By Femi Falana
The people of Nigeria were surprised last week to read the embarrassing petition of the minister of state in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, addressed to President Buhari pertaining to his inability to consult with the president and substantive minister of Petroleum Resources, and the unilateral award of $25 billion contracts by Mr. Maikanti Baru, the group managing director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Although it was reported that Dr. Kachikwu has since been given access to the president, the details of the discussions between the duo have not been made public. However, apart from sanctioning the officers responsible for creating the wide gulf between Dr. Kachukwu and the president, the allegation of the unilateral award of contracts worth $25 billion by Dr. Baru ought to be investigated in line with the anti corruption policy of the Buhari administration.
In order to conduct a thorough investigation into the grave allegations of the reckless contravention of the provisions of the Public Procurement Act, Mr. Baru should be placed on indefinite suspension while the Presidency should refer the case to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. And once it is confirmed that the said $25 billion contracts were awarded without the approval of the NNPC Board they should be revoked while the recent appointment of the heads of the parastatals in the oil and gas industry should be reviewed in line with the Constitution and the Federal Character Commission Act.
Curiously, the Presidency has demanded for the minutes of the meetings of the NNPC Board. This demand has confirmed that the meetings of the Board, which are statutory required to be chaired by the minister of Petroleum Resources have not been held as and when due. More importantly, the demand has corroborated that aspect of Dr. Kachikwu’s petition alleging that the powers of the Board have been usurped by Dr. Baru. Therefore, the petition should provide an opportunity for the president to reorganise the NNPC with a view to ensuring that it is publicly owned in a manner that the Board is constituted by accredited representatives of the oil producing commnunities and credible civil society groups, including the trade unions in the oil and gas industry.
Having regard to the enormous responsibilities of the office of the Minister of Petroleum Resources and chairman of the NNPC Board, President Buhari is advised to relinquish the ministerial position in view of his busy schedule and appoint another Nigerian of proven integrity and competence to superintend the affairs of the Ministry. If this advice is accepted in good faith and acted upon without any delay, it would remove undue pressure on the health of the president and allow him to attend to other urgent matters of State.
Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), writes from Lagos.