The leaked memo of the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, to President Buhari is a shorthand exposé on the superfluity of corruption in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
In the memo, a downcast Kachikwu pleads for the restoration of the dignity of his person and authority of his office. The humiliated cabinet minister laments that his subordinates are paradoxically lording it over him.
First, Kachikwu makes the point that he is writing against his will. He had to resort to the medium of the memo because he ran into a brick wall every time he attempted to meet one on one with the president. The gatekeepers of Aso Rock repeatedly blocked him from securing audience with President Buhari. He was writing as a persona non grata.
It’s amazing that Kachikwu is served the ancient embarrassment reserved for lepers seeking entry into the palace. It shows that he is no longer that respected technocrat with rare shtick in the corridors of the Buhari administration: he is now an unwanted entity. And that’s the root cause of his problem at NNPC.
Buhari appointed himself the Minister of Petroleum Resources and ipso facto, Kachikwu’s direct boss. This means that the junior minister who is the one at the coalface should regularly sit down with the president, brief him on developments in the ministry and discuss policy. He should enjoy the privilege of a more open door with Buhari because of the preeminence of the oil portfolio in their shared trust.
But the reverse is the case. It is evidently as hard for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle as it is for Kachikwu to see the president and acquaint him with the happenings in the most crucial federal establishment in Nigeria. He is shooed away as an interloper, an outcast.
For Kachikwu, a brilliant man tapped from his safe executive perch in ExxonMobil, this is double humiliation. He resumes in Nigeria and finds himself being bossed by his more connected juniors. Worse, he is denied a chance to present himself before the president and request his intervention. The bouncers keep turning him away.
Buhari himself initiated the demystification and disgrace of Kachikwu. Not long after he settled in as a minister and started to enunciate bold ideas for reforms in NNPC, Buhari removed him as Group Managing Director of the NNPC and reconstituted the NNPC board to reflect Northern dominion. I had cause to hazard that that unapologetic nepotistic reconfiguration which also featured Buhari’s power-grabbing Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, as a member of NNPC board, represented the official demotion and deflation of Kachikwu to a nonentity.
That evaluation has proved true. Kyari runs the NNPC. He manipulates the system through Maikanti Baru, who is like putty in his hands. This explains why Baru singlehandedly awarded 9 trillion naira contracts and made high cadre appointments as if Kachikwu did not exist.
Kachikwu is an unwelcome stranger. He cannot see Buhari to register a complaint on the violation of “due process’’ in NNPC because the Chief of Staff won’t let him. He is told that he doesn’t belong. But he misses the memo and goes ahead to pen a memo.
The identity of the characters that control NNPC cash flows and contracts gives the true picture of which group wields the ultimate political power in Nigeria. As a rule, when a new president takes office, he installs his cronies in NNPC to consummate his rise. In the case of Buhari, a proud tribal chief, he released his ethnic folk to occupy the bastion as in a conquest.
Buhari improved on a precedent. Since crude oil became the veritable lifeblood of the Nigerian economy, the NNPC has been the country’s most coveted crown jewel. And every sitting head of state appropriates it and uses it to enrich his loyalists.
It’s noteworthy that Kachikwu’s memo is dated August 30, 2017. It has sat on Buhari’s desk for five weeks. He ignored the grave matters of abuse of office and corruption raised therein. He said no word or took any action in response to the contract scandal. He even declined to save himself from any potential accusation of complicity.
Did he authorize Baru to award contracts against the rules? Did he instruct Baru report directly to him? Did he undermine Kachikwu’s powers?
The objective of the leak is obviously to reveal Buhari’s ownership and cover-up of the scandal. Had the memo remained a secret communication, it would probably have languished forever in some file. But now that it is in the public domain, he cannot smother it with neglect. Or spin the fable of the rodents in his office eating it up.
Still, knowing Buhari for the hypocrite he is, Kachikwu’s memo is a waste of paper and writing time. Buhari’s apocryphal corruption allergy will not drive him to get out the guillotine. Heads will not roll.
It is Buhari’s policy to apply double standard in dealing with criminality. When he perceives the odor of the fraud of a stranger, he goes into overdrive to hunt. But when he smells the stench of the scam of his ally, he relaxes and pretends a sweet fragrance is wafting in the air.
Buhari protected Tukur Buratai when whistleblowers exposed the mansions of the Chief of Staff in Dubai. He ‘suspended’ Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, for awarding himself a fictitious grass-cutting contract and Director General of National Intelligence Agency, Ayo Oke, for banking $289 million in a private flat in Ikoyi and swept Osinbajo's report on the duo under the carpet.
Kachikwu presumed that Buhari would be scandalized by goings-on in NNPC. No, no, no. Buhari is never outraged by the wrongdoings of his favorites. They count for nothing with him. His love covers a multitude of sins.
He will sit out the trending of Kachikwu’s memo on Twitter. And that will mark the end of its history.
However, I find it rich that Kachikwu is whining about nepotism which created the atmosphere for the Baru contract bazaar. He remonstrated with Buhari about the people who were taking advantage of their consanguineous relationship with Buhari to subvert due process. Kachikwu is only crying out because nepotism injured his self-esteem and fortune this time.
As recently as last year, Kachikwu sneaked his son into the employ of the Central Bank of Nigeria during an unadvertised, nepotism-based recruitment of kids of the rich and powerful.
He had mastered the art of memo writing long before CBN secretly ‘awarded’ jobs to his son and others. But it didn’t occur to him to send Buhari a ‘leakable’ memo on that execrable assault on due process.
He didn’t denounce a nepotistic selection that he actively participated in for his personal benefit. He didn’t feel offended by his involvement in the rape of "due process." He did not protest that the recruitment process was conducted like a conspiracy as he now says of Baru’s contract award?
Kachikwu’s real grievance is that nepotism worked against him in his own very domain. He was sidelined in an all-important multi-billion dollars contract. He was cheated.
He should have said so in his memo.