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Revealed: Kachukwu/Baru rift started in 2015—BH Investigation

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…Act establishing NNPC does not recognise Minister of State in official matters

A deeper inquest into the serial insubordination meted to the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachukwu by the Group Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Dr. Maikanti Baru has opened up the genesis of the crisis.

Apart from the rift which silently started before now, Business Hilights findings discovered that the very Act establishing NNPC does not recognise the creation of Minister of State for Petroleum but Minister of Petroleum which currently is the President.

Trouble seems to have started since 2015 when Kachukwu, who had garnered cognate experience working with ExxonMobil was named the GMD in August against the plan and wish of Baru who was the Group Executive Director, Exploration and Production, at the Corporation.

Baru had targeted the plume position in 2015, having attained the choice position of GED, but that never happened due to political calculations then.

The problem becomes stronger in November 2015, when Kachukwu even became both the NNPC boss and Minister of State, Petroleum Resources.

Seating on the board of the NNPC as chairman, by virtue of being the managing minister, Kachukwu had carried out what experts saw as an aggressive restructuring at the state oil firm in March 2016, removing Baru from NNPC and landing him the post of Special Adviser, Upstream to the Minister (Kachikwu).

Business Hilights findings further revealed that the development did not go down well with Baru who deployed all available arsenal using largely regional networks to find himself back to recognition without recourse to Kachukwu.

The networks worked for Baru to the detriment of Kachukwu as less than few weeks after runours of Baru replacing Kachukwu trended, President Buhari appointed Baru to succeed Kachikwu and that was in July 2016.

However, a source in the corridor of power told our correspondent that Kachukwu failed to watch his back very well between 2015 and last, revealing that ignoring Kachukwu may have started for long before his sudden notice and determination to petition the President.

Now, looking back the route he struggled to the top at NNPC, Baru may have felt that his allegiance need to go to all those networks and presidency, thus the silent idea to ignore Minister of State in running NNPC after all.

Another issue was how Baru’s appointment technically halted Kachukwu’s strategic reforms at NNPC.

It would be recalled that Kachikwu, while in NNPC, had engaged experts to help re- structure the national oil company to make it more efficient and profitable, as its books were always in the red, with humongous debt on its neck.

The first signal to insubordination when Baru took over was blatant abandonment of some of the things Kachikwu had started and changed to his own agenda and those of the networks that tactically brought him back to lead NNPC.

This scenario gave birth to blatant bypassing of the minister and the board because his programme is now different from what Kachukwu had started before becoming Minister.

The first shut which is at the root of the feud, was the hurried resumption of crude oil search in the North, despite the fact that the government, for over three decades, spent about $340 million and additional N27 billion, in seismic expedition an elusive search for hydrocarbon in the Chad basin.

Again, Sokoto State government has also called on the NNPC to search for hydrocarbon reserves in its domain in spite of warnings of petroleum engineers, investment experts and geologists who say the geography of the zone may not guarantee a commercial find.

Dependable sources at NNPC confided in our correspondent that if this feud is not well managed, Nigeria economy will be most affected as oil remains the key driver of the economy.

Besides, several analysts say the depth of the insubordination and its real origin show that both cannot work together and the challenge of who should go and why remains the greatest decision for the present government to make in this circumstance.

Since the leakage of the petition, several groups had called for the suspension of the NNPC boss, but the presidency is yet to respond even when the Senate had set up probe panel.

However, a twist emerged weekend, revealing that the Act establishing the NNPC stipulates that the chairman of the corporation’s board is the Minister of Petroleum Resources and not the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources.

President Muhammadu Buhari is Nigeria’s Minister of Petroleum Resources while Kachikwu is the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources. However, Buhari had named Kachikwu the chairman of the NNPC board.

A top insider confided on our correspondent on Sunday that Baru did no wrong by reporting to the President on issues of the oil firm, as he was only obeying the NNPC Act, saying “The NNPC Act does not recognise a minister of state. The act is explicit that the petroleum minister is the chairman of the NNPC board.”

On whether President Buhari was not aware of the NNPC Act before announcing a chairman for the corporation’s board, the source replied, “These were some of the issues raised at the meetings the President is holding”.

“The NNPC GMD reports to the corporation board chairman, who of course, is the President. He (Baru) goes to the chairman because that is what the Act says.”

Giving short details on the allegations that Baru did not follow laid down rules in awarding contracts, the official denied it saying “some of the contracts were awarded some four to five years ago by the Federal Executive Council”.

“There is a lower tender’s board at the NNPC and there is another which is higher and is referred to as the NNPC Tenders Board. The Bureau of Public Procurement is aware of this. The NTB handles or awards contracts of up to $20m.

“Anything beyond that goes to the Federal Executive Council. This is what has been happening at the corporation in the last three to four years.

“The AKK pipeline contract, valued at about $3bn, for instance, has been there for the past five years. Baru did not award it, as well as some others listed in the allegations, rather he inherited it.

“That the NNPC has not come out to make any official comment does not mean that it does not know what to say. Some of these contracts were awarded years back. The corporation will come out to say something, but for now, silence is a strategy.”

But the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to refer the allegations of corruption and abuse of office against Baru, to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) for investigation, and possible prosecution.

SERAP, in a letter to the President, is also asking the him to, “Suspend Mr. Baru pending the referral to the EFCC and ICPC, and the outcome of any investigation by the anti-corruption agencies in order not to create the impression that your government is treating Mr. Baru as a sacred cow. We urge you not to allow the allegations against Mr. Baru go the way of past inconclusive investigations of allegations of massive corruption within the NNPC.”

A former Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Alliance, APA, Chief Jackson Omenazu, said Nigerians are already disappointed in the APC government which he said has given itself out as “corruption personified”.