Amid widespread criticism of the President Muhammadu Buhari government’s handling of the nationwide fuel shortages, national leader of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, yesterday lashed out at the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, in a statement that exposed continuing rifts within the ruling party and the endless scramble among its leaders for sphere of influence in the government.
For more than one month, the public has been faced with the frustrations of not being able to get enough premium motor spirit – the most consumed petroleum product in the country – to buy. This has resulted in long queues of vehicles and crowds of buyers at the few filling stations selling the product. But Kachikwu told State House correspondents in Abuja on Wednesday that despite the government’s efforts, the fuel situation might not improve until the next two months. He said he was not a magician and did not have a magic wand to eliminate the fuel queues, a comment that drew angry responses from various segments of society, but which APC remained silent about.
However, Tinubu added his voice to the criticisms of Kachikwu’s comments, in a strongly worded statement titled, “Kachikwu needs to know that respect and good performance will do what magic cannot.”
It was however gathered that Tinubu’s denunciation of Kachikwu may not be unconnected with the appointment of Onikepo Animashaun as GM, Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC).
The former Lagos State governor in the statement which he personally signed said: “Much public ire has been drawn to the statement made by Minister of State Ibe Kachikwu that he was not trained as a magician and that basically Nigerians should count themselves fortunate that the NNPC under his stewardship has been able to bring in the amount of petrol fuel it is currently doing.
“Perhaps, the statement by Kachikwu was made in a moment of unguarded frustration or was an awkward attempt at a joke. Whatever the motive, it was untimely and off-putting. The remark did not sit well with the Nigerian people; they were as right to feel insulted as the minister was wrong to have said such a thing. The fuel shortage is severely biting for the average person. They are forced to remain in lines far too long, for too much time, to pay too much money for too little fuel. This is no joking matter. Livelihoods and people’s welfare are at stake. With so much on the line, Kachikwu’s flippancy was out-of-line. He was basically telling Nigerians that they should be lucky that they are getting the inadequate supply they now suffer and that they should just be quiet and endure the shortage for several weeks more.”
Tinubu criticised Kachikwu’s intervention as “unhelpful,” saying it has caused panic and despair among the public with regard to the duration of the crisis. “It insulted the people by its tonality. He spoke with the imperious nature of a member of the elitist government the people voted out last year and not the progressive one they voted in,” Tinubu said.
He added, “Kachikwu must be reminded that he was not coerced to take this job. He accepted the job and its responsibilities knowingly. He also must remember that he does not own NNPC. This also is not a private company that owes nothing to the public except the duty of fair dealing. He is a public servant. The seat he sits upon is owned by Nigerians not by him. The company he runs is owned by Nigerians not by him. They are his boss. He is not theirs. Power is vested in the people. He is a mere custodian or agent of their will. In talking to us in such a manner, he committed an act of insubordination. If he had talked so cavalierly to his boss in the private sector, he would have been reprimanded or worse. If wise, the man should refrain from such interjections in the future.
“As his ultimate bosses, the people have a right to demand the requisite performance and respect from him. He should apologise for treating them so lightly in this instance. His portfolio being a strategically important one, he needs to re-establish the correct relationship with the public. They no longer feel he is working for their optimal benefit as their servant. Instead, he seems to be standing above them, telling them to take it or leave it.
“For his policies and stint in office to be successful and a help to this government, he must have the support and belief of the people at this tough time. He must talk to them in a way that they believe he seeks their best interest and understands the hardship weighing upon them. He must ask them to work with him and, perhaps, to endure a bit longer but with the knowledge that he is working to resolve this matter as fast as he can and as permanently as possible. That he is dedicated to the position that once these current lines are gone that never again shall they reappear as long as he has any influence in the matter.”
