It seems very realistic to say that without realising it, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu was promoted into oblivion the day he became a Minister of State for Petroleum Resources. If we are to go by the response of the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Dr. Maikanti Baru, to the allegations of insubordination and brazen abuse of due process in contract awards running into billions of dollars made against him by the Kachikwu, we would not be wrong to conclude that it is high time the government scrapped the office of Minister of State. From the look of things, ministers of state have become mere burdensome baggage. In short, they exist merely to fulfill constitutional requirements of having ministers from all states of the federation. Outside that, anyone who goes by that appendage is a loafer in office, a figurehead without specific duties or scintilla of authority whatsoever. Their occasional meddlesomeness notwithstanding, they are, like the state deputy governors-unserviceable spare tyres whose relevance or otherwise rests squarely at the whim of the President.
In saner climes, there is nothing wrong with a President assigning responsibilities to his aides as he deemed fit. But in a country with a voracious appetite for official and brutal violation of the letters of the law, the Baru/Kachikwu feud has thrown to the front burner, the need to revisit the jaded phrases in the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which, in a sense, gives room for the ludicrous defence that Baru tendered with brash arrogance, justifying why he sidetracked a duly appointed senior cabinet member in the discharge of his responsibilities.
Let’s be clear about one thing, the idea of a Minister of State is unknown to our constitution. If you ask me, I think it should be discarded for obvious redundancy. Beyond dancing round the issues, Baru’s impudence stems from his understanding that President Muhammadu Buhari is the de-facto minister in that sector and he has no obligation whatsoever toward those that are loosely referred to as junior ministers. Specifically, Section 148 of our Constitution highlighted the duties and responsibilities of the 36 ministers representing the states and one to represent the Federal Capital Territory. It states: “(1) The President may, in his discretion, assign to the Vice-President or any Minister of the Government of the Federation responsibility for any business of the Government of the ration, including the administration of any department of government. (2) The President shall hold regular meetings with the Vice-President and all the Ministers of the Government of the Federation for the purposes of (a) determining the general direction of domestic and foreign policies of the Government of the Federation; (b) coordinating the activities of the President, the Vice President and the Ministers of the Government of the Federation and the discharge of their executive responsibilities; and (c) advising the President generally in the discharge of his executive functions other than those functions with respect to which he is required by this Constitution to seek the advice or act on the recommendation of any other person or body.”
Some have said Buhari’s thunderous silence has not helped matters. I agree but we have come to a stage where we have to look beyond the technical maneuverings of Baru from the tight corner he has found himself unless we want to believe that the NNPC Board, which Kachikwu heads on the strength of his appointment as Chairman, is a toothless dog without any real oversight function over Baru’s hand-picked Tenders Board. Even at that, how on earth could a government that came to power with a promise to change the ways things were being done in the past tolerate a clear violation of simple process by the GMD of NNPC who announced that once he sought and got a presidential approval to proceed with contractual drafts, the inputs or opinion of others never mattered? That was the thrust of his defence and I was shocked beyond words that some persons think that should be the point at which we should pour cold water on the ‘irrelevant memo” written by a “treacherous” Kachikwu who was ‘beefing’ because he was not to ‘benefit’ from the deals. How petty can we be as a people?
Baru’s response, in my own understanding, actually justified Kachikwu’s summation of a “bravado management style” being run by the NNPC head which, in all honesty, smacked of abuse of the fine principles of corporate governance.. To the best of my knowledge, there was not one single report in the media which suggested that President Buhari, as the substantive Minister for Petroleum Resources, submitted memos for the approval of the various contracts listed by Baru. If that was the case, do we then take it that the President and the GMD of NNPC in cahoots with some nameless cabal, have formed a conclave of contract-approving body for the oil giant without the contribution of cabinet members? Is that the new way of engendering corporate governance, accountability, competitiveness and ethical standards in a sector that is known for corrosive corruption and rot?
At this juncture, one question comes to mind: when Buhari ‘elevated’ Kachikwu to the position of Minister of State following his short stay as GMD of NNPC, what responsibilities, in his grey-haired discretion, did he assign to him in line with the spirit and letters of the Nigerian Constitution as quoted above? In case he has forgotten, a statement issued by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, announcing Kachikwu as the Chairman of the 9-member NNPC Board charged them to ensure a successful delivery of their mandate and “serve the nation by upholding the public trust placed in them in managing this critical national asset.” Well, can we say this critical asset is being well managed for the good of all if a key member of that same board feels he doesn’t need the input from his chairman, or other member for that matter, in decision making as long as he gets the express approval of a President who had burdened himself with an additional responsibility of Minister of Petroleum Resources even if it is not known to our laws?
Don’t get it wrong, no one is saying that billions of dollars is missing or that Baru is working with some cabal to milk the nation dry. No. We are concerned with the possibility of the abuse of unrestrained power. There is an ample proof of that with the dismissiveness with which the NNPC attempted to puncture the controversial memo which was leaked to the media last week. Like I once noted, it should bother us that the Chairman of the NNPC Board couldn’t secure an audience with his principal while his subordinate regularly takes files to the same man to get speedy approval with or without the input of the Board. Come to think of it, could it be that Baru was one of those privileged Nigerians who frequently fly to London to discuss official matters with an ailing President even when he had properly empowered an Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to take charge? Could it be true that he equally disregarded a piece of advice by Osinbajo that he must liaise with Kachikwu before tendering any contract papers for presidential assent? Didn’t Mr. Baru see anything wrong in final approval lying with a so-called Tender’s Board which he also chairs? And how tenable is his argument that all the NNPC Board does statutorily is advisory and nothing more?
Personally, it matters less whether Baru and Kachikwu have been reunited with the firm handshake and plastic smiles they shared earlier in the week at the Nigerian Economic Summit in Abuja. Unnerving as the presidential silence is, it does not vitiate the fact that something is terribly wrong with the way the nation’s oil industry is being run. So far, the revelations show that we are yet to wean ourselves of the deliberate act of sabotage of the past in which key players in that sector pillaged truckloads of dollars in billions. With the inception of the Buhari administration, we thought it’s a new beginning of righting the wrongs. We all thought the new Sheriff has come to clear the mess and place the nation on a better pedestal in a competitive world. Now that we are hearing that the expertise of the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources has been reduced to that of a regular newspaper reader who normally encounters issues of policies, contractual process and appointments made under his ministry on the pages of newspapers, we cannot help but wonder if the status of a minister of state is not the same as the ingenuity that goes into the creation of the post of Minister without portfolio. Is that why Kachikwu’s appointment was celebrated with pomp and aplomb? To take his seat and bury his eyes in the pages of newspapers while the real work is being handled by the conclave of Buhari’s hatchet men? Who cares about transparency in corporate governance when Baru’s ‘bravado management style” has taken us thus far anyway?