There are strong indications that the Federal Government would soon intervene to resolve the personality conflict between the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, and the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mr. Maikanti Baru.
Although Mr. Femi Adesina, President Muhammadu Buhari's spokesman, declined comments on the issue yesterday, a source in the Presidency disclosed that President Buhari was aware of the development and that plans were underway to resolve the conflict.
The source said: "The President has been fully briefed and has communicated to the parties involved. I am sure the matter would be resolved because the government needs to create the enabling environment for the duo to work together in the best interest of the oil and gas industry and the nation.
"I cannot tell you when that would be, but certainly the government would intervene as quickly as possible."
Investigations showed that Baru and NNPC's management team have decided not to speak so as not to escalate the conflict.
Mr. Ndu Ughamadu, spokesman of the NNPC, did not also take his call nor respond to text messages yesterday.
Senate probes Baru, NNPC
However, disturbed by the brewing scandal in the NNPC and the face-off between Dr Kachikwu and Mr. Baru, the Senate has launched a probe into the finances, activities and recent controversial appointments in the corporation.
Dr. Kachikwu, in a leaked petition to President Muhammadu Buhari, accused Mr. Baru of insubordination, abuse of due process and carrying out reorganisation and appointments without his input as supervising minister and chairman of the NNPC Board.
The Senate, yesterday, raised a nine-man committee to investigate Kachikwu's call for the cancellation of recent appointments in the NNPC as well as investigation of the finances and activities of the NNPC
The committee is headed by Senator Aliyu Wamakko, with senators Bassey Albert Akpan, PDP, Akwa Ibom North East; Tayo Alasoadura, APC, Ondo Central; Kabir Marafa, APC, Zamfara Central; Samuel Anyanwu, PDP, Imo East; Ahmed Ogembe, PDP, Kogi Central; Rose Oko, PDP, Cross River North; Chukwuka Utazi, PDP, Enugu North; and Baba Kaka Garba, APC, Borno Central, as members.
This came on a day some eminent Nigerians gave Mr. Baru and Kachikwu hard knocks for their roles in the face-off.
Among those who spoke on the issue, yesterday, were former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah; former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav; National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin; Mr. Akin Osuntokun, former Political Adviser to ex- President Olusegun Obasanjo; Senator Lee Maeba; the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, IPMAN; and Centre for Social Justice, CSJ.
Why Senate resolved to probe Baru, NNPC's activities
The decision to probe the allegations raised by Kachikwu against Baru was sequel to an additional prayer by Senator Kabir Marafa, APC, Zamfara Central during a discussion on a motion by Senator Samuel Anyanwu, PDP, Imo East titled: "Allegation of Corruption against NNPC Trading: Time to conduct a holistic investigation," which called for the raising of an ad-hoc committee to "investigate the policy introduced by the current NNPC Trading Limited."
In supporting Senator Anyanwu's motion, Senator Yusuf Abubakar Yusuf, Taraba Central said: "I support the motion and at the same time the holistic investigation of NNPC should go beyond the NNPC Trading in respect of Duke Oil. Unless we do that, NNPC for the past 10 to 15 years, has lived above everybody in this country. They think they are a government to themselves and so we have to take the bull by the horn. Since we want to fight corruption, we must fight corruption in its totality. And I suggest we include comprehensive investigation of NNPC. So, I second the motion and at the same time, I want a holistic investigation of NNPC, not just the Trading Company."
In his prayer Senator Marafa called for the investigation of "the allegation made against the GMD of NNPC by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, as contained in his leaked letter to Mr President.
"I think we cannot gloss over the happenings in the Press yesterday, today and possibly the whole of the week. So, instead of coming with another motion, I support completely the formation of the ad-hoc committee and as chairman of the standing committee overseeing NNPC Trading, we will be around to support them in whatever way. And instead of coming up with another substantive motion to look into these allegations made against the NNPC GMD, I want to propose that we include everything into this motion."
His prayer was seconded by Senator Sunday Ogbuoji, PDP, Ebonyi South.
The Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki subsequently set up the nine- man adhoc Committee to carry out a holistic investigation into the issue of insubordination on the part of Baru and how Kachikwu had for over one year, tolerated what he described as the disrespectful and humiliating conducts of the Group Managing Director to his office which the Minister through the leaked letter brought before President Buhari.
