The ongoing tension between the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, and the head of NNPC, Maikanti Baru, may have been caused by the actions of President Muhammadu Buhari.
A memo leaked last week of Mr. Kachikwu reporting to Mr. Buhari about Mr. Baru’s insufferable conducts, which ranged from unilateral award of contracts to insubordination.
In the August 30 memo which was leaked last Tuesday, Mr. Kachikwu said the contracts were up to $25 billion, or N9 trillion, and that they were allegedly awarded by Mr. Baru without recourse tothe NNPC Board which he, Mr. Kachikwu, was appointed to head by Mr. Buhari.
On Monday, Mr. Baru fired back, dismissing Mr. Kachikwu as having no authority over the affairs of NNPC with regards to contracting regulations.
Mr. Baru also denied approving all the contracts Mr. Kachikwu listed in his memo, as well as any form of sharp practices.
A look at the details already provided by the warring sides showed that Mr. Buhari might have caused the problem to begin with.
The crisis started in July 2016 when Mr. Buhari removed Mr. Kachikwu as the GMD of NNPC and replaced him with Mr. Baru. Mr. Kachikwu was first appointed as GMD of NNPC in August 2015.
In November 2015, Mr. Buhari appointed Mr. Kachikwu as Minister of State for Petroleum. He served as NNPC GMD and minister until Mr. Buhari relieved him of the NNPC job.
When Mr. Buhari named Mr. Baru the GMD, he made Mr. Kachikwu the chairman of the NNPC board.
The NNPC Act designates the board to oversee the affairs of the state-owned oil giant.
The Act states that the Minister of Petroleum must be the chairman of the NNPC board. Mr. Buhari is the substantive Minister of Petroleum. But he is allowed by the NNPC law to delegate powers, including chairmanship of the board.
However, the law also allows Mr. Buhari to act concurrently as the chairman of NNPC board even while the appointment of the person he delegated powers to is still valid.
‘’The affairs of the Corporation shall, subject to Part II of this Act, be conducted by a Board of Directors of the Corporation which shall consist of a Chairman…
‘’The Chairman shall be a Minister in the Government of 1979 No. 44 the Federation to be known and styled as the Minister of Petroleum Resources….
‘’There may be appointed by the President an Alternate Chairman who may, pursuant to any general or special delegation given in that behalf by the Minister exercise the powers conferred upon the Minister or Chairman under this Act: Provided that nothing in the foregoing shall be construed as preventing the exercise by the Minister himself of any power so delegated.’’
In other words, even when the minister of petroleum (Mr. Buhari) delegates his power as board chairman to someone else (Mr. Kachikwu), the former can still continue to play his role as board chairman.
This appears to be the root of the ongoing crisis.
Based on the statements by Messrs. Kachikwu and Baru, as well as inside information, Mr. Buhari was dealing with Mr. Baru without regards for Mr. Kachikwu, the person he had delegated powers to.
This was confirmed by Mr. Baru in his statement on Monday. The NNPC chief said he received approval from the president, and Mr. Kachikwu had no role to play in NNPC’s affairs.
In his memo to Mr. Buhari, Mr. Kachikwu stated that when Mr. Buhari was unwell in London for several months between May and August, Mr. Baru tried to get direct approval from Vice President Yemi Osinbajo — who was acting president at the time — for some personnel changes at the NNPC.
But Mr. Osinbajo asked Mr. Baru to go back to Mr. Kachikwu and get his input and approval first before making the changes.
Mr. Baru refused to consult Mr. Kachikwu on that.
For weeks, the changes were not made, until Mr. Buhari returned on August 19. By August 29, Mr. Baru announced the changes.
This prompted Mr. Kachikwu’s letter to the president on August 30, complaining that he learnt of the development in the media.
Sources at the presidency corroborated Mr. Kachikwu’s claim that Mr. Osinbajo rebuffed Mr. Baru’s attempts to get presidential approval behind Mr. Kachikwu.
Neither the vice president’s office nor Mr. Baru also denied that claim by Mr. Kachikwu.
In other words, while the vice president, a law professor, saw the need for the NNPC board and its chairman to be consulted before such crucial decisions are made, the president did not.
Mr. Buhari’s role in the crisis was also highlighted by Daily Trust newspaper in its editorial on Sunday. The paper raised several questions about the clash between Messrs. Kachikwu and Baru and observed that the president is responsible for the crisis.
“The question that must be answered is, did the president approve either the staff changes or the contract awards or both knowing full well that the board did not see them, or was he misled on the issue? If he approved them, was he advised on the correct procedure, assuming what Kachikwu said is correct?
“After all, Buhari himself constituted the NNPC board so there is no reason why he should sideline it or usurp its powers. On the other hand, if it is found that Kachikwu’s allegations against the GMD or the president’s aides are not true, then he has no business continuing to be in the cabinet. Baru too became NNPC’s GMD with a reputation for ability, experience and uprightness so no one should rush to judgement until the full facts are in.
“We believe that this unbelievable level of bad blood, rivalry and blatant non-cooperation between the top heads of the oil industry was partly due to the clumsy leadership arrangement instituted by the Buhari administration in the last two years,” the national daily said.
The paper advised the president to relinquish his position as the substantive Minister of Petroleum; a view also shared by the human rights lawyer, Femi Falana.
“Back in 2015 we urged Buhari not to make himself Minister of Petroleum.
“Even though it is his prerogative to do so, he needs not hold on to a post that he held nearly 40 years ago. If he had found a capable and trustworthy person and entrusted him or her with the full powers, the minister might have been able to exercise full supervision over NNPC. Kachikwu, who was brought in from the private sector, was initially touted as that magic player. If he is not, it is not too late to find the right person,” the paper said.
Yet the NNPC is not isolated in matters of insubordination that Mr. Buhari has so far failed to address
In July, Usman Yusuf, the suspended executive secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme engaged the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, in a tussle over supremacy.
A few days before then, Attorney-General Abubakar Malami had an open dispute with the acting chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, with Mr. Malami accusing Mr. Magu of failing to report to him as required by extant EFCC regulations.