By Jubril Oladipupo
The well-publicised spat between the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr Ibe Kachikwu and the Group Managing Director of the state oil company, the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, Dr Maikanti Baru, is perhaps the greatest challenge so far to the much-vaunted credibility of the Buhari administration.
Having swept to power largely on the self-imposed mandate of fighting corruption – a well entrenched national malaise that has contributed more than its fair share to the sorry state of affairs in which we wallow as a nation – Buhari is, of course, is expected to walk the talk.
However, having been regaled with tales of billions of dollars disappearing from NNPC accounts in the last days of Goodluck Jonathan’s kleptocratic regime; the still unfolding Diezanigate; millions of dollars found in judges bedrooms, high rise apartments and even soak away pits, not a few see the NNPC saga as just another on a long list of scandals for the press to make a meal of until others take its place on the headlines, such that it is soon forgotten.
One must concede that the apparent in-fighting among those who control NNPC, the nation’s cash-cow tainted by a long held perception as the bastion of corruption of Nigeria, only reinforce the views of a larger section of the informed public that this makes a strong case for the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, which prescribes full commercialisation of the NNPC and whittling down of overarching powers concentrated in the minister of petroleum, among others.
Yes, Kachikwu has raised largely governance issues relating to reporting lines and approvals in his memo. Baru’s defence has been solid, (based on legalese, some argue) but he appears to be right in that the NNPC Act gives the petroleum minister, not the minister of state, the final say in approval of contracts and other key decisions.
Ordinarily, this should not be the sort of issue that should distract from the task of refocusing the national oil company in the direction of improving its efficiency, especially in terms of fuel distribution, refining capacity, creative funding options for its operations and maximising value for crude off take but the NNPC is no ordinary corporation, and these are no ordinary times.
Regardless, the leakage of the minister’s ‘petition’ suggests less-than-noble intentions as future events might confirm.
As things stand, the pressure on Buhari to deliver on promises made during his 12 year campaign to be president cannot be higher. Mr President has lost ground due to an economy buffeted by low oil, prices, his downtime abroad, rising calls for restructuring, the inability to deliver much on power, social services and a string of others. He is being labelled as pro-North.
Even the anti-corruption war, which some consider as his signature programme, has itself come under fire as skewed and ineffective.
Even at that, the corruption issue and Buhari’s efforts at engaging this monster locally and with the help of our international partners remain his strongest point yet, as many corrupt elements have laid low or gone off the radar for fear of a date with the EFCC.
This is why as the preparations for the 2019 elections start to gather momentum with names of potential contenders starting to surface and sundry declarations that the President Buhari is not on a beeline for an automatic ticket from the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, it is becoming obvious that the easiest way to deny Buhari another term is to rubbish any credibility he has built so far.
For sure, the anti-corruption war is a lonely road. Many perceive that in all sincerity, Buhari himself and his vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo are the only travellers.
In line with this, it can be deduced from some of the very recent articles in newspapers, that the seemingly unravelling NNPC saga, is deliberately to weaken the Presidency through threats of impeachment over “phantom” governance issues, much less fraud. The public should be wary that this has all the hallmarks of a bid by opportunists to leverage on an impending “public” hearing on NNPC transactions, to attempt a “takeover” of NNPC, with a view to funding a strong challenge for the presidency in 2019.
So the issue at hand is not Kachikwu or Baru, It is not even the NNPC, it is Buhari and 2019.
There can be no arguing that Nigerians have a right to deliver a verdict on Buhari at the coming polls, but certain forces, which he himself may not realise, are preparing to deal him the wrong hand.
They can be found in state houses, at the upper echelons of the legislature and among the bitter men of yesterday who are simply not happy that the gravy train has stopped running.
The NNPC matter is trap and the way Buhari handles this may ultimately seal his fate, either way.
Feelers from certain quarters indicate that the President is being pressured to descend on the NNPC management despite its defence that it was acting well with the provisions of the NNPC Act and the Public Procurement Act. So how can Buhari sack a management that he signed off on its decisions? Did he not read his files?
On the other hand, Mr Kachikwu has become a bone in Buhari’s throat as they say. Firing him would equally damage any claim to his own integrity, for how do you punish a senior official for “blowing the whistle” as it were.
Nigerians and our foreign “friends” are watching closely as the whole saga unfolds. If Buhari fails to read in between the lines and falls into the trap sprung by the “jackals and hyenas” that have put him on the spot, he might just need a few more lessons on Nigeria’s curious brand of politics.
Oladipupo, sent this article from Lagos