By Olisemeka Sony
The minister of state for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, considers himself as a man who would not be brow-beaten, sidelined or bullied into submission on official matters. Infact, the Onicha-Ugbo, Delta state born Kachikwu considers himself a warrior. A recent video clip of the dramatic moments the minister, dressed in a traditional tiger-skin costume, was performing a traditional warrior dance has since gone viral on the social media. It was a rare peep into the life of the minister.
However, those who know him say he is not afraid to speak his mind and was probably the only member of the Muhammadu Buhari cabinet who succeeded in swaying the president’s mind. Kachikwu was credited as the person responsible for federal government’s decision to engage Niger Delta militants in dialogue rather than the planned military crackdown. And it worked like miracles – the attacks on oil facilities stopped and government oil revenues doubled. It was a rare feat for a minister to get Buhari to change his mind.
Kachikwu’s daring and fearless approach to official matters may have earned him great accolades, but it has equally made him step on toes or ruffle feathers. One of them is Maikanti Baru, the Group Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Kachikwu and Baru have managed to keep their official frosty relationship outside the media, but the recent leaked memo has certainly drawn the battle line between the minister and the NNPC boss.
Mr. Kachikwu, in an August 30, memo to Buhari, which surfaced in the internet on Tuesday had criticised Mr. Baru over illegal practices and appealed to President Buhari to take urgent steps to address his concerns.
In the leaked memo, the minister accused Baru of awarding $25 billion contracts without consulting either his office or the corporation’s board, blaming him for alleged insubordination, lack of adherence to due process and running a “bravado management style”.
Kachikwu said he was being sidelined by Baru and other heads of parastatals in major decisions and appointments and urged President Muhammadu Buhari to call him to order to ensure due process and transparency in the oil sector. He also presented five prayers to the president to save the oil sector from collapse, stating that he was always being blocked from seeing the president.
Stressing that he was neither anti-north nor corrupt as being alleged, Kachikwu insists that he was disturbed that $25 billion contracts were awarded by Baru without his input and that of the Board.
“The legal and procedural requirement is that all contracts above $20 million would need to be reviewed and approved by the Board of the NNPC. Mr. President, in over one year of Dr. Baru’s tenure, no contract has been run through the Board. This is despite my diplomatic encouragement to Dr. Baru to do so to avoid wrongfully painting you as a president who does not allow due process to thrive in the NNPC.
He went further: “Given the history of malpractices and the public perception of the NNPC as having a history of non-transparency, the NNPC Tenders Board (NTB) cannot be the final clearance authority for contracts it enters into.
“The NTB, which is a collection of NNPC executives and COOs, with the GMD as chairman cannot continue to be the final approval authority for multimillion dollar contracts and transactions involving NNPC to the exclusion of the Board.
“Board members have singularly and collectively raised these issues to no avail. The following major contracts were never reviewed by or discussed with me or the Board of NNPC:
* The Crude Term Contracts – value at over $10b
* The DSDP contracts – value over $5b
* The AKK pipeline contract – value approximately $3bn
* Various financing allocation funding contracts with the NOCs – value over $3bn
* Various NPDC production service contracts – value at over $3bn – $4bn
The minister said he found it pertinent to call the attention of the president to Baru’s misgivings because they are capable of hindering progress in the country’s petroleum sector or even reverse recorded strides.
Hear him: “Parastatals in the ministry and all CEOs of these parastatals must be aligned with the policy drive of the ministry to allow the sector register the growth that has eluded it for many years. To do otherwise or to exempt any of the parastatals would be to emplace a stunted growth for the industry.”
At the centre of the feud was the August 29 changes that affected up to 55 key executives at the NNPC which Mr. Baru claimed was to “reposition” the NNPC and “fill the gaps created due to statutory retirements of staff.” Amongst the five requests which Mr. Kachikwu sought from Mr. Buhari was an immediate suspension of the exercise until the “GMD, myself and the Board have made relevant input to same.”
Expectedly, the ministry of petroleum has swiftly moved to douse the growing tension, describing the memo as “a normal procedural correspondence”.
“The focus of the communication was on improving efficiency and deepening transparency in the oil and gas sector for continued investor confidence,” explains the ministry’s director of press, Alibi Dang. Although, the ministry said President Buhari backed Kachikwu’s efforts to “entrench good governance and accountability in the oil and gas sector”, it was silent on whether the president had acted on the minister’s memo since it was sent to him about five weeks ago; an indication that the matter is yet to be resolved.
