Abuja — President Muhammadu Buhari has invited the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, to meet with him to discuss the contents of his letter, alleging irregularities in the $24 billion contract awards and insubordination by the Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Dr. Maikanti Baru.
Presidency sources informed THISDAY Thursday night that the minister will meet with the president possibly Friday or in the next few days.
Kachikwu had in the correspondence said that he would have liked to discuss the concerns raised in the letter personally with the president, but had been blocked by certain unnamed persons in the State House despite several attempts to see him.
In the letter, dated August 30, 2017, Kachikwu also alleged that Baru undermined his office by unilaterally making senior executive appointments without recourse to the board of NNPC which he chairs, and as stipulated in the law governing the operations of NNPC.
The minister had pleaded with Buhari to suspend the appointments until due process had been complied with.
Meanwhile, more facts have come to light on what led to the breakdown of relations between Kachikwu and Baru, with sources revealing to THISDAY that the cold war started when Kachikwu, in his capacity as GMD of NNPC, restructured the organisation in March 2016.
Kachikwu for almost a year had held the dual post of Minister of State for Petroleum and GMD of NNPC before he was removed and replaced by Baru in July 2016.
During the restructuring, which led to the creation of five divisions and 20 Autonomous Business Units (ABUs), Baru who had been appointed Group Executive Director, Exploration and Production of the corporation eight months earlier, was moved out of the post to the ministry as Kachikwu's technical adviser.
Baru, a source in NNPC confided, did not take kindly to the redeployment and immediately started moving mountains to supplant Kachikwu as the GMD of the state-run oil firm.
With the assistance of his friends in the presidency, Baru eventually got his desire when Buhari announced Kachikwu's removal and made Baru the new head of NNPC.
However, the source explained that when Buhari appointed Baru the new GMD, he was unaware that he had approved his redeployment to the ministry as Kachikwu's adviser three months earlier.
The source explained that the president did not know Baru personally at the time and simply approved the redeployments that came with the restructuring, but Kachikwu's letter has now helped to shed more light on what led to the division between his minister and the NNPC GMD.
However, ever since the letter became public, it has elicited strong reactions from Nigerians who have expressed divergent views over the propriety or otherwise of the issues raised by Kachikwu.
Joining the fray Thursday, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) called on the president to immediately suspend and investigate Baru over the award of multi-billion dollar contracts without the approval of the NNPC board.
The main opposition party equally alleged that the $24 billion contract scam at NNPC might have been fuelled by the need to oil Buhari's second term bid.
PDP said the sum involved in the NNPC scandal was $24 billion, pointing out that less than 10 per cent of the amount ($2 billion) was involved in the arms funds scandal allegedly diverted by the former National Security Adviser (NSA) Col. Sambo Dasuki, over which hundreds of Nigerians had been arrested and hounded.
It expressed great shock at the "loud silence" of the president over what it termed the "humongous corruption scandal and other illegalities" currently being exposed at the nation's cash cow, the NNPC, in which two of his henchmen - Kachikwu and Baru - are the dramatis personae.
PDP also used the opportunity to warn that it would take legal measures to remove any of its members in the House of Representatives who justify their defection to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) on grounds that the PDP is divided.
Addressing a press conference in Abuja, the spokesman of the PDP, Dayo Adeyeye, said its suspicion on the matter was reinforced by the unfolding events that seem to indicate that powerful people in the corridors of power are tacitly involved in the NNPC contract scandal.
"We suspect and our suspicion is reinforced by the unfolding events that powerful people in the corridors of power are tacitly involved in this.
"If the president's powerful Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, could sit on the NNPC board and such a calamity is taking place without an eyelid being blinked, we are forced to believe that the stealing is being done to the advantage of the president who has shown by his body language that the only thing that matters most to him for now is his second term ambition," he said.
The PDP spokesman maintained that the opposition party was demanding both the suspension of Baru and immediate probe of the issues raised by Kachikwu.
When converted to naira, according to him, the sum of $24 billion said to be the subject of the latest controversy, is about N9 trillion, a sum that is bigger than the nation's annual budget.
"Will it be considered 'hate speech' if we say the money being stolen by President Buhari's men is being kept aside into a special pool for the prosecution of his second term ambition?
"We challenge the president to prove us wrong by allowing his allies being caught in acts of brazen stealing of our commonwealth get punished in accordance with the laws of the land.
Anything aside this, we will take as confirmation of our suspicion that the rot is from the very top," he said.
PDP also challenged the president to do the needful and order a thorough investigation into the matter.
"We demand as bona fide Nigerians, an express order from President Muhammadu Buhari to the NNPC GMD asking him to go on compulsory leave so that an investigation into the matter at stake can be conducted without interference.
