By Fred Akanni
Ibe Kachikwu appeared at the Nigerian upper house of Legislative House with a charm offensive on Wednesday, October 14, 2015, as he took his turn at the screening for confirmation as a cabinet level Minister in the country’s Federal Executive Council. Barely two months on the job as Group Managing Director of the state hydrocarbon company NNPC, he fielded the Senators’ questions with effortless ease, his eyes sweeping the entire hall as he responded, in detail, to every question, delivering data extempore.
A candidate for the likely position of Minister of State Energy (Petroleum), Mr. Kachikwu got quite a few things wrong, like saying that technology had brought closer the possibility that there’s oil in the Chad Basin, or failing to acknowledge that there had been a Gas Master Plan for over five years, but the confidence he exuded overwhelmed any deficiency in knowledge. The senators seemed to hang on his every word; and every question after the first three was a follow up on his earlier remarks.
The conversation between Kachikwu and the Senators was also a clear indication that Nigerian leaders and lawmakers assume that the NNPC was regulator, policymaking and commercial institution all rolled into one, a situation that’s hurtful to a creation of effective structure in the country’s petrolum industry. “Your NNPC keeps subsidizing (Petrol) consumption”, remarked Senator Ben Murray Bruce, PDP Balyelsa State. Implicit in that example, which was one of many, was that NNPC, not the Nigerian state, was the one subsidizing petroleum products.
Kachikwu’s confirmation hearing was clearly the high point of the three day long screening of nominees submitted to the House for confirmation by President Buhari, who was himself sworn in in late May 2015. He seemed to have clearly rehearsed for a public performance of how good he was for the job. A day before his screening a Public Relations firm PR Uno, had sent a press release with a headline: “Kachikwu, the Star Attraction at Wednesday’s Senate Screening”.
The release read: “The Senate will resume the screening of ministerial nominees on Wednesday with the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, the distinguished alumnus of the University of Nigeria (UNN) and Harvard University, tipped to be the star attraction”.