By Gbolagade Sode
The Presidency’s denial that no $25billion Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was ever awarded, not to talk of being signed, is a proof that the corporation, and the ministry of petroleum are not on the same page. Beyond that, it is now evident that both are working at diametrically opposed directions, which, to all intents and purposes, are disadvantageous to the economical interest of the country.
The vice president’s media adviser, Laolu Akande, on Sunday, in what has a resemblance damage repairs of his earlier tweet, had asserted that the social media twisted what he said on his twitter’s handle. Akande’s reaction coming after the vice president, Yemi Osibanjo’s refutal of the media report that he signed the N640 contracts, came too late, robbing it of any relevance. Akande’s reaction lacked immediacy to be of any value after the Vice President’s rebuttal.
“I signed loans for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), not contracts,” was the Vice President’s, Dr. Yemi Osibajo’s refutal of his media aide, Laolu Akande’s claim on his twitter handle that his principal signed the controversial N640 billion NNPC contracts.
Thus, making the management crisis at the NNPC messier. With Akande’s latest refutal, it is difficult to know what to believe now. The vice president’s denial of signing the N640billion contracts, but loans has put members of the public in a quandary.
It raises the question of what is a contract? If what the vice president signed were joint ventures financial arrangements between the NNPC, on one hand and Chevron and Shell on the other, were such arrangements not qualified to be called contracts? The vice president is a lawyer, a professor of law, but it would be difficult to make people believe that what he signed were not contracts.
Undoubtedly, not all contracts have financial implications.
The crisis came to the fore when a memo written by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, to President Muhammadu Buhari was leak to the press.
The memo accused the NNPC Group Management Director, Dr. Makanti Baru, of insubordination, disregard for the minister’s office in running the corporation. Besides, he alleged that the GMD did not observe due process in the award of contracts and ignored the Federal Character Commission Act in making managerial and directorate appointments in the corporation.
In a series of press releases by the corporation, Dr, Maikanti Bari, in many instances, knowingly confirmed disregard for the office of the Minister of State, citing the corporation’s structures and functions to buttress his claim.
He made it plain that the substantive Minister of Petroleum and not the Minister of State is relevant to the discharge of functions and the NNPC and he was ready, from his pronouncements and action, to take full advantage of it.
Baru said the constitution does not recognize the Minister of State as it does not allocate any function to the Minister of State. On allegation he did not consult or carry the Minister of State along in all decisions listed in the leaked memo, Baru said: “Law and rules do not require a review or discussion with the Minister of State or the NNPC Board on contractual matters.
“What is required is the processing and approval of the contracts by the NNPC Tender Board, the Minister of Petroleum, who is the President or the Federal Executive Council.”
From Baru’s assertion, the NNPC Board and The NNPC Tender Board are not the same. Consequently, their functions could not be interchanged either.
The Bureau of Public Procurement Board, shedding light on the differences between the NNPC Board and the NNPC Tender Board, says: “The NNPC Board is responsible for approval of work programmes, corporate’s plans and budget, while the Tender Board takes charge of approval of day-to-day procurement implementation.”
A circular from the office of the secretary to the Government of the Federation on the composition of the NNPC Tender Board says the board comprises: Accounting officer (GMD NNPC) as chairman, heads of departments as members, while the head of the Public Procurement Board is the secretary to the Tender Board.
From the above, the emergence of Dr. Baru as the GMD of the NNPC has completely taken Dr. Kachikwu out of the NNPC unlike what was in place earlier when Kachikwu was the chief executive of the NNPC-cum-Minister of State.
That the President appointed Kachikwu chairman of the Tender Board did not create a role for Kachikwu in the NNPC. The reality is that with President Buhari as the Minister of Petroleum, the position of Kachikwu in the NNPC and even the Ministry is akin to that of a deputy governor, that some critics derisively described as a spare tyre. A deputy governor awaits his principal’s instruction to be relevant.
The deputy governor is not allocated any official function by the constitution. Minister of state shares the same fate. In decision making on policy measures, the substantive Petroleum Minister is the person, who can take constitutionally recognized decisions at the NNPC.
The fairy lawyer, the late Gani Fawehinmi, had once told a former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, while, the latter, was in office, that minister of state was nothing but jobs for the boys. It has no basis in the constitution.
That, perhaps, was why Femi Falana (SAN) and many others observers have called on Buhari to relinquish his ministerial portfolio and squarely face the challenges of the Presidency, which, of course, includes the Ministry of Petroleum.
Buhari could be said to be following the footsteps of Chief Obasanjo, who was also the minister of petroleum when he was in power.
The latest denial of Olaolu Akande’s earlier claim that Osibanjo signed the N640 billion contracts in June as the Acting President has turned Dr. Ibe Kachikwu’s allegation that the signing of the contracts didn’t follow due process into a sore thumb that sticks out, oozing pus and emitting air-fouling stench.
The NNPC, in its response to the allegation that due process was not observed in awarding contracts, said it got presidential approval for the loans or contracts?
The vice president, who was the Acting President in June when the contracts were allegedly signed has denied signing any contract, but loans facilities.Observers have, however, regarded the claim as semantic.
Osibanjo stressed that he signed loans not contracts. He said: “These were financing loans. Of course, you know what the joint ventures are, with the international oil companies such as Chevron.
In some cases, NNPC and their joint venture partners have to secure loans and they needed authorization to secure those loans, while the president was away. So, I granted two of them (loans) not contracts.
The vice president’s denial of signing any contract is asking a question: who signed the NNPC N640billion contracts? The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) has even called on Buhari to set up a panel to probe the award of the contracts. President Buhari should not handle the present crisis at the NNPC with kid glove.
To frustrate a Senate probe of the NNPC crisis, one Johnmary Chukwukasi Jideobi has requested an Abuja High Court to restrain the Senate from inviting Baru as he Red Chamber resolved to investigate the messy affairs at the NNPC.
In his view, the peg of Senate’s investigation is based on a document of doubtful origin. Jideobi’s counsel, Ramsey Abuchi Omego, said he wants the court to determine whether the powers of the Senate to investigate extends to document of doubtful origin.
That is why a presidential probe is crucial to unraveling of cloudy atmosphere at the NNPC. The probe should also look into appointments that violated the Federal Character Commission Act to get to the roots of the crisis.