By Aisha Usman
The fact that all the symptoms of corruption in the oil industry continue to resist the change intervention of President Muhammad Buhari through the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr Ibe Kachikwu should be a source of concern to us all. Not only is the old status quo resisting change, it is also fighting efforts at reforms and the anti-corruption campaign. The intractable fuel crisis that manifests as the current bitter and agonizing fuel queues across the country is proof to anyone that the old order at the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) kicks still.
The oil cabal that once held the nation by the jugular had let go only to latch onto another spot that is no less deadly than when its hold was strangulating the nation’s economy. Our worries should be magnified at this point because the actions of the cabal are now deeply insidious as it has again activated its sleeper cells within the NNPC. Its assault on the change being implemented at the NNPC is now being implemented by the Manager Retail Services, Mrs. Esther Nnamdi Ogbue, who until a while ago was the Managing Director of Petroleum Product Marketing Company (PPMC).
The attacks aimed at casting aspersions on Dr Kachikwu’s integrity have the handwriting and signature of Mrs. Esther Nnamdi Ogbue written all over it. The strategy is the same routine that has now become familiar since the Minister’s appointment to midwife change at the corporation was once the byword for corruption. Paid stories and protests are usually organised to accuse Kachikwu’s family of interfering in the running of NNPC. One is thus left to wonder how dragging a man’s family members into state business will serve any purpose other than using it as leverage to blackmail the minister into allowing corruption to have its way.
Nnamdi Ogbue’s grouse is easy to fathom, it is driven by a sick sense of vendetta against a man who she wrongly surmised has taken food away from her table. Only that this is not her food table since the re-assignment did not stop her statutory salary and allowances; what she misses is the benefit of corruption that has shrunken as the anti-graft war intensifies.
She is thus at the vanguard of the disgruntled in the aftermath of the massive shakeup by Kachikwu both as part of the unbundling of the corruption behemoth called NNPC. Moving her from PPMC to Retail Services has turned off the faucet to the pipeline from which she drank petrodollars unfettered. The very fact that the burden of accountability has been increased, contrary to when all thefts were hidden under the blanket name of the NNPC, is another cause of disaffection for cabal members, who now have their brigade commander coordinating attacks on the person they see as responsible for their woes.
However, this is where Nigerians should take the Minister of State for Petroleum to task. Why he decided to retain the old guard in the face of the unspeakable theft and corruption under their watch beats the imagination. Here is a woman, a public office holder, who holds more assets than some states in this country own. The choice properties she has scattered all over Abuja, other Nigerian cities and some abroad are enough to create a national bailout package in this economic hardship if they were to be put on auction. House 3, Off No 4 Amazon Street Maitama built and furnished by Julius Berger at a mind bending sum of N1.3billion is just one of the many edifices that can be traced to Mrs Esther Nnamdi Ogbue less than 6 months after resuming work. It remains to be seen how she will explain ownership of that structure or the many other ones in Asokoro, Wuse and Maitama.
Nnamdi Ogbue might have gotten addicted to permanently having her hands in the tills to finance her unbridled acquisitiveness, but Dr Kachiwku owns the blame for retaining her in the system. Now, not only is she not satisfied with being rewarded for being corrupt (by being assigned to Retail Services instead of being fired and prosecuted) she has also made it a mission to ensure that the reforms in the industry are rolled back through her blackmail of the man in charge of the changes.
Pending when Nigerians will force President Buhari to order Kachikwu to do the needful by firing known corrupt staff, Mrs Esther Nnamdi Ogbue should concentrate on her job and stop desperately trying to divert attention from her odious sleaze and countless atrocities. She will also do well to seek therapy for her compulsive acquisitiveness while not engaging in any activity that could constitute evidence tampering since the anti-graft agencies must catch up with her at some point.
As it is becoming apparent that the cabal is swarming and swamping the Minister of State for Petroleum, it is then time for President Buhari to come to his rescue. Kachikwu’s power to throw out those indicted for corruption or affiliation with the oil cabal should be strengthened since the entire anti-corruption crusade would amount to nothing if the cabal continues to freely operate within the system to the extent of making the hunter into the hunted.
Nigerians must also not continue in that unacceptable tradition of seeing this problem as Kachikwu’s own kettle of fish or President Buhari’s headache. There is no basis for us to keep quiet when one individual can frustrate the anti-corruption fight to this extent. A few groups held protests when Mrs Esther Nnamdi Ogbue was re-assigned to Retail Services from PPMC and they described the move as ‘rewarding corruption’. Other groups and well-meaning individuals must add their voice to demand sanity at the NNPC as the regime of corruption typified by this woman and her kind is not sustainable. Anyone who needs additional incentive to speak out should think of the fuel queues, she knows about them.
Usman is a former staff of the NNPC writing from Kaduna.