Kachikwu: Lest Buhari Forgets

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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 Buhari on the activities of Makanti 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 polit­icised 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 re­alises 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 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 actualised 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 dem­onise 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 institutionalising 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 sanitise 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.


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