Now that Kachikwu has apologised
The event of last week, ugly and sour as it was, was a baptism of fire for Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu. It came from someone in a position to provide an impregnable wall of protection for any sinner in this government. It is an unwritten rule that under the current All Progressives Congress administration, whoever wrongs Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu has just walked into a furnace of fire. It would therefore, require, as in the Biblical case of the three Hebrew men, the “fourth man” in the fire for such a wrong doer to be rescued unhurt.
The strong man of South West politics, also known as the Jagaban, brought his full political weight upon Kachikwu in reaction to what he termed “Kachikwu’s flippancy” and “moment of unguarded frustration.” The words were not only heavy and crushing; they were monstrous in some aspects but beautifully put together to convey maximum impact. Every word, sentence and paragraph was meant to portray the soured feelings of an offended godfather towards a straying son
Kachikwu, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources who is also the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, was made to understand the hard way that although he reports directly to the President and Commander-in-Chief, there are other forces that can call him to order when the need arises. Groomed in the best practices of technocracy, Kachikwu, perhaps, did not envisage a situation where someone with little or no knowledge of the complexities of the oil sector would give him such a hard knock because of decisions taken based exclusively on skillful understanding of the industry.
The minister’s comment that drew the ire of the godfather, Asiwaju, was on the ongoing fuel scarcity that has brought untold hardship on Nigerians. Kachikwu had told journalists that the biting fuel scarcity will continue into May because everything pointed to the fact that except something magical was done, the situation will not change. It was not the kind of conclusion Nigerians wanted to hear. It was another way of saying: your struggle continues.
That statement triggered off maximum price increase of petroleum products across the nation. Owners of filling stations across the country, particularly in Abuja, shut down sales. They decided to do business in the black market where profitability was higher. Labour union leaders started calling for his resignation. They said he was not competent to handle the nation’s fuel problems. At that point, nobody talked about the problems of the industry. Everybody was concerned with the statement that emphasised endless suffering. The outrage was understandable. The suffering was and is still unbearable.
Besides the reaction by Tinubu, some top government officials also took positions based on that announcement by Kachikwu. By Wednesday night, it was confirmed by sources that a former state governor in one of the South South states, who recently failed a re-election bid on the platform of the APC, is being prepared by some government officials as the next Minister of State for Petroleum. According to the unofficial sources, the former governor was said to have made undeniable contributions towards the success of the party in 2015 and must therefore be rewarded.
If this turns out to be true, then the government in power will end up committing a blunder it was voted in to eliminate. There are indications that the top politicians in APC are not comfortable with the presence of technocrats in government because these are people who are not ready to play politics with the assignments committed to them; and by extension, the destiny of Nigeria. Unknown to the APC leaders, the technocrats are the only ones who can deliver on the so-called change agenda that formed the basis of the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. The politicians in government are only hungrily looking for opportunities to recoup their investments. Too bad!
Tinubu’s statement created sensational headlines across the country; and that was just what the big politician wanted. His words were stinging. His description of Kachikwu had a tone of denigration. Here is a part of what he said:
“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 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.
“Kachikwu’s intervention was unhelpful. It panicked and disappointed the public as 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. Kachikwu must be reminded that he was not coerced to take this job. He accepted the job and its responsibilities knowingly….
“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 reestablish the correct relationship with the public. They no longer feel he is working for their optimal benefit as their servant…”
These were marching orders. He was not begging him to do it. He was not making appeals. He issued directives. There is no doubt that he would have asked him to resign outright or have him sacked except that such powers do not lie with him. If Asiwaju’s intent was to exert or advertise his authority as the leader of the party that produced this government, then he succeeded greatly. If he had set out to settle an old quarrel using the opportunity of “Kachukwu’s flippancy,” he only succeeded by half. If he simply wanted to belittle the minister through weighty political intimidation and have him ridiculed in the eyes of the public, then he missed the target.
Kachikwu displayed an admirable sense of respect and decorum by not joining issues with the political lord. It was clear that by issuing such a strong statement, Asiwaju was partially speaking for the rest of us. But it was not lost on discerning Nigerians who are familiar with such approach that he was also trying to pull out Kachikwu to the arena for a fight. Instead of responding to that invitation for a showdown, Kachikwu chose to apologise to Nigerians. This was what he said when he appeared before the Senate Committee last Tuesday:
“I do apologise to Nigerians for the comments that I made jocularly with my friends in the press about being a magician and it offended Nigerians. It was not meant to be. It was a side jocular issue. I did not know that it would create the kind of hyperbole that it did.
“Let me first admit that I am not a typically experienced politician. I am a technocrat. I have come to work. Some of the phraseologies that I may use, while being acceptable in the arena in which I play, obviously will not be acceptable in the public arena.
“So, if anybody’s sensibilities were offended by those, I totally apologise. Within the first and second week in April, the problem will be solved. There will be a dramatic change. We are about to see the last days of lingering fuel scarcity in Nigeria.”
It was Mark Matthews who once said that apology may not just be a sign of wrongdoing, it just means that that you value your relationship more than your ego. That is most true in this particular case. Lynn Stone took the case further by saying that apology is the super glue of life because it can repair just anything. But none is more compelling than Margaret Lee Runbeck’s position that: “apology is a lovely perfume, it can transform the clumsiest moment into a gracious gift.”
Now that Kachikwu has apologised, let the fuel flow. It is time to sheathe our swords and toe the path of peace. Let’s separate politics from governance. Let’s not mix self-interest with the national interest.