"We also demand an order from the president to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other anti-graft agencies to immediately commence investigations into all issues of corruption levelled against Baru as well as other persons who might have overtly or covertly participated in the illegal act.
"As a political party, we expect that the president, who prides himself as an indefatigable corruption fighter, would for once try to live above board by genuinely allowing one of his own, accused of corruption, get properly investigated and prosecuted as a show of his impartiality in the war against corruption," PDP added.
The party further challenged Buhari to correct the impression Nigerians have about his "so-called anti-corruption war" that it is not just a tool for the persecution of perceived enemies.
According to PDP, the president should not give the impression that he is trying to shield Baru as he did with Babachir Lawal, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).
"We view the allegations levelled against Baru by Kachikwu as too grave to be swept under the carpet and we insist that the NNPC GMD must be treated like an accused who should not have the opportunity to influence investigations into his alleged misdeeds.
"In this light, we demand the immediate suspension of the NNPC GMD so that a proper investigation can be carried out by the relevant anti-corruption agencies.
"Ordinarily, if there was sincerity in the anti-corruption war, President Muhammadu Buhari should not wait for any prompting before he takes decisive action on this matter, but as customary with his administration, we suspect that he's trying to shield Baru as he did Babachir Lawal, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), whom he merely suspended to allow the hullabaloo generated by the fraud perpetrated in the management of the emergency funds for the IDPs, die down.
"Also, up till now, we have never heard anything again about the millions of dollars and naira discovered in an Ikoyi apartment.
"Nigerians have not forgotten the acts of illegality and double standards perpetrated by the president in refusing to hand over Babachir Lawal to the EFCC for proper investigation and possible prosecution for graft, but rather preferring to give the task of investigation of the open sleaze to the vice-president, in a move not known to any law of this nation.
"Even at that, the report of the Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo-led committee is gathering dust on the shelf of the president because he probably cannot bear to see one of his closest allies punished by the laws of the land, even when all the facts show that blatant and unbridled theft was perpetrated by the president's man.
"The sum involved in the NNPC scandal is $24 billion; less than 10 per cent percent of that ($2 billion) was involved in the so-called arms scandal allegedly diverted by the former NSA over which hundreds of Nigerians have been arrested and hounded.
"Nigerians can now see the hypocrisy in the so-called anti-corruption fight. We might as well say that the privileged class of APC members enjoy total immunity from the anti-corruption campaign.
"We have been saying this for months that the looting of the nation's resources under this administration is record-setting in the history of this nation and we are being proven right on a daily basis by the little revelations that are being made by even those working under the administration.
"We wonder what the stench will be when the real and hidden atrocities being perpetrated under the watch of President Buhari are finally exposed when Nigerians throw the APC government out of power in 2019.
"This we find is one of the very many reasons the nation's economy has nosedived under the inept administration of the APC.
"The allegations raised by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources is a confirmation of our earlier stance that the APC administration is in tatters, an administration without coordination, one planted firmly in the hands of a cabal that is sucking the nation dry while the president continues to feign ignorance of the sickening stench.
"If not, how on earth can President Muhammadu Buhari justify a situation where a minister he appointed to serve under him, presiding over an important sector like the oil sector, be turned to a mere house-help who must get clearance from some 'outsiders' before accessing the president?
"How on earth will a mere MD of a corporation have the temerity to sideline a minister under whom he works and take decisions without consultation with the appropriate authority. How on earth could the NNPC GMD have been bold enough to sideline the entire board of NNPC and take such far-reaching decisions that have grave implications for the nation's economy alone?
"Much as we commend the National Assembly for indicating interest in probing the allegations against the NNPC GMD as approved in the adoption of the motion moved by Senator Samuel Anyanwu at the Senate plenary on Wednesday, we wish to appeal to the leadership of the Senate to prevail on the ad hoc committee set up for the purpose of the investigation to make their sitting open to all Nigerians so that nothing will be surreptitiously swept under the carpet.
"The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) reiterates our support for the drive to eliminate corruption from the workings of the Nigerian government, but we hold firmly to our stance that the APC government under President Buhari must lead and live by example.
"We say no to soft landing to corruption and corrupt members of the APC government. We say no to double standards in the fight against corruption," the party said.
When contacted Thursday on the Kachikwu letter and the issues raised by the PDP, surprisingly, the ruling APC declined to comment.
The APC National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, who spoke on behalf of the party on the allegations erupting in NNPC, said: "We cannot comment on that now. In fact, we have no comment on it."
The APC National Vice-Chairman, South-west, Dr. Pius Akinyelure, is a board member of NNPC.