By Patrick Chigbu
The recent exchanges at the highest echelon of the Nigerian oil industry should be seen as a great opportunity to commence the reinvention which the Nigerian economy really needs. This is firstly because it will still take some time before oil is overthrown as the mainstay of the Nigerian economy even with all the efforts at its diversification. And secondly, because the destitution of corporate governance and global best practice in the fabric of the Nigerian economy finds stark expression and in fact home in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and by extension the oil industry. This is without prejudice to the array of laws and/or statutes establishing the corporation and governing its affairs. The brittle nature of these legal instruments have been cinematized by the response of the Group Managing Director of the corporation, Dr Maikanti Baru, to the leaked letter of the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu to his principal, President Muhammadu Buhari.
The said letter has been in the public domain for quite some time now and therefore most undeserving of regurgitation in this piece. Having said that, it is worthy of note that the letter oozes discontent, frustration and humiliation. I also tremble to add altruism and patriotism because it has yet to be proven that the Honourable Minister of State is not driven by the desire to see that things are done properly. Here is a Nigerian erroneously seen by the general public as sitting at the apex of Nigerian oil industry considering the fact that his principal, President Muhammadu Buhari until recently has been largely indisposed.
One of the buzzwords on which the present government rode to power was ‘impunity’; after ‘corruption’, that is. For a government that swore to eradicate impunity to condone Dr Baru’s claim that based on the extant rules and regulations he did not have to consult with Dr Kachikwu as Minister of State, or the NNPC Board which Dr Kachikwu chairs, is in fact preposterous. It should be noted that the redundancy of a Board of Directors, real or imagined or even implied by law provides the fertile ground for corruption and impunity.
The NNPC Act states inter alia that the affairs of the Corporation shall be conducted by a Board of Directors which shall consist of a chairman and the following other members, namely; the Director-general of the Federal Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, Managing Director of the Corporation and three persons to be appointed by the Council of Ministers. There is no iota of doubt in the Act with regard to the overall supervisory powers of the Board over the affairs of the Corporation. NNPC Tenders’ Board who are appointees of management couldn’t have been superior to the Board in the oversight of the award of contracts of amounts totalling more than the current annual budget of the country. Is it not an anomaly that the Group Managing Director is also the Chairman of the Tenders’ Board? This sounds unbelievable.
To avoid more dirty linens being washed in the public, the point being made is that it is important that the leaked private memo of the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu – which has now become a public document – becomes the reference document for the commencement of the cleansing of Nigerian institutions, public or private. It speaks to the very mentality of the average Nigerian chief executive with all their excesses, impunity and ‘it-is-my-turn syndrome.’
NNPC is Nigeria in microcosm; an incarnation of the rot that has eaten deep into the very marrows of the country and stymied its growth. Be it corrosive corruption, cronyism, nepotism, clannishness, prebendalism or atavism, they all find expression in NNPC. It was the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El Rufai who stated at the outset of this government that: “If Nigeria does not kill NNPC, NNPC will kill Nigeria.” It was thought then that the statement was an overkill. We now know better.
It is hugely surprising that some people are still listening to the oil unions, NUPENG and PENGASSAN who have queued behind Dr Baru. Who would have expected anything different from this atavistic collectivity who are impervious to change? They cannot be exonerated from the porosity and opacity that have characterized the oil industry in Nigeria over time. No figures or statistics in the oil industry can be trustworthy and applicable for meaningful development planning or socio-economic development. It is in this industry that is located the very root of Nigeria’s dysfunctionality.
It is therefore mindboggling that Dr Kachikwu has not yet received the high-decibel accolades that he richly deserves for his display of exceptional courage and patriotism. It is incomprehensible that there are suggestions from some quarters that both Dr Kachikwu and Dr Baru should be suspended from office or in fact relieved of their duties. What wrong has Dr Kachikwu done? How can it be that a serving Minister of State and Chairman of a national corporation is relieved of his duties because he has reported to his principal cases of maladministration and manifest impropriety of the management he supervises? This would certainly be dispiriting to all those who mean well in government and are desirous of taking bold steps to turn things around. This is Nigeria’s way of trivializing serious issues and eventually sweeping them under the carpet.
Dr Kachikwu it was who, alongside the Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo, adopted the conciliatory approach with its accompanying legwork that restored relative calm in the Niger Delta and shored up oil production to the benefit of the Nigerian economy when it mattered most. The private memo to the President is also aimed at restoring sanity at the heart of the industry that is severely ravaged by multiple improprieties. Therefore, efforts should be made to ensure that he does not suffer any sanction or inconvenience for carrying out his duties fearlessly. It could send unpleasant and dangerous signals to the rowdy and hardly-compromising stakeholders in the Niger Delta who have already begun to buy into his pacifist approaches to addressing grievances of different stakeholders.
Patrick Chigbu is a social commentator based in Abuja.