Ibe Kachikwu: Minister Without Portfolio?

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By Eric Elezuo

“Sadly Ibe Kachikwu jumped in the sack with the wrong set of people. He got into bed with a brood of vipers and a horde of vampires who secretly hate and despise his own.

He chose to wine and dine with an insatiable and rapacious set of self-seeking, self-serving, flesh-eating, blood-drinking, spirit-crushing, destiny-destroying and soul-wounding demons and devils and now the chickens have come home to roost.”

Those were the very words of a former Minister of Aviation, and Peoples Democratic Party chieftain, Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode, describing the quagmire the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, seems to have fallen into.

In the last couple of weeks, the press has been inundated with the stories of Ibe Kachikwu battling the Group Managing Director, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr. Maikanti Baru, over supremacy status in the oil house.

Kachikwu made his debut into the national petroleum management in 2015 when he was appointed Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. The ceremony that transferred Nigerian oil powers to him was brief that Tuesday morning in July 2015, at the NNPC Towers, Abuja. He therefore assumed duty as the Chief Executive of the Corporation, and by extension the oil ministry since there was no incumbent petroleum minister at the time. Kachikwu then wielded maximum powers, calling the shots from all corners.

Prior to his appointment, Dr. Kachikwu was the Executive Vice Chairman and General Counsel of Exxon Mobil (Africa).

Dr. Kachikwu, a First Class Graduate of Law from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and the Nigerian Law School, on assumption of office, had expressed gratitude to his predecessor, Dr. Joseph T. Dawha for his hard work in holding the Corporation while pledging to work assiduously in achieving the president’s growth aspiration for the oil and gas industry. That was one pledge he worked tooth and nail to achieve.

Though he also holds Masters and Doctorate Degrees in Law from the Harvard Law School, he started his working career with the Nigerian/American Merchant Bank before moving on to Texaco Nigeria Limited from where he joined Exxon-Mobil.

On assumption of office, he demonstrated a high resolve to rescue the NNPC and Nigeria’s oil sector in general, and proved within a few months that change is possible irrespective of the resistance being instigated by the oil thieves and the so called cabal.

Kachikwu’s entrance startled the alleged cabal that had hitherto held the oil sector by the jugular for many years, and they were thrown off balance because as a systems person, he understands the inner workings of the parastatal and of course, the degree of corruption that had been perpetrated where and when and most likely by whom even.

The cabal which has survived many governments in the country erroneously believed President Buhari would also genuflect to their antics by appointing an NNPC overall boss based on their counsel, who would be amenable to their dictates. They were even more surprised when Buhari expressed his desire to also head the Petroleum Ministry and to elevate Kachikwu to double as his deputy and NNPC boss.

“That was when Buhari was the Buhari people thought they elected,” says a social analyst.

Kachikwu introduced far reaching and sweeping reforms at the NNPC which the Senate and the generality of the Nigerian public applauded though the House of Representatives opposed it, making a cross section of Nigerians wondered the motive behind  opposing a system that would save the country a total of $150 million monthly. With such opposition, it was obvious that those who were affected were poised to fight back no matter how long it took, and it seems Kachikwu’s travails today is an aftermath of the opposition.

His reforms included the scrapping of the Crude Swap Deal. With the initiative, the nation was able to save about $1 billion by operating the Direct-Sale-Direct-Purchase regime, and those whose pockets it used to enter kicked. Even the House of Representatives invited him to explain his actions.

Again, he undertook a review of Deep Offshore Products Agreement, revisited the fiscal terms of the existing production sharing contract entered into by the NNPC with some international oil and gas companies in order to seek favourable benefits for Nigeria based on the current and prevailing realities, and deployed drones to monitor the inward and outward movement of oil vessels across the nation’s territorial waters as well as pipeline vandalism among other credible reforms.

As intrigues turn to desperation, Kachikwu’s monopoly of power came to an abrupt end when in August 2016, he was stripped of leadership of the NNPC but retained in the Ministry of Petroleum as a Minister of State while a substantive GMD for the NNPC was appointed in the person of Maikanti Baru, somebody most people has referred to as ‘Buhari’s man’. To worsen the seasoned administrator’s position, President Mohammadu Buhari remained Minister of Petroleum with little or no duties. Kachikwu therefore found himself in the middle of two super powers who easily understood each other. He became an outsider, playing second fiddle to both men, even surprisingly to his junior, Baru, who continually flouts his orders.

The conflict between the two had been well concealed from the media for the most part, although it was first hinted about a year ago.

In September 2016, the Daily Independent in Lagos reported friction between them which centred around the administration’s Niger-Delta policy.

While Mr. Kachikwu, a native of Delta State, urged peaceful resolution and increased economic development for the restive region; Mr. Baru was in favour of a military crackdown on criminal elements vandalising oil pipelines.

The NNPC GMD said the economic sabotage by militants had cut deeply into the country’s revenues, a situation he said was unsustainable.

 

It is not known how long he may have suffered “disrespectful and humiliating conducts” in silence, but in October, a letter purportedly written in by him, and dated August 30, 2017 and addressed to President Mohammadu Buhari was leaked to the public. The letter, which the Presidency claimed ignorance of until it was leaked on October 3, accused Baru of bypassing procedures in the award of oil contracts without a review by the NNPC board, an allegation Baru denied.

However, facts emerged during the week that the presidency was bent on humiliating Kachikwu as it initiated moves to avert the indictment of the Dr. Maikanti Baru, by the Senate ad hoc committee charged with investigating him for awarding contracts to the tune of $25 billion without recourse to the NNPC board of directors. Consequently, President Buhari held a private meeting with the chairman of the committee, and former Governor of Sokoto State, Alhaji Aliyu Wamakko

The nine-man committee is charged with investigating Baru over the allegations
of insubordination and keeping the NNPC board chaired by Kachikwu in the dark in the award of contracts and promotion of senior executives of NNPC.

So far, Kachikwu has been left in the dark even as unconfirmed reports suggest that a proposed meeting between him and the president did not hold as Buhari’s aides were the ones who attended to him in Aso Rock. But Buhari was available to pray with Baru at Aso Rock mosque a few hours later.

“It is not very clear who is fighting back at Kachikwu considering his reforms that affected the so called cabal. But in the real sense, Buhari should be happy with him and urge him on if in reality the present administration is sincere about the corruption fight which they claim. But the way it stands, it is obvious that Kachikwu is just a minister by name, not in function, and the President is very comfortable with that,” Dr Tokunboh Pearce, a social commentator said.

At what stage therefore did Kachikwu lost it with his boss? Did he step on the foot of The President’s Men? If so, is there any discriminatory tendency in the administration of justice with this present administration? Your guess is good as mine.

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