Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and human rights lawyer, recently asked President Muhammadu Buhari to quit his position of Petroleum Minister. Buhari, who has held on to the position, named Ibe Kachikwu, an oil technocrat, as the Minster of State for Petroleum.
Falana’s call came after Kachikwu had accused Maikanti Baru, the Group Managing Director (GMD) of the NNPC, of violating due process in the award of $25 billion contract. Falana, in a statement, said it was better for Buhari to appoint someone else to supervise the ministry. He said: “Having regard to the enormous responsibilities of the office of the Minister of Petroleum Resources and Chairman of the NNPC Board, President Buhari is advised to relinquish the ministerial position in view of his busy schedule and appoint another Nigerian of proven integrity and competence to superintend the affairs of the ministry.
“If this advice is accepted in good faith and acted upon without any delay it would remove undue pressure on the health of the President and allow him to attend to urgent matters of the state.”
It would be recalled that even before picking his cabinet, Buhari on Tuesday, September 29, 2015 in far away New York, had in the course of the Global Leaders’ Summit on Countering ISIL and Violent Extremism, announced that he would head the petroleum ministry. When he finally appointed the ministers on Wednesday, November 11, 2015, he gave the position of Petroleum Minister to himself as he had said in New York.
Since the crisis, Buhari and Kachikwu had held a closed-door meeting on the issue, even as the NNPC spokesman, Ndu Ughanmadu, said that Baru was not bound to pass through the Minister of State or the NNPC Board to get approval before he could award contracts.
Baru had however met with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who had denied approving contract awarded by the NNPC in the absence of Buhari, who was then away in United Kingdom (UK) on medical vacation. The controversy over the issue has been raging. But, Falana has called for Baru’s suspension while seeking an investigation into the matter by relevant agencies, including the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Considering the crisis that is building up over the issue, should President Buhari resign as Minister of Petroleum as being canvassed by Falana and some other Nigerians?
Buhari’s Ministerial Position Is Unconstitutional – Iheonu
Nnaemeka Iheonu, a Lagos lawyer and member of African Bar Association (ABA), faulted President Buhari for appointing himself as the Minister for Petroleum, instead of giving the position to someone else. According to him, the President’s action was against the constitution.
He said: “The idea of Buhari being the Minister of Petroleum is somehow unconstitutional. Section 138 of the constitution states that the President shall not hold any other executive position while in office. Therefore, he is not supposed to be occupying any other executive position. He ought to appoint another person who should be accountable to him. As a Minister of Petroleum, how can he be accountable to himself?”
Iheonu explained that Buhari has a lot of responsibility as president and adding the job of minister to it will pose a lot of challenges to him. He stated that if Buhari’s idea of appointing himself a minister was to check corruption in the oil sector, he could equally do so by closely monitoring whoever he appoints to head the ministry.
He urged the president to take a good look at the provision of Section 138 of the constitution and make amends quickly by upgrading Kachikwu to be a substantive minister of petroleum.
Buhari Cannot Be President And Minister Same Time – Lawyer
William Enegide, a Benin-based legal practitioner said, “President Buhari cannot hold the office of President and Minister at the same time. I think the misconception is that while being the President he is holding unto or calling the shots in terms of the Petroleum Ministry.
“We had a similar situation under President Olusegun Obasanjo. Some judicial steps were taken. They threatened to take him to court. He was constrained to relinquish that position which he was holding on to. Although he was not holding on then as Minister of Petroleum, but there was this subtle arrangement where he could dictate to whoever was in the petroleum industry. There was no substantive Minister for Petroleum.
“It was only in the time of former President Umaru Yar ’Adua and later President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan that we had substantive Minister for Petroleum in the person of Deziani Allison-Madueke.
“On the other hand, the petroleum ministry is a very substantial ministry because it holds the entire workings of this nation. You know, Nigeria is a monolithic economy, depending solely on oil. Every other revenue we have got, we have not been able to harness other sources. So, there is so much attraction and pressure on that sector. There are other areas where we can generate revenue substantially.”
Enegide cited Germany, which has no oil, but is a force to reckon with in the European economy. He also cited the Asian countries like China and Japan, which do not have oil, but are great economically. He said the problem with Nigeria is that everything is running on oil revenue, hence it is of much interest to the leaders, including whoever is the President.
He stressed; “The past Minister of Petroleum Resources did not perform very well. There were a lot of leakages. There is this adage, ‘once beaten, twice shy’. So, for so much rot seems to have occurred in that ministry, President Buhari coming into the saddle and looking at the strategic nature of that sector of the economy, he would want to have direct hold onto what is happening in that ministry because every other thing is surrounding or happening around that ministry.