Earlier in his presentation, Senator Anyanwu had raised a lot of allegations against the NNPC GMD of allocating almost all products to an oil firm, Duke Oil and automatic inclusion of the company in lifting of crude oil and gas among others.
Senator Anyanwu motion seeking investigation of the NNPC read in part: "The Senate, aware that NNPC Trading limited is a business creation of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation;
"Aware that NNPC Trading is composed of the following outfits, Duke Oil; Hyson/Carlson (JV); NAP Oil (JV); and West Africa-Gas LTD (JV);
"Aware that Duke Oil was incorporated in 1989 in Panama and therefore, does not pay tax in Nigeria;
"Aware also that Duke Oil was specially registered to play a dominant role in the trading of petroleum products especially crude oil trade in the international oil market several years ago;
"Further aware that Duke Oil, compared to other major players in the sector, is still grappling with the basics of what it was registered to do in spite of massive support from the NNPC, owing to large scale corruption;
"Aware of the decision by the current GMD to allocate almost all products to Duke Oil, this is in addition to its automatic inclusion in the lifting of Crude Oil, Gas etc, which thus, made Duke oil a money spinning outfit that is accountable only to NNPC;
"Aware that Duke Oil remains the sole importer of AGO to PPMC and Retail, which it does through third party since it cannot import by itself, this contributes in slowing the growth of our indigenous companies that are making giant strides in the sector;
"Aware that since NNPC owns NNPC Trading Limited and the refineries, they also shortlist companies that get allocation of products, lifting of crude oil and importation of products thus, giving undue advantage to the in-house company, even where it lacks the capacity and requisite requirements to do what it is doing today;
"Also aware of the general lack of transparency and level playing field in favour of Duke Oil to lift products without payment as against its competitors in the sector;
"Further aware that these have combined to make Duke Oil the highest money earner and at the same time, the highest money waster because of the massive corruption in the way and manner they transact business;
"Concerned that this relationship has helped to greatly stifle the growth of indigenous companies operating in the sector;
"Concerned that Duke Oil lacks the requisite credentials to trade internationally, it therefore, makes Duke Oil a giant commission agent only;
"Also, concerned that the net effect of the above arrangement is that, NNPC and by extension, Nigeria earns less than otherwise it would have if the process is open and transparent where products are sold directly to indigenous international oil traders;
"Further concerned that money so far earned by NNPC Trading limited through its subsidiaries such as Duke Oil, remains only in the knowledge of NNPC officials."
Cancel NNPC appointments, Attah urges Buhari
Commenting on the issue, Obong Victor Attah, who is one of the leaders of the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, urged President Buhari to wade into the altercation between Dr. Kachikwu and Mr. Baru.
He also urged the president to cancel recent unilateral appointments made by the NNPC boss, saying such skewed decisions only served to paint the administration in bad light.
His words: "I am glad it is not government policy because we in PANDEF had earlier condemned these appointments. We believe Kachikwu is right. It is individuals in government that are doing these things and bringing the government into disrepute.
"The President should order a cancellation. In this country, I am aware that the recruitment into the Nigeria Immigration Service NIS was canceled, so why can't we cancel this one including that of the Department of State Service, DSS? The excuse was that they were trying to correct long years of marginalization but no one has been able to provide details with regards to that.
"This issue keeps recurring and people are thinking that Buhari is not fair to the rest of the country, but I do not believe this is true because it is individuals that are just trying to paint the administration in bad light."
Kachikwu is stranded - Osuntokun
For Mr Akin Osuntokun, the revelations are shocking and Kachikwu has been left stranded in government.
"It is shocking and disconcerting. The revelations contained in the letter go way beyond the routine speculation of a characteristic nepotism and parochialism in government. It has justified the widely held suspicion that the high handed intervention in the NNPC beginning with the puzzling removal of Kachikwu as GMD to the recent alleged lopsided appointments were undertaken in bad faith and with ulterior motive. As Kachikwu himself has indicated he was driven to this desperate measure because he has become a helpless hostage to the kind of political manoeuvrings that are choking the breadth out of our national life. Simply put, he has been rendered stranded. And it has always been my contention that any serious effort at addressing the scourge of corruption in Nigeria must begin with complete divestment of the Nigerian government from the management of the NNPC," he said.
