After months of agonising silence, the Minister of State, Petroleum Resources, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, finally blurted out. He said he could no longer hold back the humiliations being inflicted on him and his office by the Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation ( NNPC), Dr Maikanti Baru. Consequently, he has drawn the attention of the president to the infractions which Baru is guilty of.
Specifically, according to Kachikwu, Baru does not recognise the office of the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources. He also does not recognise the existence of the board put together by the president to oversee the activities of the NNPC. Baru demonstrated this much when he recommended to the president the appointment of 15 persons to the management and directorate cadre of the corporation. Neither the minister nor the board knew anything about the appointments. Kachikwu has requested the president to reverse those appointments because they did not follow due process. Much more than that, Baru awarded a contract for the princely sum of $24 billion without reference to the board or the minister.
This is where Kachikwu has found himself. The minister, no doubt, is in a quandary. He is doing business with a presidency that deliberately and wilfully whittled down his powers and still expects him to pose as the boss of the management and board of the NNPC. Before Baru came on board, Kachikwu had sweeping powers over the NNPC. He was both the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and the Group Managing Director of NNPC. Under that circumstance, the minister was the overall boss. He took charge of situations and everybody queued obediently behind him.
However, the president, for reasons that border on a deliberate policy to northernise the NNPC, decided to change all that. He balkanised the oil and gas outfit by separating the minister from the NNPC and appointed a point man who would execute the grand master plan. However, to cover up the plot, Kachikwu was designated the chairman of NNPC board to give him the impression that he still matters in the scheme of things. It was on the basis of this arrangement that Baru began to disregard the minister and his office. He knew that those who appointed him as GMD of NNPC set out to render the minister impotent. He knew that the president did not appoint him to report to the Minister of Petroleum Resources. He is meant to be answerable to the president who, in any case, is the Minister of Petroleum Resources, not the minister of state. He does not believe that there should be any linkage between his corporation and the office of the minister of state. He must have reasoned that if there was supposed to be any linkage, the president would not have relieved the petroleum minister of his additional portfolio as the GMD of NNPC. For Baru then, the separation of the two offices meant that one was to act independently of the other.
For Baru and others who have sympathy for his position, the board is merely a symbol. It does not really have the powers to influence the activities of the corporation. This is much more so for a government parastatal that does not want to subsume itself under any other agency of government. The NNPC is a major cash cow of the government and the best thing it wishes itself is independence. This is what Baru is aspiring to. His response to Kachikwu’s charges betrays this mindset. He has said that the relevant laws establishing the corporation did not reserve any role for the board or the minister in its day-to-day activities as well as in the award of contracts. In other words, the board and the minister are powerless in the affairs of the corporation. They are of no relevance in the scheme of things.
But the Kachikwu-Baru confrontation goes beyond the traditional suspicions and supremacy contests that we see in official circles on a daily basis. In the situation under consideration, one was used to supplant the other. Some fellows felt that Kachikwu had too much powers as minister of petroleum. And since matters of oil are usually sticky in Nigeria, politics has to creep into it. Even though Kachikwu, geographically speaking, is of the South South stock, many like to see him first as an Igboman before considering his geographical origin. Kachikwu may not be too enthusiastic to be packaged as an Igbo, but that is the way non-Igbos like to see him. When, for instance, the Igbo were lamenting their exclusion from the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, the activist lawyer, Festus Keyamo, quickly rose in defence of the president. Keyamo argued then that the Igbo have no reason to complain because one of their own, Kachikwu, was occupying what he ( Keyamo) considered the most important position in government- that of minister of Petroleum Resources/ GMB of NNPC . The message being conveyed by the likes of Keyamo was that the Igbo had it all and needed not complain. When therefore Kachikwu’s influence was whittled down with the excision of the office of GMD of NNPC from his portfolio, not a few saw it as a clever attempt to transfer power out of a section of the country that is not favoured by the power equation of the country.
Those who did not see Kachikwu as the target of the reconfiguration still smelt a different aroma of politics in the action. They saw it as an attempt by the north to control the country’s oil and gas industry even though the region does not produce a drop of oil. That displacement of a Niger Deltan in preference for a northerner in the oil sector was not well received by the South south region of the country.
Now, the manipulation appears to have been taken to a more definitive level. Baru is acting according to the briefing that brought him into office. He is not expected to disappoint his constituency. That is why he is looking down on Kachikwu. He does not care a hoot about this Niger Delta petroleum minister without real powers to make things happen in the oil and gas sector of the economy. And to demonstrate that Baru is on a mission, he has even done worse than Buhari in the area of appointments. In the heat of the outcry by the Igbo that Buhari wilfully left them out in key national appointments, Baru has taken the matter to unbelievable heights. His appointment of 15 top officials to the top echelon of NNPC without giving a slot to the Igbo is an act of conscienceless. It is wicked and malicious. It means that the likes of Baru do not think that Buhari has inflicted enough pain on the Igbo. They need to take it a notch higher.
It is to be noted that Kachikwu has asked Mr President to cancel the controversial appointments made by Baru. But will the president do that? I believe that he will not. Kachikwu will only get a cold shoulder from the president. It was he ( the president ) that approved the appointments in the first place. The minister’s bold assertions here are noteworthy. But he is not going to have his way. Buhari and Baru are made of the same stuff. They have the same agenda. Their mission is pointing northwards and they do not have any apology about it.