No matter how much we strain to sustain the illusion that the President Muhammadu Buhari government is on the right track, we are often jarred into reality by his regular missteps and seemingly intentional negation of the common good. Buhari’s platitudes about patriotism and the indivisibility of the country notwithstanding, we are confronted with a situation where it is clear that he ignores the exploration of the opportunities that have frequently come his way to blur the fissiparous tendencies in different parts of the country.
We have seen this in his refusal to heed the calls for the restructuring of the country as a means of quelling agitations for equity that clearly threaten the unity of the country. Rather, Buhari has a penchant for regarding those criticising him for taking wrong decisions as courting government’s attention in order to be settled – a euphemism for bribery. But by making this argument, the government is rather indicting itself. For the government is only saying that public service in the Buhari era is still fabulously lucrative; a means of self-enrichment as it has not been made less financially attractive. If it had done this and public office had been rightly turned into just a means of serving the people with its attendant sacrifice, it would not have considered government officials as privileged Nigerians who other citizens are striving to join or replace.
Clearly, nothing has changed. Public office is just a means of overseeing contract bazaars for the benefit of government officials. In that case, officials of the Buhari government must avoid the pain of adhering to due process that would imperil the prospects of financial recompense for them at the expense of the public. This is placed in sharp relief by the cocktail of scandals exposed by the letter of the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, to Buhari.
Through the recent appointments in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Buhari had and still has the opportunity to prove to Nigerians that he is actuated by a pan-Nigerian vision. So much condemnation trailed the appointments as out of the 55 top positions 36 went to Buhari’s north while the south got 19. Yet the Buhari’s north that got the majority of the positions does not have oil even though billions are being wasted on efforts to prise the resource from the northern soil. The south-south that owns the oil got only two positions and the south-east that also owns part of it got nothing, thereby confirming his forever disdain for that region.
What was unknown to the majority of the citizens while the controversy raged was that Buhari did not consider anything wrong with the appointments. For if he had thought that the appointments were skewed in favour of his northern part of the country, or that they were done without his knowledge and approval, he would have repudiated them. Perhaps, Buhari suspected that other Nigerians who were outraged at the skewed appointments were detractors who were seeking attention in order for them to be invited to come and chop in government. But then, why did he ignore his own minister who pointed out the same anomaly if his intentions conduced to the collective good?
On August 30, Kachikwu, wrote a letter complaining about the excesses of the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Dr. Maikanti Baru. The minister listed these excesses to include appointments, redeployments, sacking, starving of his ministry of funds and awards of $25 billion contracts. All these decisions were taken without the knowledge of the board of the corporation that Kachikwu chairs. What has made Buhari complicit in this development is that since over a month that he has received the letter, he has not bothered to take action on it. This has given rise to the suspicion that Buhari electing to be the minister of petroleum resources in the first place was just a ploy for him to have access to the cash cow undisturbed. With this revelation, Buhari can no longer pretend that he is doing anything different from what the Jonathan government allegedly did that paved the way for a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Maduekwe to appropriate the nation’s oil money. It is good that we do not need to wait for another government to come to power before the myth of the incorruptibility of the Buhari administration is exploded.
But Buhari can still mitigate his complicity by immediately cancelling the appointments. He must go further by sacking Baru since it is clear that he neither has the interest of the nation in his dealings at the NNPC nor does he have the ability to work with his superiors. But here we are saddened by the realisation that Buhari may not sack Baru. Buhari has demonstrated a penchant for protecting those who are close to him no matter the weight of the allegation of fraud hanging on them. This is why he has found it difficult to make public the findings of the panel he set up to probe the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal and the equally suspended Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ayo Oke.
This rift between Kachikwu and Baru is another indication that Buhari lacks the leadership skills to ensure cohesion in the presidency. When there are conflicts among his aides in the presidency, they would fester until the public would get to know about them. Yet, the president would not be able to resolve such conflicts. This was the case with the Department of State Service (DSS) and the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Ibrahim Magu. While Buhari wanted the Senate to confirm Magu as the EFCC chairman, the DSS that reports to the president was at the same time writing to the upper legislative chamber that Magu neither have the moral stature nor professional competence to take such a job. Months after, the indictment of the DSS stands and Buhari is still keeping Magu as the acting chairman of the anti-corruption agency. Yet, it is the same Buhari that we expect to keep Nigeria together. We must be expecting too much from him.
What we must not ignore is the possibility of the impunity of Buhari’s aides as demonstrated by Baru being replicated in other agencies of government. Such aides feel that as long as Buhari is in power, they are untouchable. And Buhari seemingly approves of these excesses. Buhari’s silence in the face of the excesses of his aides forebodes that rather than earning his plaudits, an aide who chooses to be different and insists on the right thing being done would suffer. In this regard, it is not unlikely that in the days ahead, Kachikwu may come under so much pressure to resign. There may now be allegations of fraud against him. And if he does not resign Buhari may sack him.
No matter what happens, at the end of his appointment, it would be to Kachikwu’s credit that while things were going wrong in the Buhari government he served, he spoke out. He did not keep quite because of the need to protect his job. Nor did he quietly resign in order not to rock the boat. Indeed, Kachikwu’s decision to speak out is a validation of the duty he owes his country as a good citizen who would protect the commonwealth. He also owes it as a duty to his people of the south-south to expose Baru’s impunity because the oil resources that are being stolen are from his region.
At a time that the All Progressives Congress (APC) members and government officials are recanting on restructuring that they fought for before the Buhari administration and others are keeping quite in the face of herdsmen-instigated carnage, rape, kidnapping and lunacy while the farms of their people at home are being used to feed cattle, it is reassuring that Kachikwu spoke the way he did. But whether Kachikwu is harassed, intimidated or sacked, the fact is that his action is a seal of his living above the carapace of impunity and other forms of corruption that have darkened our democratic experience under Buhari.
By Paul Onomuakpokpo
This article first appeared in the Guardian on the 5th October 2017