Kachikwu – Baru face-off: Legal Practitioner Weighed into Discourse

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In the face of the controversy still swirling around the letter written to President Muhammadu Buhari by the Minister of State, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, in which he accused the Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Maikanti Baru, of insubordination and humiliation of his office, and the revelation that Baru awarded contracts amounting to $25 billion without recourse to the NNPC Governing Board, the Buhari administration has been advised to do introspection and get to the root of the growing apathy to its anti-corruption crusade.

President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Malachy Ugwumadu, a legal practitioner, who weighed into the discourse that has seized the attention of the nation, advised the Buhari administration to take a flip backwards, to recover its fast fading public goodwill in the fight against corruption.

On her part, Mrs Chinwe Mbaegbu-Okongwu, a legal practitioner with an active practice in Commercial Law, wondered why the Minister of State had not seen it fit to take the path of honour and step out of the cabinet.

In responding to the issues raised by Kachikwu in his letter to the president, Baru had stated that the NNPC Act did not recognize the position of Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, hence he was not obligated to report to Kachikwu in his capacity as Minister of State, despite the fact he is the chairman of the NNPC Governing Board.

Since the face-off spilled into the public space, it has thrown up the poser: should the president continue to hold onto the Minister of Petroleum Resources portfolio? If he retains the position, would that not amount to a deliberate act to make Kachikwu redundant, Sunday Sun sought to know from Mbaegbu-Okongwu, but she parried the question and rather said: “I think Kachikwu should resign. He will rubbish himself if he continues.”

Ugwumadu, on the other hand expressed shock over the seeming tepid response of the government and the handling of the shocking revelation about the contracts, which have a combined value of about N9 trillion, a huge sum which he noted is higher than the total amount of the 2017 budget by more than N2 trillion.

“From the standpoint of the character of the debate, some of us are completely disappointed, within the context of the state of the nation and what we ought to be discussing in terms of how those volumes of resources are applied for the welfare of the people of Nigeria. The fact still remains that the humongous amount is more than the national budget of the country. The 2017 budget is about N7.44 trillion. And we are talking about N9 trillion.

“The kind of opaque environment that blurred the transparency and accountability of the entire exercise is one that spurred the anger of the nation, an anger caused by years of corruption in the transaction of government business. It is more so against the background of a government that rose to power on the crest of its avowal to deal squarely with the issue of corruption.

It is not sufficient for the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to paper over the allegations leveled against him by merely saying that he reported to the NNPC Tenders Board or the President in his executive capacity or Minister of Petroleum. It is for him to recognize that under the NNPC Act, 1977, he is obligated to report and secure approval of the chairman of the NNPC Governing Board. In the absence of that, his actions must be ultra vires. Not only was the NNPC Act violated, the Public Procurement Act was violated and financial fidelity was thrown overboard,” Ugwumadu said.

He said that the Buhari administration should take advantage of the present situation and the speculations generated over the NNPC contract gate to do introspection and get to the root of what is going on within its ranks.

“While it is perceived as a government with zero tolerance for corruption, there are credible and verified symptoms that show that the same perception is not entirely true about key members of this administration.

“Until they align themselves with the convincing evidence of what the people already know, the kind of confidence the government needs to extract from the people regarding the humongous and profound evidence of corruption can never go away.

“The president needs to galvanize the disposition of the Nigerian people to fight the scourge of corruption. It will be unacceptable and a pointer to failure, ab initio, to fight corruption selectively. The fight must be credible and according to the law. The government has a good opportunity to respond to the perception out there in the larger Nigerian society by the way it ultimately handles the NNPC contract issue. That will depend on the quality of evidence out there. At the end of the day every person who is alleged to be corrupt, whether inside or outside the political setting must be treated equally according to the law and punished appropriately.

“As long as the hype does not secure either a transparent acquittal or a conviction with a view to serving as a deterrent, the goodwill that swept this government into office will continue to ebb.

“It is very necessary to put out that whereas the Executive Branch is leading the war, it does not take the executive alone to fight corruption, it takes a robust legislative ingenuity on the part of the National Assembly working together, in collaboration, with the rigorous judiciary that is alive to its responsibilities, and is prepared and ready to dispense justice according to law. That is precisely what we are beginning to witness in the judiciary, where Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, gave directives to the heads of the judiciary of the respective states.

“Looking at the integrity of the anti-corruption process, the government must move to re-establish its commitment to the anti-corruption crusade.

The government has to act in coherent manner to restore the confidence of the people in the capacity of the government to combat corruption.”

On the suggestion made by a member of the opposition that a powerful faceless group within the administration initiated the NNPC contracts as part of a move to create a slush fund in preparation for the 2019 election, Ugwumadu said: “Everything has become possible in Nigeria. It has been turned into a theatre of all sorts of absurdities, where outright criminality and crime wear the garb of comedy.”

He urged President Buhari to take clear steps to ensure a comprehensive investigation of the $25 billion NNPC contracts, to disabuse the minds of the people about what seems like double standards.

Recall that in the heat of the skirmishes between the National Assembly and the Presidency, Senator Shehu Sani said: “When it comes to fighting corruption in the National Assembly and the Judiciary and in the larger Nigerian sectors, the President uses insecticide, but when it comes to fighting corruption within the Presidency, they use deodorants.”

Against this background, Ugwumadu urged the president to rise to the occasion.

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