NNPC saga: When silence is not golden

NNPC saga: When silence is not golden

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Way back in May 2013, a former Petroleum Minister, Prof. Tam David-West, had described the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation as “a cesspool of corruption.” A year after that slammer, another writer, Ross Alabo George, also pilloried this same behemoth entrusted with the affairs of Nigeria’s highest foreign income earner, dismissing it as “a vampire.”

George specifically raged in his incisive article: “If all she (NNPC) does is make sure that our crude oil is shipped into foreign lands as raw materials that create jobs abroad, perpetuating poverty at home, then she deserves nothing but spite.”

by keeping silence, will the President not create the impression that Baru is of a northern blood and so untouchable? This would not augur well for the psyche of a country still bleeding from the effects of disquieting ethnic resentment and hate speeches

As for vociferous David-West, who incidentally is President Muhammadu Buhari’s long-standing buddy, what propped his scathing remark at the period was how human hawks that ran the affairs of the petroleum corporation simply turned insoluble turn-around maintenances of the refineries to a sluice gate, through which Nigeria’s money strayed into private pockets.

David-West was pained that rather than make the country’s refineries functional, certain aristocrats that sat over the destiny of Nigeria’s oil industry conveniently hampered any such progress.

But the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, had last year ‘helped’ to solve the riddle surrounding the clear neglect of the country’s once fledgling refineries through the aid of ingenious statistics. He said, by available data, it was cheaper to export crude and import refined oil than its reverse.

Really, Kachikwu’s arithmetic would have been enamelled by realities on the chartboard of the National Bureau of Statistics. As at September this year, Nigeria was exporting crude oil at $56 per barrel and to the tune of 2.5 million barrels daily. NBS, in its appraisal of last year’s oil income, stated that Nigeria recorded slight improvement in crude oil revenue in 2016, as its total export appreciated by 0.75 per cent. The country was able to rake in N6.997 trillion at the end the year.

The same Bureau also disclosed that Nigeria spent N2.596 trillion to import 24.4 billion litres of petroleum products consumed in the country last year. In terms of plus and minus, Nigeria turns up as the gainer, realising about $4 trillion from oil deals, for the year. The propriety or otherwise of this shall be revisited afterwards.

Now, this is why it is indubitable that the NNPC must be the cynosure of all eyes, as it stands out as the patriarchal guardian of Nigeria’s oil, which is the mainstay of the economy. Delving into the historical background of frictions among NNPC managers, now, may be simply superfluous, in the light of the truth that wherever huge money abounds, there must be war, however cold.

Therefore, the ongoing rift between the Petroleum Ministry’s sole junior minister, Kachikwu, and the NNPC Group Managing Director, Dr. Maikanti Baru, is a vindication of the fact that, management of a humongous wealth as in the case of Nigeria’s oil income should be assailed by prying eyes.

The Minister of State had, in an August 30 missive to President Buhari, complained bitterly that Baru overstepped his bounds by awarding contracts worth $25bn without the approval of the Board of the NNPC, which he, Kachikwu, chairs. Reminding the President of the negative implication of the action for an administration that prides itself as fighting corruption, the minister also lamented that Baru had often treated him with spite. He said the NNPC boss told him that Buhari was the Minister of Petroleum and that he did well to have bypassed the NNPC Board to get approval by presidential fiat, for the now suspicious contracts.

A distraught Kachikwu also clarified that he would have opted to see the President in person and trash out the issue but he was barred (by who?) from doing so. He also went ahead to purge himself of allegations in government circles that he was not ‘a friend of the north.’

Interestingly, the well-loaded petition, which was meant to be a private letter to the President curiously leaked out, as had been other similar private letters before it; and now, the town is kept abuzz with its reverberations, a condition which the urbane minister described as “distressing.”

While it’s virtually nobody’s business that a private missive to the President was spirited out for public consumption, what has in fact become distressing too to discerning Nigerians is the seeming refusal by the Presidency to make any reaction to the steaming-hot NNPC sleazy contract awards. By that token, President Buhari, who is widely acclaimed as modern Nigeria’s doyen of anti-corruption fight, is indeed sending a different, rather ludicrous signal.

While the President has failed to move in and douse the tension created by the NNPC hoopla, it may well be asked, inter alia, that is it true that the contracts, presumed to have been approved by the President, were awarded for the purpose of diverting money for his 2019 second-term ambition?

Again, by being silent, will the President not create the impression that Baru is of a northern blood and so untouchable? This would not augur well for the psyche of a country still bleeding from the effects of disquieting ethnic resentment and hate speeches. Same way, by denying a cabinet minister access to Mr. President by whoever, leaves much to be desired and can spur yet some feeling of ethnic dissonance, as Kachikwu is a Nigerian of Igbo extraction. 

Assuredly, hardly was anyone expecting such a historic letter; coming from a minister to the President. But Kachikwu, a man dotting the mien of a lamb, is richly compensated in his inner steel, which had until lately, been his uncharted, fighting spirit.

Nonetheless his tiff with Baru that has kept the President in a loud silence, it is somewhat instructive to make Kachikwu realise that, allowing market forces to determine the economic wealth of a nation is to embark on a voyage without compass.

His argument that importation of refined fuel is far more rewarding than exporting it, has at best killed the spirit of enterprise needed to build the Nigerian economy. Has he paused to think of how massive jobs would have been created through functioning refineries? How the country’s Gross Domestic Product index would have been bolstered? And lots more to be gained.

But the minister is for now excused, as he is in the thick of a battle, a titanic battle that may suggest to him to start clearing his table.

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