The friction between Kachikwu and Baru did not start few months ago. In September 2016, the media reported a friction between Mr. Kachikwu and Mr. Baru, which centred on the administration’s Niger Delta policy. While Kachikwu, urged peaceful resolution and increased economic development for the restive region, Baru was in favour of a military crackdown on criminal elements vandalising oil pipelines. Baru had argued that the economic sabotage by militants had cut deeply into the country’s revenues, a situation he said was unsustainable.
Close watchers say both have engaged in prolonged cold war since 2015 when President Buhari appointed Kachikwu the Group Managing Director of the NNPC as well as the Minster of State for Petroleum Resources with unfettered powers.
The gist is that Kachikwu’s decision to send Baru, the most senior Group Executive Director (GED) away from the NNPC to the Ministry of Petroleum as Technical Adviser on Gas, a redundant position was the spark. For the next one year, Mr. Baru allegedly operated without an office as he was literally left in the wilderness while Kachikwu bestrode the ministry like a king.
To add salt to the injury, Kachikwu proceeded to launch a controversial reform programme that saw the GEDs of NNPC changed as Chief Operating Officers (COOs). He equally changed the reporting structure of the Group General Managers (GGM) of the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS) and GGM of the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC) who historically reported to the Group Executive Director (GED), Exploration & Production Directorate who then reported to the GMD to report directly to him Kachikwu as GMD.
Baru later reverted the NAPIMS and NPDC structure back to status when he was eventually recalled by the presidency and succeeded Kachikwu as NNPC’s GMD, because, according to him, it delayed their work having to report to GMD and he re-Christened the GEDs as GED/COO. Kachiwku was reportedly removed from his dual role as NNPC boss and minister when northern political forces felt he was becoming too powerful and for his alleged persecution of Baru.
And when Baru eventually found his way to the pinnacle of NNPC, the nation’s cash-cow and in charge of the ‘soup-pot’, it became obvious that he would not enjoy cordial relationship with the minister. Although, in the presidential structure, the minister is the bigger post theoretically and Kachikwu got that; and the NNPC GMD reports to the minister, however, in reality the NNPC boss is in control of the money. Any minister of petroleum who wishes to enjoy his reign needs to strike a good relationship with his GMD otherwise he will operate on “empty” tank.
Incidentally, with Baru and Kachikwu barely on speaking terms when he assumed the post of NNPC GMD, the minister has since found himself outfoxed and sidelined. Being increasingly frustrated by his inability to get the much-needed resources to implement his programmes due to their frosty working relationship, Kachikwu fired a memo to the presidency. Feelers say both combatants have been firing memos to the presidency reporting each other from day one. Yet, President Buhari refused to midwife a truce.
Although, Baru is reportedly battling personal problems including alleged severe health challenges, there are strong indications that his camp is not yet ready for a cease fire. The leaked memo saga may have drawn the line for the last battle, which may consume the appointment of the two protagonists or one of them.
While the matter is still subject of hot debates in the various social media circles, the Senate had already set up an ad-hoc committee chaired by Aliyu Wamako to carry out “holistic investigation” into the policy introduced by the current GMD of allocating products to Duke Oil and carry out a holistic investigation into the activities of NNPC Trading Company. The Senate also charged the nine-member committee to investigate Kachikwu’s letter accusing Mr. Baru of illegal actions and insubordination.
“The Senate is aware that Duke Oil remains the sole importer of AGO to PPMC and Retail, which it does through third party since it cannot import by itself, this contributes in slowing the growth of our indigenous companies that are making giant strides in the sector,” declared Senator Samuel Anyanwu while presenting the motion at the plenary on Wednesday.
The outcome of the senate probe may eventually push President Buhari to wield the axe. The question many are asking is, will Kachikwu come out of this battle unscathed or be consumed by it. As a sword wielding warrior from Delta state, Kachikwu knows that he must not flee in the face of crisis but fight on, even if it ends in defeat. Some southerners already see his latest travails as evidence of the northernisation of the presidency under Buhari and how the matter is handled will prove their assertion either right or wrong.
Ibe Kachikwu is a graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and Nigerian Law School. He obtained a Master’s and Doctorate Degree in Law from Harvard University. Kachikwu has 30 years of experience in management positions in the oil industry. He was appointed NNPC GMD in August 2015 and later the minister of State for Petroleum Resources.