President Muhammadu Buhari was granting approvals for oil deals to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, during the time he was on his sick bed in London – and when he had relinquished presidential powers to his vice president – the head, Maikanti Baru, has indicated.
Mr. Baru said Mr. Buhari approved at least two separate oil contracts on worth $1 billion and $780 million, respectively.
The N640.8 billion contracts (at N360/$ exchange rate) were approved when Mr. Buhari was receiving treatment for undisclosed ailments in London, and when he was not supposed to be exercising presidential powers, having named Vice President Yemi Osinbajo acting president in a formal correspondence to the National Assembly.
Mr. Buhari was flown to London on May 7, barely two months after he returned from his first 2017 medical vacation which saw him spend 50 days in the United Kingdom.
On May 9, a letter Mr. Buhari wrote to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and President of the Senate notifying them that he had relinquished presidential authorities in accordance with the Nigerian Constitution was read on the floor of both chambers.
Despite rumors of his early return, Mr. Buhari ultimately spent 103 days receiving treatment in London, returning on August 19.
On August 21, the president notified the National Assembly of his return in writing, saying he had “resumed” his “functions as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with effect from Monday, 21st August, 2017.”
But on Monday, Mr. Baru revealed that Mr. Buhari had been exercising presidential powers by granting approvals for NNPC joint venture contracts when he was supposedly on his sickbed and not exercising presidential powers.
Mr. Baru gave details of the contracts as follows:
S/N PROJECT Amount (US$mn) APPROVALS LOAN EXECUTED BY
1. NNPC/CNL JV Project Cheetah 1200 16/04/15 01/09/15 Dr. E. I. Kachikwu
2. NNPC/CNL JV Project Falcon 780 26/04/17 31/07/17 Dr. M. K. Baru
3. NNPC/SPDC JV Project Santolina 1000 26/04/17 10/07/17 Dr. M. K. Baru
(CNL refers to Chevron Nigeria Limited, SPDC to Shell Petroleum Development Company and JV to Joint Venture).
The disclosures were made when the NNPC responded – on behalf of Mr. Baru – to the allegations of contract fraud and insubordination raised by Ibe Kachikwu.
Mr. Kachikwu, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, had in an August 30 memo to Mr. Buhari said Mr. Baru unilaterally approved contracts without recourse to him or the NNPC board, amongst other concerns. The memo surfaced on social media on October 3, sending ripples through the country’s polity.
On October 9, the NNPC responded to Mr. Kachikwu’s allegations by publishing the above contract details, which it said was at the instance of Mr. Buhari, who had kept mum since the scandal broke.
But a look at the dates of the three contracts shows that two of them received presidential approval on dates Mr. Buhari was not in the country, July 31 for the second contract with Chevron Nigeria and July 10 for the contract with Shell. Mr. Baru’s name was placed against the contracts as the person who administered the contract in his capacity as the Group Managing Director of the NNPC.
Only the September 1, 2015, contract which Mr. Kachikwu oversaw during his tenure as the GMD of NNPC received presidential approval on a date Mr. Buhari was in the country and wielding presidential powers.
A compilation of Mr. Buhari’s travels reveals that he was in the country from early August 2015 when he returned from Cotonou until September 7 when he visited Accra.
But while it is clear that the presidential approval granted when Mr. Kachikwu was the head of NNPC happened when Mr. Buhari was exercising presidential powers; it appeared like Mr. Baru received his approval when Mr. Buhari was in London.
Getting Osinbajo’s Consent
In his memo to Mr. Buhari, Mr. Kachikwu stated that when Mr. Buhari was unwell in London for several months between May and August, Mr. Baru tried to get direct approval from Acting President Osinbajo for some personnel changes at the NNPC.
But Mr. Osinbajo asked Mr. Baru to go back to Mr. Kachikwu and get his input and approval first before making the changes. Mr. Baru refused to consult Mr. Kachikwu on that.
For weeks, the changes were not made, until Mr. Buhari returned on August 19. By August 29, Mr. Baru announced the changes.
This prompted Mr. Kachikwu’s letter to the president on August 30, complaining that he learnt of the development in the media.
Sources at the presidency corroborated Mr. Kachikwu’s claim that Mr. Osinbajo rebuffed Mr. Baru’s attempts to get presidential approval behind Mr. Kachikwu.
Neither the vice president’s office nor Mr. Baru also denied that claim by Mr. Kachikwu.
It is not immediately clear if Mr. Baru also attempted to get approval for the multi-billion dollar contracts from Mr. Osinbajo. But presidency sources said it was unlikely that Mr. Osinbajo, who did not allow Mr. Baru to make personnel changes, would allow the NNPC GMD to circumvent Mr. Kachikwu with such high-profile contracts.
Ndu Ughamadu, the spokesperson for the NNPC, would not confirm or deny if Mr. Baru got the approval from Mr. Buhari in London.
“Presidential approval is presidential approval,” Mr. Ughamadu said.
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