All of a sudden, the Buhari administration that is given to shouting anti-corruption from the rooftop has adjusted to the inviolate, otherworldly quiet of a Buddhist monastery. The dubious 9 trillion naira contract fraud exploded by Ibe Kachikwu’s ‘leaked’ memo has forced them into preternatural speechlessness.
President Buhari, who cornered the position of the Minister of Petroleum Resources, on the pretext that he was the only Nigerian qualified in integrity and experience to transform the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation from a den of thieves to a sane institution governed by global best practices, is hiding behind the veil of silence. He is unwilling to publicly acknowledge the mindboggling scam within his zone of supervision and field of vision, one which represents the criminal hijack of the equivalent of Nigeria’s 2017 budget and its opportunity costs in infrastructure.
Buhari's aides, likewise, have offered no comment, cryptic or revealing. And Kachikwu, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, who after being repeatedly frustrated by a Gaza-grade blockade mounted to scuttle his many attempts to meet with Buhari to table the matter before him, was summoned to a hurriedly arranged audience, eventually walked out the president’s office, saying no more than "no comment" to the pressmen who had been waiting for one hour to hear from the horse’s mouth.
The NNPC contracts and the leaked memo that burst it like a gigantic balloon of pus are the issues of the day in Nigeria. But the Buhari presidency is acting like it is the scandal rocking the government of a distant banana republic. They have kept mum, as if it were an imported rumor they could not to afford to be interested in. They are secure in their shell of indifference, in their distance of uppermost caste snobbery, in their scorn of the right of the people to answers.
The most President Buhari has done is try to calm the scandal as a baby screaming in the midnight. He invited Kachikwu to Aso Rock to discuss the memo he had ignored before it leaked. He appeased the junior minister and "ordered" a truce, a return to "sanity."
On the same day, in a related effort at damage control, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo sat down for a chat with Maikanti Baru, the Director General of NNPC, the man who singlehandedly signed away a contract figure that could effectively run the federal government of Nigeria for a whole year. Osinbajo relayed Buhari's message to Baru: end the turf war with Kachikwu, stop the bickering, let sleeping dogs lie.
With Kachikwu placated and sworn to silence by President Buhari and Baru given a homily on peace by Pastor Osinbajo, the presidency has answered the 9 trillion naira question, "settling" it like an incident of sibling rivalry. A tiny brotherly squabble. A family misunderstanding that slipped through the crack on the wall and escaped into the public square.
Buhari resolved the issue with avuncular politesse. He addressed the monumental fraud as though it were a mere battle of supremacy between two of his appointees. He presumed on the powers of his office to whitewash a criminal act and foreclose the materialization of the appropriate consequences. He obstructed justice in the guise of peacemaking.
There was no outrage from the self-styled avenging angel of corruption. He condoned the fraud. He excused it.
Buhari defined corruption downwards. He said the award of the 9 trillion naira contract in violation of statutory rules was not corruption. It’s not a big deal. It’s a quarrel.
Most Nigerians nursed the hope that the reproach of the casual disappearance of billions of petrodollars from the NNPC has passed away with President Goodluck Jonathan and his covetous Oil Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke. That NNPC would not be the ever-spitting ATM that serves the avarice of the few in the Buhari era. That he will not abide the crazy looting of public funds.
Today, they see that Buhari they had placed on a pedestal perpetuating the corruption he was elected to stop. They see him cover up the $25 billion fraud in NNPC the selfsame Jonathan waffled on the missing of $20 billion from the NNPC.
What’s even worrisome is that the curious concatenation of "coincidences" - Buhari’s avoidance of a facetime with Kachikwu, his neglect of the minister’s memo, and his insistence that the "juicy" oil contracts that are apparently not kosher stand as awarded- suggests that Buhari may have personally benefited from deals. Analysts are agreed that the highly consequential contracts could not have happened without his imprimatur. He signed off on them.
Buhari’s government recently launched a whistleblower policy, established a token reward for whistleblowers and gleefully celebrated receiving over 5000 tips and 365 "actionable" ones from Nigerians. It’s very suspicious that when Buhari’s own minister sent him a whistleblowing memo talking about public money in the order of $25 billion, he saw it as anything but an opportunity to fight corruption. Rather, he tucked away the note like the scrap of a forgettable diary. He hid it like a bad gift, an ugly keepsake; willing it to rot till thy kingdom come.
Buhari often talks about "corruption fighting back." His burial of the memo was corruption fighting front. It was putting corruption in the lead.
Many people have expressed concern that the plot of the contracts bears the hallmarks of a typical Nigerian pre-election heist. Normally, the incumbent president, as a matter of precedence, begins to build his second term campaign war chest midway into his first term. He gives himself a head start by looting the cash cow federal agencies by dashing out outrageous contracts to his cronies. That way, he "empowers" them to help him buy the vote.
Buhari’s allies have already started laying the groundwork for his second term bid. And he appears to have turned to NNPC, the good old money tree that he can shake slightly and have cascades of windfall. This is probably why he can’t recognize corruption in the 9 trillion naira contracts.
Buhari bequeathed Nigerians the aphorism, "If Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will Nigeria." He calls himself as the commander of Nigeria's first ever serious war against corruption. He is quick to pounce on former officials for corruptly enriching themselves. But when confronted with the facts of his own corruption, he legitimized the wrongdoing and called it proper.
Buhari asked Kachikwu and Baru to let "sanity" prevail. Don’t duel in such a manner as to invite public scrutiny to the NNPC. Get along well and make our regime of the underhand contracts peaceful.
He sued for a return to "sanity." If 9 trillion naira fraud occurred in an atmosphere of "sanity," what could the climate of insanity possibly produce? Is "sanity" the new name of insanity?
Without doubt, if Buhari were not involved in the 9 trillion naira fraud, he would surely have regarded it as a heinous crime and treated it as such. But money laundering is clean business when he participates. Wrongdoing loses the quality of a vice if he is the doer. He is exceptional.
In Buhari’s world of moralism, the corruption of the other is criminal while his corruption is legal. Your corruption is evil and his corruption, good. Your corruption is guilty and his corruption, innocent.