Kachikwu vs Baru: It’s Time to End the Public Spat!

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The unscheduled rapprochement between the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, and the Group Managing Director of NNPC, Mr. Maikanti Baru, following their initial public spat has necessitated the need to move on from this phase in the nation’s interest. Olawale Olaleye writes

There is no contesting the fact that even the jury in this matter has taken sides. The depth of interest involved in the supremacy battle between Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and the General Managing Director of NNPC, Maikanti Baru, is incredible and worthy of anyone’s attention.

From those protecting their personal interests as against the collective stake to those guarding the involvement of the establishment, whose going concern they must shield as against the collective standing of the Nigerian people, it is clear that this particular debate, which bothers on right and wrong, is open ended.

Coming from this understanding, it is therefore instructive that all those concerned should cease fire – personally or by proxy – and move on, especially that the truth of the matter may never come to the open, if the body language of the leadership suffices.

But before a closure is embraced in this matter, for posterity sake, more so that they have both embraced in public, feigning that all is well, it is imperative to review the crux of the issue again, particularly as they address the allegations of lack of adherence to due process in the awards of contracts at NNPC.

Whilst Baru tried to address the contentions raised in Kachikwu’s letter without any pungent knockout points, the arrogance of the delivery is a clear indication of where the jury stands and the import of this is that should the debate continue with such propensity, the possibility of slanting into ethnic abyss is more than likely.

But first, what are the issues as far as due process in the awards of contracts is concerned? The first thing to point out is that the NNPC, in its response, missed the central theme in Kachikwu’s letter, which dwelt on the elements of governance, transparency and due process in the parastatal, directly pointing at the inability or outright failure of the NNPC leadership to make this available to the architecture of the institution, meant to serve as some form of check and balances in NNPC’s administration for the benefit of all.

With this template, it is imperative to mention that the original intent of the letter was not to insinuate fraud or theft against Baru or anyone at that. On the contrary, it was meant to acquaint the president with the implications of sidelining the Minister of State, whose role is to supervise the NNPC and sector agencies, evidently on behalf of the president, especially as it addresses governance in the critical sector.

If this is seen in the light it represents, what then is the crux of disagreement? For example, many would like to know, given Baru’s response, what roles the Board of Directors of NNPC play in supervising its management? What with the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, who is the Chairman of the Board or his role in relation to the governance of the corporation?

So, let’s look at the role of the directors as clearly stated in Section 1(2) of the NNPC Act, which provides a mandate for them, statutorily. Here: “The affairs of the Corporation shall be conducted by a Board of Directors of the Corporation…” What this means is that the law recognises the Board as an essential element for governance and grants it the power of oversight over the affairs of the corporation. This is clearly stated and does not need to be debated.

Further up, the NNPC Act in Section 3(1) pegs the role of the Managing Director of NNPC. This is only in the area of the execution of the policy of the Corporation and the day-to-day running of the activities of the Corporation. To that extent, the role of the Board in this regard, is to design the policy and strategic focus of NNPC and oversee the execution role of the management.

The Board oversight has therefore become an important sifter and protection for the President on key decisions within the NNPC, given the demands on his time and contrary to the GMD’s preference to always want to bypass the Board. This, of course, is an essential filter in the governance corporation, believed to have informed the need for the Board in the first place.

In that context, Kachikwu represents the President as Chairman of the board and in line with the president’s mandate as the Minister of Petroleum Resources under the Petroleum Act for supervision of the industry. Here, he is to ensure proper administration of the policy of government and her strategic navigation of the NNPC as a corporation.
In fact, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance plays a significant role in ensuring that NNPC’s activities do not affect the treasury, and to represent and protect the interests of the public as a whole and other appointed directors on the board.

To better understand this, it is important to note that there was no such thing as Board of Directors throughout the Kachikwu era as GMD of the Corporation. Of course and for emphasis, this was not ideal, both in form and content. Nevertheless, Kachikwu weekly reported the activities of the corporation to the President and ensured that major contracts were brought to him for approval. This tradition he upheld throughout that period he held sway.

But, with a Board in place, NNPC’s governance structure changed significantly. By law, therefore, Section 1(2) of the NNPC Act mandates the Board to oversee the Corporation. There is no question about that. By implication, issues related to NNPC governance, decisions of the Tenders Board, being an organ appointed by the GMD should not question the need for a Board approval or its responsibility for oversight as defined by the Act.

This much was given fillip to in the period that Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo acted while Buhari was away on medical vacation. In this period, Baru had reportedly sought certain approvals from the vice president, who knowing the process as a lawyer, directed him back to Kachikwu for approval. But Baru would rather wait for Buhari to return and indeed, the president did the needful upon his return without as much checking with Kachikwu.

But as Board Chairman appointed by the President himself, Kachikwu or any minister of state at that has a dual role in his capacity and with respect to the NNPC. First, he is to make sure that the NNPC is always consistent with approved policies of the government, and provide leadership on policy initiatives to the NNPC. The other role is ensuring that the NNPC functions stricto sensu with its Act, both in the area of governance and management.

Suffice it to say that for the appointment of a Minister of State to act as alternate chair of the NNPC Board, there is a worthy precedent. It is common knowledge that Dr. Edmund Daukorou, for example, was appointed Minister of State and NNPC Board Chairman when President Olusegun Obasanjo held sway as the substantive petroleum minister.
And in enhancing clarity of the respective relationships between the Minister of State and GMD NNPC as well as creating the room for more effective governance, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua actually clarified their schedule of duties, which included the supervision of NNPC and other related agencies.

Unfortunately, in the time of Buhari, it seems that the NNPC is unable to tag along with the changes initiated to prove a better administration for the sector. Indeed, for NNPC’s benefit, survival and sustainability, it is sacrosanct it functions transparently and conform to the articulated governance structure.

Perhaps, NNPC can take a cue from agencies like PEF, PPPRA, PTI and NCDMB in terms of their governance structures. These ones ensure that approvals are sent to their Boards, first for consideration and presented to the Minister of State for further review. But in the case of PPPRA, there is actually no board, although its management agrees and patently so to oversight from the Minister of State’s office. The question this raises is that if other parastatals under the petroleum ministry still submit to the minister of state, why is NNPC difficult or an issue?
Efficiency in the petroleum sector requires that agencies or parastatals under it must be transparent and embrace the governance structure and this is binding, particularly for the future of the corporation. But without an effectively articulated governance structure of any sector agency, nonetheless the NNPC, corruption prevention remains a mirage, because it naturally becomes a problem identifying what really constitutes corruption.

There is no doubting the fact that the president desires a transparent legacy of governance in the petroleum sector, as a result, any disposition that erodes the functionality of the NNPC Board is inimical to collective interest and at cross-purposes with the anti-graft stand of the Buhari administration, if at all it is serious. It is therefore in Buhari’s interest that the NNPC and other agencies work together in a more coordinated manner with discipline and consistency in policy as their focus. That said, enough of the diatribe. Let all sides sheath their swords as they have done publicly recently and move on as a team. The administration has a lot to lose if this matter is mishandled. While it is safe to assume that the Buhari government is not ready to get to the root of the matter or set an example with this development as it already appears an interested party, it will be edifying to protect the institutions of state and the laws that set them up, otherwise, change might as well remain a fantasy of both the leader and the led.