Kachikwu in the Eye of the Storm

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By Jack Kalio
For Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, it doesn’t rain; it pours; trouble does not only walk through the front door, it also drops from the ceiling. For someone who has always been in the private sector since his exit from Harvard Law School, facing the slaps and kicks of public service may be an entirely sour experience driving him to human limits. Though he has spent all his professional life in the oil industry, perhaps, he has just realised that in Nigeria, there is no business as oily as petroleum business.
On his appointment as Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Kachikwu took office as a Daniel who had come to judgement. He came with fresh industry ideas. He approached the job from day one with the undisguised readiness of a new broom ready to clean-up the mess. While many Nigerians hailed his initiatives and daring openness, others, especially those who had benefitted from the corrupt system over the years, watched with half breathe. They thought the new man would soon run out of steam. That has refused to happen.
In fact, his appointment as Minister of State for Petroleum in November last year, a position he is combining with that of Group Managing Director of the NNPC, made him the first person to hold the two most important offices at the same time. While a lot of ethnic jingoists saw the appointment as a miscalculation on the part of the President, others said it was a sign of trust and a demonstration of Kachikwu’s uncommon competence in handling the oily issues of the nation.
Until a few weeks ago, Kachikwu was a celebrated reformer. He went about his duty with a messianic mien. Then he said something about restructuring the NNPC. At that point, organised labour sent him a dangerous message. It is still not very clear how he got them on his side; but he did. In the midst of celebrating that success, the lingering fuel scarcity stepped in through the front door. Someone said two weeks ago that never in the history of independent Nigeria has Nigerians faced the agony of fuel scarcity the way it has happened in the last few weeks.
Last week on this page, there was a discussion on how the godfather and king-maker emeritus of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, dragged Kachikwu to the court of public opinion over his statement on how long Nigerians would have to wait to live a normal life as government tried to cut the fuel queues shorter. Tinubu came down on Kachikwu with the full might of his political weight. For someone who is yet to cut his teeth in the high-wired political intrigues associated with public offices in Nigeria, Kachikwu had to consult the gods of the game before he could free his neck from what looked like the iron grip of the hangman.
Just as he tried to take a deep breath of respite, another tonnes of bricks have been emptied on his head. This came last week in the form of an open letter addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari asking him to investigate the activities of his Minister of State and GMD of NNPC. The letter emanated from a company alleged to be owed some money by the NNPC. Although much of what they wrote about are over-beaten issues, in moments like this, whatever you say about someone whose responsibility it is to end the biting fuel scarcity is accepted as the gospel truth.
Principally, the petitioners accused Kachikwu of achieving “in less than six months, what Diezani Alison-Madueke couldn’t achieve in five years”  in the area of carrying out restructuring exercise “which expands the scope of his powers and direct control over the NAPIMS and crude oil marketing.” That sounded like a ridiculous comparison and a conclusion based on imaginations rather than facts going by the announcement that preceded and the clarifications given after the restructuring exercise. It clearly indicated that those behind the petition had other reasons for criticising the exercise.
It was also stated by the petitioners that Kachikwu carried out the restructuring of the NNPC without involving the staff of the organisation; and that since assumption of office, he was yet to meet with the International Oil Companies (ICOs) to seek their engagement on any new deep water project; and that the Minister of State has always used the excuse of meeting with the President to cancel meetings with the ICOs. Just as it was in the case of the immediate past Petroleum Minister, the petitioners accused Kachikwu of using a private jet at the expense of the state.
On Thursday, a group called Coalition for Change took on the petitioners almost word for word. In an advertorial published in not a few papers, the group said it was gearing up to engage Kachikwu headlong based on the issues raised by the petitioners only to discover that most of the issues raised “ turned out to be the direct opposite of what was published. At the end, we realised that the advertisers of the alleged sins of Dr. Kachikwu had ended up advertising their ignorance and selfish interest.”
Faulting the petitioners on all fronts, the respondent said sponsors of the publication ended up raising some pedestrian issues that lacked factual substance. It said the sponsors of the publication were “aggrieved by the transparent policies introduced by the Buhari administration to clean the NNPC of its past rot and put in place a more effective managerial structure aimed at delivering on the original mandate of the Corporation. It is absolutely nauseating to have them compare the current NNPC to the NNPC under Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke.”
The accusation that Kachikwu has not been able to engage the IOCs since he assumed office was instantly faulted by newspaper report on the day the said petition was published. The reports quoted the IOCs as promising to sell foreign exchange to oil marketers whose businesses had been trapped by the stringent government policy regarding foreign exchange. The question then is: if the petitioners were right in their allegations, how would the IOCs agree to sell the forex to oil marketers?
Information available on Wednesday showed that the Minister of State had met with the IOCs since assumption of office for at least 15 times on various issues and ways to improve efficiency and reinvigorate the oil industry. It stated that it was on the strength of these meetings that the Minister of State convinced the IOCs to sell foreign exchange to oil marketers to ease importation of petroleum products. The minister was also said to have engaged the IOCs in negotiating, for the first time in Nigeria’s recent industry history, the exit strategy for cash calls and the attraction of funding into the industry.
“Those familiar with the operations of the oil sector know that it is impossible to take any action on these issues without talking to the IOCs. Or wait a minute: did the IOCs complain to Oil Mogul about this? IOCs have even commended the GMD for this serious engagement which they say never existed at this level in the past,” stated the Coalition.
On the crucial issue of restructuring, the group stated that the petitioners’ conclusion that the exercise has left too much power with Kachikwu was based on ignorance of the true state of affairs. It asked: “are they aware that this is a public institution; and that Dr Kachikwu is not implementing a personal agenda? Are they also aware that by the restructuring, there is a complete devolution of power; unlike what was in the past? Each of the independent entities is to be managed by CEOs who only reports to the GMD for smooth coordination.”
It noted that by asking Buhari to investigate Kachikwu’s activities and reverse the on-going restructuring, the sponsors of the advertisement were simply asking the President, who is also the Minister of Petroleum Resources, to investigate himself. It said unknown to the petitioners, the President and other right thinking members of the society have come to see the restructuring as the only way forward for the NNPC.
On the controversial issue of the use of private jet by the minister; an issue that locked the former Oil Minister, Alison-Madueke against the National Assembly, it was categorically stated that “for avoidance of doubt, Dr. Kachikwu does not own or operate a private jet; neither has he hired one since assumption of office. He is sometimes availed the use of logistic resources by the IOCs to support the efficiency of his activities as minister; and this is at no cost to the Federal Government of Nigeria; unlike what operated in the previous regime.”
Warned the group: “enough of these distractions; please. Dr. Kachikwu is not a saint but he must be left alone to do his job. Managing the oil sector in a depressed economy is not a tea party. He needs all the concentration required for the job. Whoever has been genuinely disqualified from doing business with the NNPC should look elsewhere and stop resorting to cheap blackmail.”
It is also necessary to add here that NAPIMS, which is the investment arm of the NNPC, is the body that supervises the activities of the IOCs. Until the recent restructuring, NAPIMS reported directly to the Group Executive Director and not Kachikwu. Therefore, it becomes impossible to understand why the petitioners stated that the GMD had direct control over NAPIMS.
The flood of petitions might rattle Kachikwu; but if he asks others, he would be duly informed that this is what you get when you try to change a system that has made billionaires out of the operators.
– Kalio is a public affairs analyst