The Upper Crust

Oily broom and a presidential communication blip

 

With Uche Nnadozie

Out of the blues came the thunderbolt of some sort. Last week minister of state for Petroleum resources, Ibe Kachikwu’s memoramdum to President Muhammadu Buhari leaked. The memo written or sent on August 30, 2017, catalogued many infractions on the part of Maikanti Baru. Baru is the Group Managing Director of state owned Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC. The behemoth which is a cesspool of corruption or to be fair, the corporation perceived by Nigerians as eternally corrupt; what with the way it runs its operations. It is opaque and that is putting it midly. NNPC’s contemporaries has since made tremendous progress. They now prospect for oil in foreign lands and ensure their countries do not lack crude’s by-products.
In Nigeria, everyday is as if NNPC was recently inaugurated. The corporation is pampered to do its job or deliver its core functions. The staffing is like a cartel. its operations hidden. Its funding and funds never ever made public. The NNPC is the perfect example of why we have refused or incapable of making progress. No matter the effort, succeeding Nigerian presidents have resorted to keeping the corporation close to their chests. This time however, I thought there will be some difference. First with Kachikwu, a first class lawyer and Harvard trained corporate executive with 30 years industry expertise at the highest levels. Then came Baru another first class Mechanical engineering graduate. An NNPC laureate, his appointment was equally celebrated.
We have seen some signs of progress with regards to how NNPC and the oil industry (in general) have been ran in the last two years. At least we get some updates on the oil company’s financials. The supply of petroleum products have been consistent to a reasonable degree. There is relative calm in that sector. However, the leaked memo obviously makes the claim of calm ominous. it is like that of a graveyard. While I am not about the possibility of a fraud as even Kachikwu’s letter never suggested, but I am appalled at the cold shoulder the memo has attracted from the presidency. I mean the presidential media team.
While the memo implied that the minister of state’s spat with the GMD kind of makes his position untenable if not promptly arrested, the lack of activity by the presidential communication team is open to all manner of conjectures. This is so because NNPC has been known to be a reseviour of sleaze. Awarding contracts totalling $24 billion with the minister of state not in the picture smells frightful. That’s more than Nigeria’s annual budget of N7 trillion. While it is possible that the corporation did no wrong with regard to fraud, but what is wrong however is the communication team refusing to engage with the Nigerian people. The possibility of people drawing inferences is high.
In this case, this is a ministry which the president doubles as the minister. The same ministry from which Diezani Allison-Madueke happened on Nigeria. With the never ending investigations in Nigeria, United Kingdom and the United States, with several billions of Naira recovered from the woman already, Nigerians are well within their rights to ask questions of this latest discovery. For the simple fact that the minister of state is alleging insubordination, high handedness, avoidance of due process, etc, then it is given that laws may have been broken. Whenever a public procurement process side steps due process, every right thinking human must be weary. That is where the presidential communication people get it wrong.
Immediately the story broke and the ministry confirmed that it was indeed the author of the memo and following the visit by the minister to the president, there should have been a press statement attempting to deconstruct the narrative. There are insinuations in the media that an aide of the president is implicated in the NNPC contracts. This aide it is argued masterminded the blocking of the minister from accessing the president. That part of the scandal was what the presidential team should have set sail with. They should have told Nigerians that the president is open to his ministers, they should have told Nigerians that the president meets regularly with his ministers. They should equally had told Nigerians that the president is hearing all sides and that a full briefing on the imbroglio will be addressed shortly.
The idea of keeping Nigerians from immediate reassurance is scary. Its either the presidency treats Nigerians with levity or some of the allegations as contained in Kachikwu’s memo are true. If so, then that is terribly unfortunate. This government came to power via the grace of Nigerians. It will amount to a betrayal if it feels it can go on with the “deaf and dumb” policy. This is a classical say nothing, do nothing! In a democracy that is not acceptable. After all, the presidency congratulated the Super Eagles on the same Saturday night that the team booked a ticket to the football world cup in Russia. So what’s the big deal telling Nigerians to keep calm, the president will get to the bottom of the ministers memo?
I don’t know exactly who said the words,” you cannot use an oily broom to sweep clean, it will certainly gather more dirt”. But the saying is apt. The avowed campaign rhetoric of Buhari during campaigns and now in government is war against corruption. Attending to possible criminal issues should be with dispatch. It should never be smeared or mixed up in a hay stack. Keeping mum on such observations as contained in a memo to the president is tantamount to bad strategy. Who will tell them, when will they change? After all, Babachir Lawal, and the DG of NIA’s cases have not helped matters. The files are gathering dust or eaten up by rodents in the president’s office. This is a big letdown. Hoping that the senate does a good job as they begin investigation.

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