AKIN OSUNTOKUN
AKIN OSUNTOKUN: DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA , Email: akin.osuntokun@thisdaylive.com

The two clichés that apply to the intervention of the former Minister of petroleum, Professor Tam David West on the troubling revelations at the NNPC are ‘when you find yourself in a hole and trying to get out, you stop digging’ and the other is a ‘cure worse than the disease’. Increasingly he has become the personification of a particular idiosyncrasy-that of making the most absurd Trumpian logic and fictive statements with the certitude of a lawgiver. In an interview with the Punch, here is David West’s opening salvo. ‘Was there a Ministry of Petroleum Resources in (Shehu) Shagari’s time and during Buhari’s first term in government’? In other words, he is saying that there was no ministry of petroleum in those two dispensations

Yet there was a certain Professor Tam David West who answered to the title of Minister of petroleum in, precisely, Buhari’s first term in government. Can you then imagine the same personality contending that no such ministry existed in that material dispensation? From this denial of his own existence, it was a catalogue of one mind bending apology after another (for infallible President Mohammadu Buhari and the NNPC Group Managing Director, GMD, Makanti Baru) in the ongoing revealing face-off with Minister Ibe Kachikwu. He waxes defiant “When you say that a minister of state is the boss of the GMD of NNPC, it is wrong. That cannot be. People are making those claims because of misconception. The minister of state in the First Republic was a minister without a portfolio. He cannot be a boss of the GMD of an oil industry”.

Here is the problem. The prescribing authority, namely the President, who is constitutionally empowered to determine and delegate the authority of a Minister, says I am specifically appointing and designating you, Ibe Kachikwu as Minister of (state) petroleum-with the administrative schedule of supervising all agencies of government in the petroleum sector and report to me accordingly. And for there not to be any ambiguity about your appointment, you are further appointed as the chairman of the NNPC board. How much clear can the President communicate his action?

Taking willful distortion to the next level, the Professor proceeded with the error of comparing apples and oranges. Given that he was an adult university graduate as far back as the First republic era, it is inexcusable that he seems not to realize that the First republic is as different from the Second, Third and Fourth republics, as the Westminster/ Parliamentary collective responsibility model is different from the executive Presidential system. By now it ought to have become common knowledge that under the former, the Prime Minister and the other cabinet Ministers are in office by virtue of being collectively members of the majority party in parliament. In the latter dispensation, one man, elected directly by the whole country, namely the President is vested with the discretionary executive authority to run the federal government and appoints whomsoever he wishes as Minister.

Whereas the Prime Minister is first among equals whose authority is subsumed within the limitation of collective responsibility, the President is unfettered in his personification of the executive branch of government. If therefore this President has not appointed anyone as Minister without portfolio, it is the height of presumptive ignorance for uninformed pundits to put irrelevant jargons in his mouth. Buhari appointed Kachikwu as Minister of petroleum, not as Minister without portfolio.

To the question, ‘Is Buhari not doing too much (saddling himself with too many responsibilities) as a President and Minister of petroleum? In characteristic overzealousness, David West proceeded to (unintentionally) damage the President by characterizing him as unfaithful to the commitment he voluntarily made. Said the Professor, ‘People have forgotten what he said when he resumed as President. He said that he would hold that position for 18 months, during which he intended to straighten things up in the place’. Well, according to the calendar of the Buhari administration, he has held on to the appointment now for upwards of 28 months. And to the logical follow-up question-‘shouldn’t Buhari step down as Minister since the 18 months have elapsed? David West responded ‘He will decide when to take that decision’.

POLITICS OF DIVISION

“If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck”. By now and even before he became the elected President of Nigeria, it has become a platitude rather than an accusation to suggest that President Mohammadu Buhari is firmly wedded to the politics of division, of pan Northern Nigerian Muslim irredentist politics. What needs to be explained is the fact that (to his credit) Nigerians, in full knowledge of this shortcoming nonetheless elected him as President. This observation can do with a little qualification. If we break it down to the spatial distribution of his votes, his election was actually not a pan Nigerian mandate. It was Northern heavy and Southern light. What he lacked in comparable huge votes from the South, he made up for it in the overwhelming intellectual rationalization deployed in his favor by a preponderance of the Southern intelligentsia more so the South West.

