A cross-section of Nigerians has commended the President, General Muhammadu Buhari, for his deft management of what could easily have blown into a national crisis – the exchanges between the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, and the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Dr. Maikanti Baru.
The issues broke into the open following an internal memorandum dated August 30, this year, addressed to the President by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, highlighting what he described as procedural infringements by the NNPC Group Managing Director, including allegations of bypassing the Minister of State, who is also Chairman of the NNPC Board, and failing to report to the Board in key decision like the awarding of major contracts.
That the memo leaked to the mass media apparently triggered chains of reactions, including denials of there being any unwholesome intent in the award of the cited contracts, an allegation that was not made in the memorandum. Public reactions followed, many full of sentimental content.
There were also questions about who leaked the internal memo to the Press and whether the contracts mentioned should have been sent to the Minister of State for approval. Also in discourse was whether the Minister of State’s memo was concealed by Presidency personnel, and delayed in reaching the President.
However, the President acted in a fatherly manner by analyzing the issues objectively, and resolved the issue, which was about the need for due process in the NNPC’s operations, and not about any allegation of wrong doing. For some reason yet to be established, some reactions to the Minister of State’s memo veered in the direction of there being no unwholesome acts in the award of the contracts. Our reporters found that there were no such accusations in the memo.
In the heat of all this, ISWB commissioned a team of experts to conduct a mini Public Opinion Poll (POP) to determine the feelings of the populace on the issue, including whether the facts were well understood and how the issue was managed by the Presidency to which the memo was addressed.
The survey team interviewed 50 persons online from various parts of Nigeria. Five questions were asked:
1. Did you follow the media exchange after the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources’ memo to the President on irregularities in processes by the Group Managing Director of the NNPC?
2. Did you understand the issues stated in the Minister’s memo and in the GMD’s reactions?
3. Were there any mentions or allegations of corruption in the Minister’s memo?
4. Do you believe that the issue was well understood and managed by the media and the public?
5. What do you think was responsible for the dowsing of the tension that was building up from the issue?
A majority responded that the potential crisis was prevented by the mature handling of the situation by the President. Thirty-eight of the 50 respondents said the tension was doused by the President’s mature handling of the issue. Seven said the problem could have been resolved with or without any intervention, while five gave no answer.
Several respondents (39) went out of the way to state that the issues in the memo did not merit the level of public reaction that came with the matter, while many others (41) said that felt that the media did not handle the issue well. Twenty-three respondents said the Presidential media team did not handle the issue properly. Ten commented that the Presidential team helped blow the matter out of proportion.
Nearly all those who responded to the question on allegations of corruption (43) said there was no allegation or implying of corrupt or any unwholesome practices by the Minister against the GMD. Some said the memo only talked of procedural irregularities and the need to comply with laid-down procedures. A few others said the issues in the memo were all purely administrative and routine. One respondent rather cynically wrote back: “Is it not guilty conscience to cry wolf when there is none?”
Beyond the mini poll, ISWB reporting crews felt the pulse across opinion leaders in various parts of the country, and from media reportage.
Opinion leaders like rights activism lawyer Femi Falana and the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, were, according to media reports, of the view that the matter could have been better managed.
Barrister Falana, SAN, said the memo merely mentioned perceived administrative lapses that needed not be blown out of proportion, and that Presidency insiders who were accused of blocking the minister’s access to the President should be sanctioned.
PANDEF, on its part, said the Minister of State was correct to draw the President’s attention to breeches of transparency and accountability flaws. It said the NNPC Group Managing Director was wrong to sideline the Minister of State.
Meanwhile, calm has returned to the petroleum industry, as the dust raised by the “memo saga” dies down. The country now looks forward to the “combatant sides” to calm down and let procedures be complied with by everybody, with no one imagining that he or she is exempt from administrative procedures.