to bring the issue to the attention of the President.
He had said: “Mr. President, yesterday, like many other Nigerians, l resumed work confronted by many publications of massive changes within NNPC. Like the previous reorganizations and reposting done since Dr. Baru resumed as GMD.
“I was never given the opportunity before the announcements to discuss these appointments. This is so despite being Minister of State Petroleum and Chairman NNPC Board.
“The Board of NNPC which you appointed and, which has met every month since its inauguration and, which by the statutes of NNPC is meant to review these planned appointments and postings was never briefed. Members at the Board learnt of these appointments from the pages of social media and the press release of NNPC.”
The letter was entitled: ‘Re: Matters of insubordination and lack of adherence to due process perpetuated by the GMD NNPC, Dr. Baru.”
Since the letter was leaked, Baru and the NNPC have not put up any defence.
Kachikwu said he found it pertinent to call the attention of the president to his misgivings because they are capable of hindering progress in the country’s petroleum sector or even reverse recorded strides.
More importantly, it is President Buhari’s integrity and image that has been placed in the public sphere because his change agenda, the main point of his campaign is what is seeking cover at the moment.
Kachikwu said: “Parastatal-agencies in the ministry and all CEOs of these parastatal-agencies must be aligned with the policy drive of the ministry to allow the sector register the growth that has eluded it for many years.
“To do otherwise or to exempt any of the parastatal-agencies would be to emplace a stunted growth for the industry.”
In a statement, the Director of Press of Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Idang Alibi, expressed displeasure over the leaking of the letter. “The communication under reference is a normal procedural correspondence by the Minister to the President relating to developments in parastatals under his supervision. It is most distressing to the Ministry of Petroleum Resources that a confidential communication to the President on the performance of one of its parastatals can be made public. “The focus of the communication was on improving efficiency and deepening transparency in the oil and gas sector for continued investor confidence,” Alibi said.
Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division of the NNPC, Mr. Ndu Ughamadu, said he had not seen the letter and would be available to comment on the issue after perusing the content of the letter. That is understandable.
Having been made public, all eyes and ears are open to see and hear what the President would do.
Will the issue remain unresolved like other pending fights?
Specifically, Kachikwu appealed to Buhari to move in and save the NNPC and the oil industry from collapse arising from the nontransparent practices in the NNPC, and empower the NNPC to take the needed actions when needed. His other prayers to Buhari include: “That you save the office of the Minister of State from further humiliation and disrespect by compelling all parastatals to submit to oversight regulatory mandate and proper supervision which I am supposed to manage on your behalf.
“You kindly instruct the GMD to effectively leave NNPC to run as a proper institution and report along due process lines to the Board and that Your Excellency instructs that all reviews be done with the Minister of State prior to your decision.
“To set the right examples, you approve that the recently announced reorganisation changes be suspended until the GMD, myself and the Board have made relevant input to same. This will send a clear signal of process and transparency.
“That Your Excellency encourages joint presentation meetings between heads of Parastatals and the Minister of State to you so as to encourage a culture of working together and Implant discipline in the hierarchy.”
For keen observers, what is playing out in the NNPC may not be new.
Some people who kept harping on the body language of President Buhari may be misapplying the signals coming from the Presidency. What, perhaps, President Buhari needs to do now is to ensure that the issues raised by Kachikwu are properly looked into. Naturally, a committee may, again, be set up to investigate the matter. But the plethora of committees that had been set up in times past to look into such matters of breach almost always ended up as errands for fools. That the same Presidency could not forthrightly resolve the needless cloud over the confirmation of Ibrahim Magu as EFCC Chairman speaks volume about the governance regime in place. Similarly, the David Babachir and Ayo Oke affairs are yet to enjoy closure.
Therefore, should President Buhari not want to needlessly waste capital, he needs to be seen to be decisive and fair and just. Also, those whom his wife complained of as being the clogs in the wheel of progress need to re-assess the basis of their engagement in this administration as Nigerians expected a lot better. What is going on now is reminiscent of the Goodluck Jonathan days when some ministers could not have access to the former.
This was how his journey to defeat started. To think that nothing can happen again as it did before is to build castles in the air for nothing lasts forever. But Buhari’s integrity should outlast this regime if – and only if – he does what is just and fair in the circumstance.
- Babatunde, an expert in conflict resolution, writes from Akure