What is it about oil that it reveals the worst in us?

What is it about oil that it reveals the worst in us?
What is it about oil that it reveals the worst in us?

By Dele Sobowale

“I know this bravado management style runs contrary to the cleansing operations you engaged me to carry out at the inception of your administration.

This is also not in consonance with your own renowned standards of integrity.” Dr Ibe Kachikwu, Minister of State for Petroleum in memo to President Buhari.

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Oil Pipe

Money is always the best test of honesty while power is the acid test of integrity. He might not mean it that way, but, the Minister of State has inadvertently challenged the President of Nigeria to prove his integrity with regard to the management of the Nigerian oil sector.  Like all accidents waiting to occur, Buhari was playing with the fire that might consume a bit more of his vaunted integrity than he realized.

Clinging, against advice, to the Ministry of Petroleum he became responsible ultimately for what his subordinates did – with or without his consent. For a busy and sometimes very sick man, that meant a lot of things were delegated to others. We are now finding out how those delegated powers were being used and possibly abused.

We remember that “Power tends to corrupt….” (Lord Acton, 1834-1902). Given all the media publicity which the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has mined out of Diezani’s exploits, oil power has become the greatest corrupter in Nigeria today. It corrupts all those who touch it.

Prior to this revelation by Kachikwu – still regarded here as a rumour in fairness to Buhari – the way Buhari has so far handled the matters concerning the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Mr. David Babcir, has already pointed to the fact that Buhari’s Aso Rock is now becoming another ANIMAL FARM where “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”.

It took months between the revelations by the Senate of the former SGF’s involvement in shady deals in Borno State and the time Buhari finally bowed to public outcry to suspend the fellow. It has taken even more months for the Presidency to deliver its verdict on a matter which should have been handed over to the police and prosecutor long ago.

Along the way, the Minister of Health encountered insubordination in his Ministry for months by a northern head of an agency before the fellow was eventually sent packing. A few southern Ministers have complained privately about rampant rudeness from their northern subordinates operating as if they believe that “this is our turn to rule.”

Kachikwu’s complaint did not come as surprise to many people who are close observers of what goes on in Abuja. Northerners who before now felt humiliated by the Ijaws under Jonathan now dish out to others what they once resented. Kachikwu probably just had enough. While one might question his method, he has at least gained the President’s attention and our own.

Among the charges, explicit and inferred, made by the Minister two need to be interrogated immediately. The first is the redeployment of the top staff of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, recently. The Group Managing Director, GMD, rightly had recommended those to be re-deployed. Who approved the deployment if the Minister of State and the Board of NNPC were unaware of the postings?

Buhari cannot possibly claim ignorance of the postings given the publicity and the acrimonious controversy they have generated. More to the point, did Buhari approve the postings without informing the Minister of State? If he did, then we know who has encouraged the insubordination and there is no need to wait for his verdict on this matter. Buhari might even hope that Nigerians will forget the entire episode. That will be less than forthright and would not enhance his claim to integrity – given the lopsidedness of the appointments.

On the other hand, if Buhari was not consulted before the appointments were made, then, he should stop wasting everybody’s time and take two steps. First, he should sack the NNPC-GMD immediately. Second, he should reverse the re-deployment since it was undertaken in clear violation of the law and the procedures governing the corporation. The exercise should then be handled by the Board of NNPC which should send its recommendations to the President for approval. Anything else will amount to condoning insubordination and illegality.

The second matter is the size of those contracts – almost N9 trillion. Granted crude oil provides the lion’s share of our annual revenue. But, last year’s budget was N6.2 trillion and we failed to generate that amount. For the current year, N7trillion revenue was estimated and we are unlikely to achieve that figure.

Yet, the GMD of the NNPC which had been operating at a loss recently has reportedly awarded contracts far above the nation’s annual budget. Was it an investment which is expected to yield positive returns and how much? Who else took part in the decision to commit so much of the nation’s financial resources for purposes not clear to the supervising Minister? We hope it is not true.

If it is not true and Kachikwu raised a false alarm, especially at this time when inter-ethnic animosities are at their highest since the Nigerian Civil War in 1967 then he will have to resign or get sacked.

Already, the Nigerian traditional, as well as social, media are full of sectional and hostile comments on account of the revelations. Dissidents and militants have seized upon the memo as justification for renewed violence while Northern commentators have lined up behind Baru despite the fact that the allegations by Kachikwu are yet to be proved. Minds have been made up before the facts are established.

One problem we have with this matter is the fact that the NNPC is a creation of Decree 33 of 1977 which does not provide for any role for the Minister of State. The Decree explicitly states that “the affairs of the Corporation shall……be conducted by a Board of Directors which consist of a Chairman and the following members…The Chairman shall be a Commissioner (Minister) in the Government of the Federation who shall be known and styled as the Federal Commissioner (Minister) for Petroleum.

Buhari is the Minister for Petroleum and as such the NNPC GMD can only report to him and not to Kachikwu because the Decree makes no provision for two Ministers. Buhari created the problem when he insisted on retaining the portfolio and then turned around to appoint a Minister of State to supervise the NNPC.

Now the President is in a no-win situation. His call for another Executive branch probe cannot be taken seriously on account of what had happened to other probes conducted by his government which had ended as cover-ups for dubious people. At any rate the result of the inquiry might not be released any time soon.

Meanwhile, the National Assembly, NASS, like sharks smelling blood in an ocean, has moved in quickly. Very soon sensational statements embarrassing to the government will hit the media – not only about the matter on hand but about other aspects of NNPC operations.

Already, transactions with Duke Oil in particular have become the focal point of Senate probe and the initial reports suggest a mega-scam might be revealed. Other rumors, gone viral, on social media point at top members of Buhari’s Bedroom Cabinet who are said to be acting as fronts for the cabal. Buhari does not have to have benefited from any of the fraudulent activities that might be discovered. He will be smeared by the crude oil mess just because he is the Minister. After all, when he and others still at large, overthrew the government of Shagari and Ekwueme, they found the former President and his Vice President to be as clean as Buhari himself. It was the Ministers and other operators who were stealing the country blind. If Shagari and Ekwueme were found guilty by association in 1984-5 then Buhari risks being smeared by the activities of his appointees – irrespective of whether he was an accomplice or not.

What is it about oil that it makes beasts out of us? Somebody tell me.


“If the budget is N100m, then we need to know how the budget is spent.”—Mrs Aisha Buhari, wife of President Buhari.

Few Chief Executive Officers, CEOs, of private limited liability companies, or organizations, owned by millions of shareholders and which also owe obligations to thousands of other stakeholders – banks, management and staff, creditors, suppliers, customers, the Tax Office etc – would allow their wives to publicly intervene in the affairs of the organizations they head. But, public office everywhere is different – especially in Nigeria. Anybody appointed to office by a President or Governor invariably works for two bosses, the real Oga and the bedroom Ogapatapata.

Now and for ever, the beginning of wisdom for all those working closely with any president is to recognize “Madam President” as the second most powerful person in the government. When the bedroom doors are closed to everybody else she has his two ears all to herself. Dr Husain Munir might not have done anything wrong, but, he has landed in Madam President’s hot soup and is already a subject of public ridicule.

Unfortunately, Mrs Buhari had not only drawn attention to a closed Aso Rock secret, she had inadvertently added another example to the growing list of cases which question the President’s sincerity about fighting corruption. Her two-edged sword also cut down her husband as well. Pity.

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