Recently, Comrade Bobboi Bala Kaigama, President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), reportedly asked President Muhammadu Buhari to relinquish the position of Minister of Petroleum Resources. He also advocated the separation of the offices of the Minister of State for Petroleum from that of the Group Managing Mirector of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). He justified his demand on the grounds that the ministry was too “critically important to the economy” to be subsumed under the portfolio of the president.
The report quoted him to have further pontificated: “The ideal candidate for this (minister of petroleum resources – emphasis mine) should be someone who has the necessary knowledge, experience and competence, and who would directly oversee the affairs of the ministry and report regularly to the president,” adding that the incumbent Minister of State cum Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Dr. Ibe Emmanuel kachikwu, should retain his position as Minister of State.
On the face value, given his position in the country’s labour circles, it is highly tempting to regard Kaigama’s proposal as stemming from completely altruistic motives, devoid of any undertones. But that would have been so if the problem of the sector could be laid at the minster’s feet or if he is the only political appointee multi-tasking for the president. Ironically, Kachikwu is not the only minister multi-tasking while there is no evidence to suggest that he has underperformed when considered against the scope of challenge faced by each minister. That being the case, why would Kaigama proceed with what is a thinly veiled vote of no confidence in the minister? We are further compelled to ask if the minister could be accused of mishandling the fuel challenge when even his counterpart in information had always conveyed the position that the crisis, which had set on even before the 2015 presidential elections, was caused by the inability of independent marketers to import fuel due to forex shortage.
Coming on the heels of the astute management of the recent fuel crisis by the government, with Kachikwu as the arrowhead of its crisis management team, Kaigama’s call for the minister’s “demotion” is provocative and unpatriotic. It can be said without any fear of contradiction that the minister acquitted himself creditably, not just by his demeanour throughout the crisis but the unprecedented integrity that he brought to the government by his candour. Granted that his brutal frankness occasionally unsettled some people, a quality he shares with President Buhari, by a curious turn of events, his posture has earned for him and, by extension, the Buhari administration, the admiration of many Nigerians who, over the years, have been compelled to live with official deceit and indecision by governmental top political leaders.
At any rate, to suggest that the minister lacks what it takes to run the ministry is as fallacious as it is insulting. It is possible that Kaigama is reviving the old argument that no one person should hold the two positions at the same time. Now, if the labour leader wants to challenge Buhari’s rationale for streamlining the ministries, which was essentially to keep a lid on costs while not sacrificing efficiency, he can do so without isolating Kachikwu as scapegoat. Would anybody have believed that the country would be able to achieve deregulation of fuel price? But the Buhari administration has done it, with Kachikwu holding forte for the President. The minimum one should expect is commendation for the man who took all the flaks on behalf of the government.
For sure, as labour leader, and a Nigerian for that matter, it is within Kaigama’s rights to subject any public office holder or political appointee to rigorous scrutiny. But one would expect such exercise to pass the strict test of fairness, and balance. Moreover, coming on the eve of the first anniversary of Buhari’s presidency, any attempt to present the report card of his ministers ought to be holistic and even handed. From that perspective, it will be appropriate to know Kaigama’s assessment of other ministers, not the least being Babatunde Fashola, who has the onerous responsibility of overseeing three highly strategic ministries: Works, housing and power. For sure, the three portfolios rolled into one cannot be said to be more interrelated than the fusion of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
Kaigama occupies such a position of privilege that it amounts to abuse of office to deploy the awesome powers of his office towards destabilising the polity or demeaning hardworking ministers, such as Kachikwu. Managing the Ministry of Petroleum Resources has never been a simple task. Similarly, the uproar that attended the fuel crisis and the eventual deregulation are not new. What is novel is that, the deregulation has been achieved, almost seamlessly, even against the president’s campaign promise and at a time Nigerians are groaning from the effect of declining value of the naira and poor power supply.
If tomorrow comes, and Kachikwu is “demoted” as Kaigama has proposed, it will not be because he underperformed. If Kaigama considers the evidence, he is sure to realise that by education, knowledge, experience and service delivery, Kachikwu fits all the qualities he has outlined for the post of minister of Petroleum Resources. That is to say, if the position is vacant. For now, I do not see anything wrong with Buhari retaining the position.
- Mbakogu, a policy analyst wrote in from Lagos.