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NNPC’s nine trillion Naira - The Nation Editorial

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The nation did not expect that, under the Muhammadu Buhari administration, a whiff of scandal could ever come near the austere man who has risen in the esteem of many as the image of rectitude in a world of suffocating filth. The minister of state for petroleum, Mr Ibe Kachikwu, stunned us with his epistolary tirade about what he described as the shady doings of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

We must say that, as a newspaper, we are disappointed that up till the time of writing this piece, the president has not voiced a word to the Nigerian people. Whether the allegations are true, or partly true or woefully false and misleading, the Nigerian people do not deserve the silence from the highest democratic office in the land.

The allegations are weighty, and the implications too ominous for our prosperity, for the president not to say a thing about them. In spite of the focus of the letter on the NNPC group managing director, Mr Maikanti Baru, and his alleged serial acts of impunity, he roped in the integrity of the president. Hear him: “in most of these activities, the explanation of the GMD is that you are the minister of petroleum and your approvals were obtained.”

Other than the fact that Baru heads the corporation, the scandal is an arrow that goes straight to the heart of President Buhari. Kachikwu lined up the impunities as amounting to $25 billion, which in local terms is equivalent to N9 trillion, rivalling our national budget.

The crimes were that the contracts were signed without recourse to the board. The limit for Baru is $20 million, which is even too much latitude in the hands of a government employee. The contracts include: 1) The crude Term Contracts at a value over $10 billion. 2) The DSDP contracts valued at over $5 billion. 3) The AKK pipeline contract – valued approximately $3 billion. 4) Various financial allocation funding contracts – valued at over $4 billion.

He adds, “There are many more, Your Excellency.”

The minister of state stated that he and some of the board members learned of the transactions via social media and the newspapers. He characterised Baru as running a “bravado management style.” There are a few other searing points raised in the letter.

One, Kachikwu alleged that as Buhari’s deputy in the ministry, he tried without success to secure an audience with the principal officer in the ministry.

Two, that he had written Baru on these matters and the MD ignored him.

Three, that appointments were made without consulting the board and the Board Services Committee held the right to review potential appointees.

Four, he said Baru’s attitude ran counter to the president’s standards of morality.

It is baffling that, as minister of state, Kachikwu could not have access to the president until he wrote the damning letter. He was slated to meet the president October 4, but was put off to the next day. In a normal, serious working milieu, a minister of state should be just a phone call away from the minister of petroleum. If this is not true, it creates a very bad impression of the president’s working sense of administrative hierarchy in Nigeria’s honey pot, the NNPC. It also gives the painful impression that the managing director enjoys a favour that neither the rules nor decency entitles him. He therefore makes the position of the minister of state sinecure.

That Baru has allegedly treated him with cold contempt and worked without recourse to the law is so serious we want to know whether the president was aware of this. If he was aware, he must have shown a condemnable detachment from that valuable part of the Nigerian economy and allowed indiscipline and contempt for order and rules to thrive while his administration puffs about its devotion to integrity in office.

The board was quiet through all these, and we might never have known of these things if Kachikwu did not squeal. We are assuming that the contents of his letter are true. The board itself has drawn angry public flak for its brazen ethnic lopsidedness and the inclusion of the president’s chief of staff as member.

During the Jonathan administration, the president’s party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), railed at the seedy stories of corruption. He even said famously that “if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will destroy us. If Kachikwu has said the truth, it means the president is presiding over what he condemned in his predecessor.

Since he was sworn in, his Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has unleashed its fangs on some of the big players of the Jonathan era. They include the relatives of the former President, including his wife Patience, Sambo Dasuki, his national security adviser, Diezani Alison-Madueke, the president’s predecessor as oil minister and a host of others. They have taken the quality of a soap opera and have levitated the profile of the Buhari administration as the icon of integrity.

Kachikwu noted in the letter in perhaps the most frontal passage: “I know that this bravado management runs contrary to the cleansing operations you engaged me to carry out at the inception of your administration. This is also not in consonance with your own renowned standards of integrity.” This is at once a lurking indictment and adulation, or an indictment that comes as flattery.

We must note that a scandal that consumes N9 trillion is no small matter. It is the biggest scandal in our history, only exceeding the N2.8 billion scandal of another era.

There are questions the president must answer and quickly. What was the role of the president in these contracts? Did the president subordinate his role to that of Baru? What were these contracts, how were they awarded and to whom? How far have these contracts been executed? How were the contracts resourced? Did the managing director tell the president? What did the board do when it heard of these contracts?

It is clear that much as Baru is the man in the centre of the contracts, it is the president that should answer these questions. He is not only the head of government, he is also the chief accounting officer of Nigerian oil.

What has happened with the NNPC is what the nation has witnessed in other areas. For instance, the vice president has since submitted a report on secretary to the government of the federation, Babachir Lawal, and Ayodele Oke of the National Intelligence Agency, but the president has frozen the documents in his vault. Recently, the head of the National Health Insurance Scheme, Usman Yusuf, was accused of impunity and contempt for due process by health minister, Isaac Adewole. When he was suspended, he defied the minister’s authority. The report of the inquiry is with the president but he has neither acted on nor spoken about it. This sort of attitude has tended to confirm charges of ethnic bigotry and nepotism at the president.

Kachikwu’s charges do not call for any cynical panel of inquiry that may fade away with time. We want answers and we want them now. The nation cannot afford a cabal that presides over our money as though the rest of us do not count and own this country together.

The Nation

 
 
 

 

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