Tinubu said to maintain the confidence of the people and keep their hope alive despite the hard times required neither magic nor training in any strange craft. “It requires empathy, compassion and the willpower to forge a better Nigeria. These must be the common trademarks of those serving in a progressive government, for these attributes are integral parts of the spirit and ideals upon which the APC was founded. Upon such notions was this administration voted into office by the Nigerian people in the operation of their sovereign will to seek a national leadership that would pursue their interests to the utmost and give them every fair chance to live in a better Nigeria,” the APC leader stated.
Tinubu, however, expressed confidence in the commitment and ability of the president to lead the country out of the current economic crisis. “From establishing full security and safety to staking a claim to true economic prosperity and fairness, this government shall salvage our national pride and purpose. Let all of us, in and out of government, never forget this. If we adhere to this remembrance, we shall see that magic will not be needed to bring the progress we seek,” he stated
Tinubu acknowledged the hash economic climate occasioned by the sharp drop in crude oil prices. He said the situation required creative reforms, stressing, “Therein lies the essence of progressive democratic governance.” He said the Buhari administration represented Nigeria’s best hope for the installation of such governance and alleged that the country would have being in a more terrible condition if the immediate past Peoples Democratic Party federal government had continued in power.
Though, he has of late been critical of some of the policies of the Buhari government, Tinubu, in the statement, appreciated the efforts of the administration to right the wrongs of the past. But he stated, “In this effort, there may be no economic matter more difficult to unravel and more sensitive to the pulse of the average person than the current fuel scarcity. Even here I am confident of progress because I know the commitment of the president to resolving this matter. I make no attempt to hide it. I am an avid and partisan supporter of this government and of the progressive policies of the party, the APC, upon which this government is based.
“With that I do reserve the right and the duty as a Nigerian to voice my opinion when I believe a member of this government has strayed from the progressive calling required of this administration. I do this because my greater devotion and love are for this nation and its people. Party and politics fall secondary.”
However, Tinubu, it was gathered, took umbrage at Kachikwu when he appointed Animashaun as GM, Legal, at NPDC. Presidency officials said they noted the unusual public criticism of Kachikwu, who Tinubu ought to know is the minister of state in the Office of the Petroleum Minister, occupied by President Muhammadu Buhari, and that they would have thought that if he had anything against Kachikwu as Buhari’s minister of state, he had all the access to the presidency to lodge his complaints, and therefore found his public reproval of Kachikwu surprising.
A presidency official who said because he was not briefed to comment on the issue, he may not be quoted, noted that Tinubu’s anger with Kachikwu may not be unconnected with Kachikwu’s appointment of Animashaun as GM at NPDC without the approval of Tinubu, given that Animashaun was a permanent secretary in the Lagos State government and a Lagos indigene.
Tinubu was said to be particularly piqued that Animashaun was recommended by Pastor Tunde Bakare, and backed by former Lagos Governor Babatunde Fashola, without reference to him before being appointed. He was said to have pointedly asked Kachikwu to reverse the appointment but the minister told him that it was a bit too late in the day to do that as Lagos State government did not raise any objection or make any adverse comment to her appointment as GM and that if they do, then the NNPC management would reconsider her appointment.
When this was brought to the attention of President Buhari, according to the officials, the President maintained that anybody once appointed after following due process could only be removed by due process and not because of opposition from individuals. Following the President’s position on the issue, Lagos State government then wrote a letter to NNPC saying it did not support Animashaun’s appointment.
It was gathered that Animashaun quickly countered that by presenting a letter of commendation from Lagos State government for her exceptional and meritorious services to the state which earned her an award as one of the best performing permanent secretaries, a development that made it impossible for Kachikwu to act on the petition.
Tinubu was said to have insisted that Animashaun must be removed if Kachikwu was to know peace. Presidency officials, therefore, believed that yesterday’s statement authored by Tinubu was one of the first salvos in that direction. They believe so because they wondered why a small comment by Kachikwu on fuel scarcity would attract a strongly-worded statement by Tinubu, a national leader of APC, when he has unfettered access to Buhari to lodge his complaints on any issue.