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Kachikwu vs. Baru: PDP’s press conference had little depth and plenty mischief

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Kachikwu vs. Baru: PDP’s press conference had little depth and plenty mischief

Weighty allegations made by the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, against the Group Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, Maikanti Baru, came to light this week. The most worrying was Kachikwu’s allegation that Baru awarded contracts of up to $25 billion without the review and approval of the NNPC board which Kachikwu chairs.

The main opposition party in Nigeria, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), expectedly latched on to the allegations in a press conference on Thursday. Addressing reporters, the party’s national publicity secretary, Dayo Adeyeye, declared that the alleged fraud was perpetrated to raise funds for the re-election bid of President Muhammadu Buhari.

“The $25 billion said to have been the subject of the latest controversy, when converted to naira, is about N9 trillion, a sum that is bigger than the nation’s annual budget. This is one of the very many reasons the nation’s economy has nosedived under the inept administration of the APC,” the PDP said.

That entire quote is standing on mischief or – at best – a gross misunderstanding of the contents of Kachikwu’s letter.

This was Kachikwu’s argument in his letter:

  1. By law, contracts above $20 million must be reviewed and approved by the NNPC board.
  2. Baru approved these major contracts without seeking the board’s review and approval first. The Crude Term contracts (over $10bn); the DSDP contracts (over $5bn), the AKK pipeline contract (approximately $3bn), various financing allocation funding contracts with the NOCs (over $3bn), various NPDC production service contracts (over $3bn–$4bn).
  3. All those contracts are above the $20 million threshold for which Baru needed approval from the board. He neither sought nor got it, so he violated the law.

What Kachikwu DID NOT say:

  1. That Baru pocketed the cash.
  2. That the contracts were not awarded.

The PDP’s theory: “Powerful people at 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. Will it be considered a ‘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?”

Not scandalous enough:

  • Question – Considering that Kachikwu was clear in his letter that he was against the lack of due process in the award of the contracts and not that the money had been stolen, how did the PDP jump from his argument to its theory above?
  • Answer – Kachikwu’s argument wasn’t scandalous enough for the PDP’s narrative; they had to invent a juicier one. “He stole $25 billion” is an easier and juicier argument to make than “He did not follow due process in awarding a $25 billion contract which is suspicious and may mean that he is stealing.”

To be clear: There is a reason why the law says Baru must seek the NNPC board’s approval first. In a functional system, that should help check abuses. The fact that Baru bypassed the board is a grave offence for which he deserves to be sacked and prosecuted if confirmed. However, arguing that the NNPC GMD did not seek approval from the board is not as scandalous as saying he stole the money to fund the president’s election. So the PDP decided to make the unverified argument it made.

The PDP however made a few good points:

  • It threw a challenge to President Buhari to allow his allies “being caught up in acts of brazen stealing of our commonwealth to get punished in accordance with the laws of the land. Anything aside from this, we will take as confirmation of our suspicion that the rottenness is from the very top.”
  • It expressed outrage that Buhari has failed to act on the report of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and has refused to hand over suspended SGF Babachir Lawal to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for proper investigation and possible prosecution for graft.
  • It demanded an immediate suspension of the NNPC GMD so that proper investigation can be carried out by the relevant anti-corruption agencies.

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