“The ministry should be headed by a substantive minister. What we have presently is sub-minister, permit me to use that word, without a substantive minister. So, I think it is an aberration. Looking at the set up in the executive, every ministry ought to have a substantive minister, who should have the direct ability to harness the workings of that ministry and perhaps report back to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in the course of their periodic meetings and indirectly reporting to the Chief Executive of that body, who is also the President.
“So, now that it is the President that ‘doubles’ as the Petroleum Minister, who is he expected to report to? He is now a lord and a law unto himself as far as that ministry is concerned. Look at the Kachikwu and Baru saga. I think the roles that ought to go to the substantive minister has been hijacked by the president such that every other person who is in his good book will decide to tow direct line or take direct instructions. As long as the instructions are coming from the president or they are in his good books, so be it.
“That ministry deserves a substantive minister who should be accountable and held responsible for what goes on in that ministry. It is too strategic to be ignored or to be kept in the hands of the president. He has more than enough to handle.”
‘Buhari Should Not Double As Petroleum Minister’
Olu Omotayo, Enugu-based lawyer and President, Citizens Rights Realisation and Advancement Network, said it was improper for Buhari to double as petroleum minister. He said as a result of the pervasive corruption in the petroleum sector, the president could appoint one of his men to ensure proper supervision of the ministry and agencies under it.
He stressed: “I don’t think it is proper for the president to double as petroleum minister, but because of the massive corruption in the public service, the president could not trust any of his men.
“I think it is for proper supervision. The former Petroleum Minister Mrs. Dieziani Allison-Madueke, allegedly messed up the petroleum ministry with the unequalled massive corruption ever witnessed in this country.”
‘It Is Wrong To Ask Buhari To Relinquish Oil Minister Position’
Professor Ayo Adesopo of the Department of Public Administration, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife, said the call that President Buhari should resign as Minister of Petroleum is unnecessary, uncalled for and politically motivated.
Adesopo stressed that since oil is the main stay of the nation’s economy and the only source of revenue for the country, Buhari must know the happenings in the sector if indeed he wants to curb corruption in the sector.
He stated that the oil sector has witnessed huge corrupt practices and activities and that the only way to reduce corruption there, if not totally eradicating it, is to allow the president to preside on some issues relating to the sector.
He stated that the President’s involvement and retention of the position of minister of petroleum would create fear in some stakeholders in the sector, who would not want to booted out of office n disgrace.
Adesopo maintained that allowing the president retain the position would also make him give the sector necessary supervision it deserved and do the right thing at the right time, adding, “it will make Mr. President to be responsible for anything that happened in the oil sector stressing that the call his resignation has political undertone.
“The call is coming from detractors of this country, especially those that are eyeing one or two businesses to do in the sector to loot the nation’s resources.”
He identified the major problem the nation might encounter in this arrangement might be lack of adequate supervision from Mr. President due to his age and bulk of work on his table needing his attention.
Adesopo said for the president to do this effectively, he would have to rely on the briefings given to him by the Minister of State for Petroleum and the Group Managing Director of NNPC.
Why Buhari Should Still Keep The Portfolio – Igbini
Comrade Emmanuel Igbini, President, Vanguards For Transparent Leadership and Democracy (VATLAD), in his reaction, posited that Buhari should continue to hold on to the position of Minister of Petroleum Resources, saying that it is constitutional as far as the 1999 Nigeria Constitution (as amended) is concerned.
Igbini said: “I was the same person who consistently insisted that President Buhari should not yet appoint anyone as Ministers for Petroleum Resources and Defence. I felt that he should be fully in charge of both ministries for a period to get rid of massive fraud and looting in the sectors if he wants to succeed as President of Nigeria.
He stressed: “The reason I made the above statement in September 2015 is because I knew for sure that Dr Kachikwu will meet serious obstacles as he attempts to bring about positive reforms in the petroleum sector. They will blackmail him and threaten to dig into his past at Mobil Oil Producing at least to find just a stain to persecute him.
“If Nigerians do not fight Kachikwu, the foreign mafias of the multinational oil companies in Nigeria will, except he allows business as usual. Again, if he does not push for the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) in a manner that would expose their fraud and looting in the nation’s oil and gas sector. It is a ‘no go area’. This was widely published in the media. I am very happy he took my advice and till date.
“The first major attack came from an APC leader when Kachikwu told Nigerians the truth that fuel scarcity would remain for months and would not disappear in few weeks. The APC got so angry and called for his head. He was expected to lie to Nigerians that the fuel scarcity would disappear in few weeks.
“Have you not seen some posts today or yesterday on social media alleging that Dr Kachikwu had been dragged to EFCC over alleged fraudulent deals during his period at Mobil Oil Producing?
