By Emma Agu
What those who denied the Minister of Petroleum, (State), Ibe Kachikwu access to President Muhammadu Buhari have succeeded in doing is to force the man out of the cabinet earlier than the President probably had planned. For, if he had been allowed to see the President, his letter to him on the activities of Maikanti Baru, group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation ( NNPC), would have been averted and the public uproar generated by the letter and its handling would similarly have been averted. That opportunity has been lost.
This is the litmus test of Buhari’s integrity: the matter is a straight-forward one. His minister has alleged that a man he supervises on two constitutional fronts: as chairman of the board of the NNPC and as minister of state, petroleum, has breached the procurement act, flouted extant corporate governance statutes and shown disrespect amounting to humiliation. If the minister is right, the man should instantly be placed on suspension; if the minister is wrong, the minister should go. Going forward, however the crisis is resolved, heads must roll; the issues in question are so fundamental that I do not see how the two can work together again.
In the nature of things, the matter has been seriously politicized with every group drawing political capital out of it. I can see the hawks telling Buhari to ignore Kachikwu. But as he weighs in on the matter, if his close aides allow him access to this article, I want him to consider my submission; that Kachikwu is the best friend he could ever have in this administration. Here are my reasons.
First, it takes a selfless patriot to blow the whistle in a situation that threatens the high position he occupies. Kachikwu could have kept quiet, tagged along and enjoyed the perquisites of office. He would not do that because he knows that tomorrow will come, that the hyenas are lurking dangerously close, to destroy the President’s record. Unlike the exponents of graft and impunity, Kachikwu realizes that Mr. President has made transparency and zero tolerance for corruption the hallmark of his administration; that this Buhari mantra should not be desecrated even if all other persons pretended that everything was right. We should never forget.
Second, for the sake of Buhari, Kachikwu treaded where angels would be scared to venture. For anyone who followed the national debate on hiking the pump head price of fuel, for anyone who watched the National Assembly debate on the matter, there was no disputing Kachikwu’s loyalty to the President or his commitment to the success of his administration. During his campaigns in 2015, Buhari had promised to reduce the price of fuel to forty naira from the prevailing ninety-seven naira at the time. But once elected, he made not just a volte face but a grotesque somersault. The pump head price of fuel was hiked to 147 naira. The people screamed blue murder; companies threatened to close shop; everybody was baying for blood: it will never happen, they said. But Kachikwu moved adroitly, with resolute detachment yet genteel demeanour, he mustered argument after argument, in the process disarming everyone. The impossible had happened; never before in the history of Nigeria had such been achieved. For sure, the personality of Buhari played a major part in the success because the people trusted him. We should never forget.
Third, if we thought that the first two points were simple, and I bet they are not, what can one say about the Kachikwu’s decision to put himself on the line at a time the Niger Delta was brimming with militancy? Oil production had declined to an abysmal low, less than one million barrels per day. With oil prices at the lowest and production at its nadir, the prognosis was dire; Nigeria was on the brink of an economic collapse. Of course, for the hawks, the solution was to bomb the militants out of existence: Abubakar Umar, a colonel and former governor of Kaduna State under President Ibrahim Babangida had warned that it was a stupid thing to do. Dialogue, he said, was the way out, a position that Kachikwu not only consistently advocated but promoted and actualized by throwing himself into the creeks of the Niger Delta. He moved like a warlord (which he is as ODOGWU – the war commander of Onicha Ugbo in Nigeria’s oil rich Delta State), believing in the justness of his cause. His arsenal was the diverse knowledge he had gathered handling delicate legal matters at Exxon Mobil, his armoury was laden with a repertoire of native wisdom, being a son of the soil: either way, he was prepared to die for the Niger Delta or Nigeria as he could not see a separation between the two. His conviction and sacrifice encouraged Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, another Buhari loyalist, to move to the creeks. There was a truce. Production went up. More oil money rolled in. We should never forget.
By the way, I have read the hypocrites doing what they know best, spewing conspiracy theories to demonize Kachikwu. They are free to deceive themselves. My earnest hope is that the President does not pay them any attention. For, what signal will the President be sending to the people of the Niger Delta by any step that detracts from the due process, by touching their son who raised legitimate issues of corporate governance, who has decided to stand with the President in the arduous task of re-inventing Nigeria by institutionalizing due process? How can anybody with a sense of fair-play and who earnestly believes in peace and stability expect the people of the Niger Delta to simply fold their arms over the lopsided appointments recently made at the NNPC? How would Buhari expect Kachikwu or any other minister of Niger Delta extraction, including the national chairman of the party, Chief John Oyegun, to be of any electoral value to the ruling All Peoples Congress party, APC when they cannot guarantee the zone equity in sharing assets that have ruined their environment and sentenced generations yet unborn to decades of hunger and disease?
It is one of those paradoxes of our convoluted nationhood that we insist that might is right even when the currents of history consistently prove the contrary to be the case. If Kachikwu is right, and I have no cause to doubt him until I see Baru’s response, what is obtaining at the NNPC is impunity writ large. The public is already wondering how this differs from the allegations being leveled against every member of President Goodluck Jonathan’s Administration. The international community will certainly not find this funny: oil is at the heart of the Nigerian economy and the President had promised to sanitize the sector. That the group managing director of the NNPC will award contracts above his limit without passing through the Board cannot be the sanity that was promised; that he will carry out high level promotions without the knowledge and participation of the Board cannot be the sanity that was promised; that he will ignore his supervising minister, under any guise, even to the extent that he circumvents the diplomatic admonition of the then Acting President, cannot be the sanity that was promised.
Kachikwu has cried out because after a distinguished career in the private sector, his word is his bond: he has invested his integrity, his reputation, his all, in the Buhari Administration, to the extent that he recently told us that Buhari was fit enough to run for second term if he so wished. That was at a time that many Nigerians believed that the President was down and out. Looking back, maybe, just maybe, Kachikwu was right! Now, he has told us that Baru’s actions negate due process, threaten the oil industry and imperil our future. Let Buhari not forget that, at a time that some of his best friends encouraged him to reduce the price of fuel to forty naira per litre, Kachikwu doggedly fought like a lion and won the price increase, giving the government the much needed financial breather to forge ahead with his ambitious infrastructure plans. When one considers how much loan this administration has taken, it is left to wonder what would have happened if the price of fuel had been reduced, if militants had made the Niger Delta unreachable and if the international oil companies had all shut down. I shudder to imagine that a patriot like Kachikwu, who put his life on the line, traversing the dangerous forests and treacherous creeks of the Niger Delta, who staked his all for Buhari and country dialoguing with ruthless militants, is being treated with so much umbrage. For the sake of Nigeria and for the President’s integrity which he holds up as a banner, even if Kachikwu should go, Buhari should never forget that the world, that includes the people of the Niger Delta, is watching how he disposes of this fundamental integrity issue.