NNPC under Buhari: Still an open sore
For all who see the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) as irredeemable from its present corruption infested state, recent events have only added fillip to their case. Most topical of these developments is the recent allegation that its current Group Managing Director (GMD), Dr Maikanti Baru, has been operating like a loose cannon, in violation of all extant procedures that were established to keep the organisation operate within the ambit of the law. The trending twist in the matter is his alleged serial acts of indiscretion which were launched into the public domain via a leaked memorandum from the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources Dr Ibe Kachikwu to President Muhamadu Buhari. The memorandum was intended to formally report Baru to the President over the former’s alleged, blatant acts of insubordination to constituted authority. Of specific mention in the memorandum is the recent arbitrary appointments of officers into the corporation by Baru, without as much as involving the statutory NNPC Board of Directors. Other areas of concern to Kachikwu were also raised.
As was expressed in his correspondence to the President, Kachikwu’s grouse bordered on the fact that the GMD Baru was acting with impunity in a manner that poses significant threat to the reform agenda for the oil and gas industry, of which the NNPC remains a key factor. In the memorandum under consideration Kachikwu argues that “Parastatals in the ministry and all CEOs of these parastatals must be aligned with the policy drive of the ministry to allow the sector register the growth that has eluded it for many years.” He noted further that “To do otherwise or to exempt any of the parastatals would be to emplace a stunted growth for the industry”. Without holding brief for Kachikwu, his argument remains faultless in the light of the ongoing Buhari’s reforms in the country’s petroleum industry.
A deeper look at the situation reveals an avalanche of sleazy deals which the Senate has commenced investigations into, with the appointment of a committee for such during last Thursday plenary. Nevertheless, even as the Senate investigation into the NNPC remains welcome, it is needful to observe that the chamber may have taken up a humongous task whose outcome is any body’s guess. For as experiences with past exercises in investigating the NNPC have revealed, the processes involved always feature twist and turns that are as opaque and slippery as crude oil itself- the forte of the corporation. For in each probe exercise the more the investigators looked, the less they saw. It is therefore good luck to the new senate committee for probing the NNPC.
In the context of the foregoing therefore, Kachikwu and the country are only witnessing a fresh episode in the running drama of entrenched corruption and sleaze in the operations of the NNPC right from its inception in 1977. While space will fail this article in recounting the past instances of dirty deals in the establishment, the public space is suffused with enough evidence to render the outcome of the present senate probe a mere filibuster, with dividends that will only swell the pile of evidence of mess in the corporation. Put in clearer terms the Senate does not need the report of any new probe to decide on what to do with the NNPC. The Senate can still act ahead and address itself to public expectations of what the NNPC should be, regardless of whatever outcome emerges from the probe exercise.
For as procedural as the present senate probe may be, the need exists for the legislature to appreciate that the NNPC remains an open sore that had defied all efforts by the Buhari administration to resolve. And like any open sore, it requires a major surgery which should commence with the review of the situation where the President serves as the nation’s oil minister. For until the President is divested of the direct and personal supervision of Nigeria’s petroleum sector, by the Senate which approves ministers for the government, so long will the country remain steeped in the mess of NNPC sleaze and corruption. This is therefore a service debt which the Senate owes the country, since it acted ab initio in apparent indiscretion, by allowing the President retain direct control of the oil ministry at the inception of the present administration.
Even though the practice of direct control of the NNPC and by implication the country’s petroleum sector was regular with military leaders, and the National Assembly looked the other way when at the inception of democratic rule in 1999 the Olusegun Obasanjo administration continued with the practice, the dubious enterprise remained a major detraction from the economic fortunes of the country. In fact there are many reasons which accentuate the incongruity of any sitting President retaining sole authority over the country’s jugular, which the petroleum sector represents. Primarily, given the pivotal role of the NNPC as the vehicle for the management of the country’s all important petroleum sector, it constitutes a grave misjudgment to assign its leadership and full control to an individual, no matter how upright and benevolent which public judgment of him or her may be. The issue here has nothing to do with the personal integrity of the incumbent, but is rather institutional since in the capacity of leadership of the sector, such incumbent will operate with other officials, who may be less resistant to temptations aimed at creating and exploiting loopholes in the system to further their personal interests.
Incidentally the story of NNPC is replete with instances which testify with graphic clarity, that since its inception in 1977 hardly has any administration been saved the embarrassment of an oil sector related scandal or the other, with officials of the corporation at the centre. With reference to the present matter under consideration, the Senate should therefore not allow itself be fixated on less critical issues such as the role of any NNPC official that may suffer indictment. The bigger issue that will endear the Senate to Nigerians remains the imperative of availing the country a new dispensation in the administration of the petroleum industry as a whole, just as is envisaged by the Petroleum Industry Regulation Bill (PIB) that is stuck in the legislative mill.
Considering that the issue between Kachikwu and Baru borders on the unlawful playout of impunity by the latter, the National Assembly itself stands to share the blame for the crisis. After all, if the PIB had become law, President Buhari and all Nigerians would have been saved the embarrassment of another avoidable deterioration in the messy condition of the NNPC as its GMD Dr Maikanti Baru is presently associated with, rightly or otherwise.
The bigger issue that will endear the Senate to Nigerians remains the imperative of availing the country a new dispensation in the administration of the petroleum industry as a whole, just as is envisaged by the Petroleum Industry Regulation Bill (PIB) that is stuck in the legislative mill