NNPC GMD erred, should be sanctioned - Tsav
Also speaking, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav said: "I think the GMD of NNPC has made a very serious mistake because he is answerable to the minister. If I were the minister, I would have issued a query to the GMD asking him to explain why such things happened. And the query would also be copied to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. If the man did it because he is close to the President, it is wrong because the President has confidence in Kachikwu which made him to appoint him. If I were the President, I will either redeploy him or sanction him to send a message across that it is wrong to undermine supervisory superiors."
Kachikwu didn't show maturity - Lee Maeba
Senator Lee Maeba described the action of the Minister of Petroleum, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, as an extreme behaviour. According to him, the Minister should have used all measures available before writing a letter to President Buhari.
His words: "I believe the behaviour of Kachikwu is to the extreme. He should have shown maturity, he could have as well issued a query to the GMD before finally using the option of writing the President. I strongly believe a minister should not have acted the way he did."
Scandal shows that corruption architecture remains intact - Odumakin
To Mr Yinka Odumakin, "the allegations in Kachikwu's letters, if they are true, confirms our position that the architecture of corruption is intact in spite of our anti-corruption crusade. This scandal reveals the whole truth."
Kachikwu's letter ridiculous, diversionary - IPMAN
IPMAN faulted Dr Kachikwu's letter and described it as diversionary and ridiculous.
In a statement by its National Secretary, Mr. Danladi Pasali, IPMAN said Kachikwu's grouse was because the NNPC boss refused to be turned into an errand boy of the minister.
The statement read in part: "We noticed some attempt to divert attention on the achievements so far recorded in the sector, with the recent letter written by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr Ibe Kachikwu and leaked to the media as the latest one among them.
"IPMAN considers the said letter as another attempt to divert the attention on the successes achieved and an invitation of chaos to the already sanitized sector.
"In the said letter the minister accused the NNPC management of insubordination, which we considered as very ridiculous. With his position as chairman of NNPC board, the minister should have resolved any internal issue at the board meeting, not to resort to media war.
"We are not surprised that Baru was accused of insubordination by the minister, because if the GMD has allowed himself to become an errand boy to the minister just as some of the past GMDs did, he would not have been accused of such."
The group called on the President to disregard any attempt to scuttle the achievements in the downstream oil sector especially now, as according to them, some politicians would want to resort to sabotage as the election year is approaching.
IPMAN reiterated its support for the NNPC boss, stating that the Baru-led administration had been carrying out outstanding reforms which helped to sanitise the downstream oil sector.
It said: "Part of the reforms that Dr Baru's team are executing which became a nightmare to some stakeholders like the minister and some labour unions, include the efficiency in petroleum products supply, appointing technocrats into right positions and sanitizing the importation of petroleum products which stabilized fuel supply in the country within the last two years."
Suspend, probe Baru, CSJ urges Buhari
However, the CSJ, called on President and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC to immediately suspend Baru and conduct an investigation on the various allegations leveled against him.
Lead Director of CSJ, Mr. Eze Onyekpere, described the allegations against Baru as weighty and should not be treated with kids' gloves.
He said: "These allegations are weighty and if they are true, constitute serious crimes and acts of economic sabotage against the Nigerian people and the economy. It would not be difficult to establish if NNPC has held board meetings since Dr Maikanti Baru's tenure and if meetings have been so held, the agenda of such meetings, finding out the person(s) who took decisions on appointments that were contrary to laid down procedures would also not be difficult to establish.
"Coming at a time the administration is prosecuting a war against corruption and seeking to enforce due process in the management of national resources, it is imperative that these allegations are thoroughly investigated. If a prima facie case is established, the offender(s) should be prosecuted and the full weight of the law brought to bear on them.
"Therefore, President Muhammadu Buhari should rise to the occasion, in the national interest and ensure that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission moves expeditiously to investigate these weighty allegations; consider suspending the alleged official(s) from office to avoid tampering with evidence and sabotaging investigations."
He noted that it is imperative that the extant allegation is not swept under the carpet, otherwise, he said, the morality of continued prosecution of persons accused of lesser economic and financial crimes would become a subject for serious questioning.
According to him, Nigeria has only one set of laws which should apply across board in accordance with the tenets of justice which demands equality before the law, equal protection of the law and treating like cases alike.
"In the past, many Nigerians have alleged that the federal administration remains silent when serious allegations are made against its key officials. CSJ recalls the grass cutting scandal involving the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the benumbing silence following the submission of the report of the Committee headed by the Vice President to President Muhammadu Buhari.
"We hope that law enforcement and investigation agencies would live up to the demands of their statutory and constitutional mandates," he maintained.