What are you going to do, Mr. President? That is the question on the lips of all Nigerians following the weighty allegations against the Group Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) brought to the President Buhari’s attention by his Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu.
It is too early to call, but the controversy over the letter has the hallmark of a defining moment for the Buhari presidency. The kind of moment where failure to act decisively or justly could shape the perception of the administration in its remaining days and beyond.
Meetings at the State House: On Friday, Buhari met with Kachikwu at the State House for over an hour. At about the same time, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was meeting with Baru. The State House has revealed details of what the men discussed in their separate meetings, but silence would not be an option for much longer.
Buhari’s ‘Sanusi moment’: In late 2013, the then governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) sensationally stated in a letter to former President Goodluck Jonathan that the NNPC had failed to remit about $20 billion of oil revenues to the coffers of the state. Jonathan quickly dismissed Sanusi’s claim and then replaced him as CBN governor. It was a shocking decision which haunted Goodluck Jonathan and contributed in firmly defining his presidency as a corrupt one beholden to special interests only. “You can suspend a man, but you can’t suspend the truth,” Sanusi said at the time.
The parallels: There are similarities between the Sanusi incident and Kachikwu’s:
- The two men wrote letters to the presidents which got leaked to the press.
- Sanusi was a top official from the North West writing to a president from the South South. With Kachikwu and Buhari, it is the reverse.
- The letters got leaked less than two years to the end of the tenures of the two presidents (Sanusi’s in late 2013; Kachikwu’s in late 2017),
- At the heart of the controversy in the two cases is the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
The one big difference: Pres. Jonathan cannot fix how he responded to that defining moment of his presidency. It’s now etched in the history books. In that sense, Buhari is luckier. He is only now writing his own history. Buhari has failed already with the way he waited for his hands to be forced with the leak of the letter before taking action. Now that it is out in the open, he has lost any claims of being proactive on tackling allegations of corruption and lack of due process against members of his administration. Now Nigerians are watching to see how he decides to respond. This is his Sanusi moment – what is he going to do?