The crucial intellectual prop is exemplified by the skeptical support (but support nonetheless) of Professor Wole Soyinka. As he made clear in his statement of support, Soyinka did not gloss over the drawback of the irredentist politics of Buhari. The rationalization was that whatever he lacked in nationalistic broadmindedness is offset by his prior reputation as a proven anti-corruption crusader. Even to his most cynical critics, this was a plausible citation. On how he has fared on this strong point, the most generous concession is that the jury is still out. But whilst not making any discernable headway on this score, he has increasingly posted a renewed vigor in the politics of division. As we speak, no explanation, extenuation or apology has been tendered on the bizarre and blatantly discriminatory broadcast he made in Hausa language to the nation on the occasion of the Islamic Ramadan observance. Ditto the Freudian slip of committing to favor those who overwhelmingly voted for him at the expense of those Nigerians who did not. What has now matured into the Nigerian syndrome of parochialism engendered corruption and impunity ( as indicated in the NNPC story) was forewarned in the Punch editorial published a month after the problematic displacement of Kachikwu from his barely a year appointment as NNPC chief executive. On account of its contemporary relevance and prescience, the editorial is worth recalling once again.

‘It is a sad reality of the Nigerian experience that when crisis − political or economic − hits, segments of the populace retreat into ethnic and sectarian cocoons. It is in this combustible mix that Buhari stubbornly presses ahead with appointments that weigh heavily in favor of his Northern regional base. He struck again last month when he removed Ibe Kachikwu as head of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to put a Northerner; Before then, he had ring-fenced himself with appointees from his Northern constituency at the Presidency, he recalled a retired officer to man the Department of State Services; a former army officer to head the Nigeria Customs Service; a personal acquaintance as Chief of Staff, and loaded the other security and law enforcement agencies heavily in favour of Northerners. While the DSS head is from his hometown, Daura, the others are also almost all Northerners and overwhelmingly Muslims’.

Against this background, the turn the country has taken in recent weeks is perfectly predictable. As the NNPC controversy was simmering, the World Bank President further clarified the Nigerian negativity with the revelation that Buhari had specifically requested him to divert World Bank intervention projects intended for Nigeria into the Northern half of the country. Said Kim “you know, in my very first meeting with President Buhari, he said specifically that he would like us to shift our focus to the Northern region of Nigeria and we’ve done that’. When the news broke, I anticipated the plausible defense of the request as legitimate prioritization of the North-East, where this extenuation runs into problems is that the request was made for the North, not the North-East and the factual investigation carried out by Punch in the world bank website removed any doubts on Buhari’s intention.

Here are the facts ‘Findings on the World Bank website, showed that out of the 14 World Bank-sponsored projects in the country, seven are exclusively for the North, while six others are meant for the whole nation (South-West, South-South, South-East, North-West, North-East, North Central and North West); and the remaining one is for Lagos State. Titled ‘Projects and Operations’, these projects were listed under June 2015 – June 2017 projects. The implication is that in addition to solely getting the lion’s share of the projects, the North also shared in the remaining 50 per cent with the South-West, South-East and South-South. Projects exclusive to the northern region worth $1bn are: Multi-Sectoral Crisis Recovery Project for North-eastern Nigeria ($200m; Borno, Yobe and Adamawa); State Education Program Investment Project ($100m; North-East states); Community and Social Development Project ($75m; Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Taraba, Bauchi, and Gombe); Youth Employment and Social Support Project ($100m; Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Taraba, Bauchi, and Gombe States); Additional Financing Nigeria State Health Investment Project ($125m; Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe) and the Third National Fadama Development Project ($50m; selected area in the North-East)’.

‘Projects worth $2.9bn were earmarked for the nation which northern states are also expected to benefit from. They are: Better Education Service Delivery for All ($611m); Mineral Sector Support for Economic Diversification Project ($150m); NEITI Reporting Compliance ($0.32m); the Polio Eradication Support Project ($125m); National Social Safety Nets Project ($1.8b); and $200m-Agro-Processing, Agricultural Productivity Enhancement and Livelihood Improvement Support Project specifically designed for Kano, Kaduna, Lagos, Cross River, Kogi, Enugu and three other states. There was also the Third Lagos State Development Policy Operation ($200m), a stand-alone project which was approved on June 26, 2015, and ended on December 31, 2016. The World Bank documents did not contain any programme or project specifically designed for the South-East, South-South (despite its double jeopardy) and the Middle Belt regions since Buhari got into power’.