In his intervention on the bewildering intrigue over the presidential approval for oil contracts by the NNPC, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has washed his hands off the exercise, leaving Nigerians and economy watchers further confused. In unequivocal terms, Osinbajo denied his spokesman's earlier assertion that as acting president, he had given approval to the N640 billion contract.
According to him, what he approved for NNPC as acting president "were presidential approvals, but they are specifically for financing joint ventures and they are loans not contracts."
Laolu Akande, Senior Special Assistant to the vice president, had in a tweet on Thursday claimed that his boss approved two separate oil contracts on July 10 and July 31 worth $1 billion and $780 million, respectively as acting president.
But in a statement later on Thursday, Akande retracted his earlier claim. The press release he issued clarifying the position of his boss was entitled: “NNPC: Acting Presidential approval were for financing arrangements not contracts, says VP Osinbajo”.
Akande stated: “Approached by reporters after the ground-breaking multi-billion Naira historic Bonny-Bodo road project, in Bonny, Rivers State, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, explained specifically that the approvals he granted to the NNPC while he was Acting President were for financing arrangements for the Joint Ventures between the corporation and IOCs, and not approvals for contracts.
"Said he: 'These were financing loans. Of course, you know what the Joint Ventures are, with the lOCs, like Chevron, that had to procure. In some cases, NNPC and their Joint Venture partners have to secure loans and they need authorisation to secure those loans while the President was away. The law actually provides for those authorisations. So I did grant two of them and those were presidential approvals, but they are specifically for financing joint ventures and they are loans not contracts.' "
The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu had recently in a leaked letter he addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari, accused the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Maikanti Baru, of gross insubordination and taking unilateral decisions on award of contract without recourse to the NNPC board.
The Minister accused the Baru of approving a contract of $25 billion without following due process. But the NNPC boss in his response denied the allegation, insisting that he had not contravened no known law, describing the minister’s allegations as baseless.
Giving details of the approvals he said was given by President Buhari, Baru had indicated that two of them - the $1 billion and $780 million contracts - were given on July 10 and July 31 respectively.
The earlier tweet from Akande claiming that his boss approved the contracts as acting president had seemed to settle the issue. But Osinbajo's denial has now again given vent to Kachikwu's allegations and raised the spectre of a divided presidency.
A report by Premium Times online journal had indicated that based on the said dates, President Buhari may have given approval for the two oil contracts sought by Dr. Maikanti Baru while he was still on sick bed in London having already transfered presidential powers to Osinbajo. As a result, lawyers had raised doubts on the legality of the two approvals.
"After transferring power to Vice President Osinbajo who then became acting president, President Buhari could no longer exercise his executive powers," Mr. Onyeisi Chiemeke, a Lagos-based lawyer and human rights activist, had told Business and Maritime West Africa of the revelation.
“The contracts could be challenged and possibly rendered invalid by the courts because he didn’t have presidential powers at the time he was exercising same. The acting president ought to have approved those contracts because no one knew what state of mind the president was at the time,” said Liborous Oshoma, legal analyst.
PIX: Vice President Yemi Osinbajo