In August this year, Minister of State for Petroleum Ibe Kachikwu sent a memo to President Muhammadu Buhari alleging that the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Maikanti Baru didn’t follow due process in awarding $26bn in contracts. The leaking of that memo has kicked up a messy storm that is unlikely to subside soon.
Baru has responded claiming that there was no legal requirement for Kachikwu to be in the loop on contract discussions and the contracts only needed to be cleared by the president, who also moonlights as petroleum minister.
It is not clear whether the contracts in question were approved by Buhari, who has been out of the country twice this year on long spells of illness. What we know is that there are several allegations of wrongdoing. One was made by an aide to Kachikwu.
Another allegation was that $13bn worth of contracts went to Benek Engineering an oil services company owned, allegedly, by the president’s chief of staff Abba Kyari. In July last year, the president replaced Kachikwu as Group Managing Director of NNPC, replacing him with Baru and also appointed new members to the board. One of the new board members was Kyari – the president’s chief of staff.
Kyari is also the foster son of the president’s nephew Mamman Daura. Daura is reportedly the real power behind the throne, while Kyari is the de facto president, since Buhari, due to a combination of illness and the absence of intellectual curiosity, has delegated most of his duties to his chief of staff and is president only in name.
With Kyari on the NNPC board and a company that he allegedly owns the beneficiary of NNPC contracts worth $13bn, the inertia in investigating Kachikwu’s allegations is hardly surprising. The president can hardly be expected to take action in the light of the claims by his minister of state where Kyari is the person that would advise him on how to proceed. Baru is also a Kyari crony. According to reports, all Buhari has had to say about the matter is that the bickering between Kachikwu and Baru should stop, sanity should prevail, and there should be no further washing of dirty linen in public.
It appears that the airing of dirty linen in the public could expose to full view the reality of “Emperor” Buhari’s anti-corruption clothes. The president may want to create the impression that he is aloof and detached from the shenanigans of people he has put in positions of trust. But it is highly unlikely that some of the closest people to him, even closer to him than his wife, Aisha, who complained about them, would be cornering up to $13bn for themselves, without some of money being washed offshore to accounts in which the president has a beneficial interest.