MYNATION NEWS – In few months, Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu will be seen as a national boon or disaster. He will be hailed as a round peg in a round hole or tirelessly maligned as the fig that lets down the leaf; the affliction that has to be concealed or expunged. Until then, Kachikwu will stew in metamorphosis. The Minister of State, Petroleum Resources and Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) dissolves into multiple identities characterised by the oil industry’s familiar bogeys, even as you read.
His transformation is akin to Daniel Orowole Fagunwa’s mythical forest ghommid’s. Other beings pass through him as if he were a wraith. He is like Fagunwa’s ghommid, who transforms into a tree, an antelope, a raging inferno, a bird, water and a menacing snake. While Fagunwa’s mythical creature assumes more or less the characteristics typical of its new category of being, Kachikwu struggles to preserve his individuality, mostly the capacity to think and act humanely, against the power and intimidation of Nigeria’s oil cabal.
Yes, Kachikwu, despite his brilliance and touted vigour, may hardly be a match for Nigeria’s predatory band of oil Turks and cliques in the energy sector. But his office demands that he assumes a front, thus his frantic posturing and pretension to purpose and valour. It would be delightful however, to see Kachikwu succeed where his predecessors failed woefully but he needs generous doses of forthrightness to do that. He needs to be a man or the best form of public servant that his employer, President Muhammadu Buhari, wants him to epitomise. Can he?
Despite his initial braggadocio or what is known in street parlance as Initial Gra Gra (IGG), Kachikwu seems woefully handicapped to effect the needed turnaround in the nation’s oil sector. Perhaps he isn’t, he simply glamourises the knack for making ill-advised commentary and pledges before assessing his capacity to withstand backlash and deliver on his words.
Take for instance, his circus acts in the nation’s oil sector – his recent “I am not a magician” riposte to Nigerians groaning under the weight of the lingering fuel scarcity predates a recent report by The Cable, an online medium, that credited Kachikwu with the information that the nation’s refineries are working at 30 percent capacity as against the minimum 60 percent required to generate profit.
He was quoted thus: “Personally, I will have chosen to sell the refineries, but President Buhari has instructed that they should be fixed. After they are fixed, if they still operate below 60 per cent, then we will know what to do…The 90-day ultimatum for the refineries to be fixed will end in December and Port Harcourt Refinery looks like the only one that will meet the deadline, but we will wait and see what happens at the end of the 90 days.”
It is over 90 days and if you take the pains to skim over the folds of officialese and doleful cliffhanger nuggets contained in his disclosure, you just might find that Kachikwu may have tacitly prepared our minds for one of his several failures or his only failure perhaps. Earlier, he said that in view of the nation’s low refining capacity, there was need to establish more refineries in the country. “I am pushing to build new refineries next to our existing plants in order to boost the nation’s refining capacity for the common good,” Kachikwu stated, explaining that the new refineries will be developed by private investors and that NNPC will simply provide them spaces close to the existing refineries to enable them share key facilities such as pipelines and storage facilities.
If you consider this in light of his alleged preference for selling off the refineries, you could be forgiven for getting lost in the NNPC head honcho’s maze of double speak and embarrassing retractions. Following his recent cancellation of the oil swap deals instituted by the immediate past administration of President Goodluck Jonathan and his Petroleum Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, the NNPC boss did a cartwheel to tactfully rescind his decision.
Apologists of Kachikwu claimed he was only doing the president’s bidding but critics of the NNPC boss earnestly aver that President Buhari couldn’t have taken the decision without the knowledge and approval of the NNPC boss. Whatever the case, Kachikwu is either a talisman that the presidency reckons with or a human sound bite employed to unquestioningly rubber-stamp Mr. President’s caprices. Is he?
It would be recalled that major oil tycoons became jittery and desperate to save their businesses in the wake of the NNPC’s cancellation of Offshore Processing Agreements (OPAs) and Crude Oil Swap (COS) deals entered with them. This was because their businesses plummeted in the absence of the several shady deals entrenched by the immediate past corrupt regime. Likewise, the federal government placed a ban on 113 oil vessels for perceived infractions. The presidency has since lifted the ban on the 113 tankers and the NNPC has tacitly reinstituted the controversial OPAs and COS, it would seem.
Earlier, the Ahmed Joda-led Presidential Transition Committee had recommended to President Buhari to carry out a comprehensive audit of all OPAs and COS deals entered by the NNPC. The committee said the audit would help government identify and claim any reimbursements for excess crude oil lifted under the controversial OPA and swap arrangements to establish the quantity of products delivered based on a fair and transparent audit process. Kachikwu subsequently hinted that all Production Sharing Contracts, (PSCs), Joint Venture Contract Agreements (JVCAs) and all other contracts between the NNPC and its various partners would be reviewed to reflect actualities in the global oil and gas industry. He stated that as part of the measures to optimise the marketing of Nigeria’s crude oil and secure new market potential, the number of off-takers for the proposed 2015/2016 term contracts, which would emerge after a planned rigorous competitive bid had been pruned from 43 to 16. The corporation however, extended invitation to few oil companies affected by the cancellation of the deal.
Despite Kachikwu’s show of running the process in the spirit of transparency, fears abound that the he is impotent against the intimidating clout and pressure from certain quarters that he favoured the same corrupt oil firms responsible for the misfortunes bedeviling the nation’s oil sector.
Given his sterling achievements in academia and the private business sector, Kachikwu seemed every inch capable for the onerous task of sanitising the grossly corrupt and ailing oil sector, at his appointment as Minister of State, Petroleum Resources and NNPC boss. A doctor of Law, Kachikwu graduated with distinction from the University of Nigeria (UNN) Nsukka and he was the best graduating student from the Law School, winning seven of the available nine prizes in 1999. He holds the LLM Harvard Distinction and was best graduate in 1980 with specialisation in Energy, Petroleum Law and Investment. Kachikwu has more than 30 years experience in policy- making positions in the petroleum industry serving in various capacities thus he seems well equipped for the job but for a snag, he is a Nigerian genius.
Nigerian genii seldom fluorish in public office. Ultimately, they serve as puppets or impractical characters enabling the greed and mediocrity of their principals or associates in corridors of power. Kachikwu, like such genii, has betrayed little character or justifiable individuality so far.
However, in the wake of his controversial “I am not a magician” statement and his subsequent apology, Nigerians, despite their impatience, need to exercise greater patience with him. His high office couldn’t have obliterated his fabled genius, as it did, the smarts of his predecessors after all.
Yet if a public officer truly reflects the character of his principal or employer, the presidency becomes the teat from which Kachikwu sucks his new identity. The impact so far, has been enlightening. Nonetheless, Kachikwu is either a failure or success in process.