“I have the dirty politics and intrigues in the oil and gas sector of Nigeria at my finger tips. I have been there for years. I was a union leader there and I knew much more. It is for this reason I was also unlawfully sacked by the criminal French-led cabal in Elf Petroleum Nig. Ltd in 2000.
“Let me remind us that this was exactly what I said to my sister, Deziani Allison-Madueke, when she was appointed as Minister for Petroleum Resources and at the peak of the push for PIB. How did she end now? With all sense of humility, I know what I know about the politics of oil.
“Mark my words now. Only President Buhari can save Dr Kachikwu and make him succeed. But, again, that is if and only if President Buhari is not bothered if this hurts his ambition for 2019, if indeed he decides to go for second term. I hope I will be proved wrong on this few years from now.”
‘Buhari Understands The Oil Sector Very Well’
Chief Vitus Nduwuba Njoku, ex-chairman, Old Owerri Local Government Council and Social Democratic Party (SDP) chieftain, maintained that President Buhari on his inauguration in 2015 chose to handle the petroleum ministry as its minister.
Njoku stressed: “He knows what he wants. Remember that he was a onetime chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) and as such, he has a strong knowledge of the petroleum industry. So, if you are saying that he should resign as minister of petroleum, what is your reason? Is it because of the cold war between the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachukwu, and the NNPC Group Managing Director, Barau?
“The argument that the president should resign as the petroleum minister does not hold water. So far, he has stabilised that sector. For some time now, we have not had any crisis in that sector. Those who are insistent that he should relinquish the portfolio should come up with cogent verifiable facts. I do not intend to hold brief for Mr. President. But, at the same time, it is not proper for us to cry wolf where there is none.
‘There Are Many Nigerians Who Can Perform Oil Minster’s Job’
Dr. Charity Ngozi Egbumefu, an educationist and People Democratic Party (PDP) member, stated that there are millions of Nigerians capable of piloting the affairs of the Ministry of Petroleum as minister.
She maintained that the president, by making himself a minister of petroleum, had been biting more than he could chew, adding, “the office of the president is quite challenging, while the petroleum ministry is very strategic and sensitive to our economy.
“Do you think that the President with his ailing health is still fit and capable to oversee that ministry that is the life wire of our economy? He should resign and appoint somebody to handle that ministry and also to create jobs for Nigerians.”
Buhari Should Relinquish The Position Of Minister – Politician
Chief Roland Essien, a politician, said: “From day one, I have been one of the many Nigerians wondering why President Buhari should assign himself the position of the Minister of Petroleum as tasking and as demanding the position is and considering his age and health status lately.
“That is why many Nigerians kicked against that. But, what can you do? he is the President and Commander-in-Chief of Nigeria Armed Forces. What that means is that he has the absolute power to allocate any ministry to himself, not minding the consequences of his actions and inactions on the generality of Nigerians and the government he is heading.
“I am aware that he, Buhari, had wanted to have firm control of the NNPC at inception. But, we all have seen that he cannot do just that due to a number of factors, particularly the fact that age is not on his side. Whether we like it or not, he must allow the technocrats to manage Nigeria’s oil sector.
“The current Minister of State, Ibe Kachikwu, had worked as the GMD of the NNPC and over time, he (Buhari) had built confidence on him (Kachikwu). So, I had expected that President Buhari should allow Kachikwu to manage the industry and brief the President daily on proceedings therein instead of what we have today, which is also breeding distrust among the stakeholders.
“Nigerians were recently inundated with reports of insubordination by the GMD of the NNPC, Dr. Maikanti Baru. Tomorrow, it could be another thing. All we are seeing today are signs that there is great disquiet and disconnect within the government circle and the entire Nigeria’s oil industry. Maybe, somebody has been eavesdropping from the NNPC GMD about the minister or the other way round.
“I wouldn’t want to go into details what is happening between President Buhari and the Minister of State for Petroleum or between the NNPC GMD and the Minister. But, I do know that there is a gap between each of these officers. The office and position of the president in all these is very suspicious, a sitting Minister of Petroleum or what?
“We all know that the office of Minister of Petroleum is very tasking and strenuous. So, why must the President who has been in and out of sick bed be the one to occupy the seat? It shows that he doesn’t even trust most of his ministers, Ibe Kachikwu in particular. That is why Baru has the effrontery to challenge the ministers’ powers.
“My stand is: Buhari should relinquish his position as substantive Minister of Petroleum. He can simply appoint another person into the position if he deems it necessary or that he does not trust Kachikwu, so that Nigeria can move forward. Everything about this government seems stagnated. Nigeria must move on no matter what anybody says.”