FOLLOWING the subsidy removal protest that grounded the country early this year, the federal government set up three Special Task Forces to look into the rots in the oil sector.
They included the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force, led by former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, with Mr. Steve Oronsaye, a former Head of Service (HoS) of the federation as his deputy.
There were also the Governance and Control Task Force, headed by Mr. Dotun Sulaiman, and the National Refineries Committee, led by former minister of Finance, Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu.
Even before President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, there was monumental rot in the sector, with the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) serving as conduit pipe.
Before his death, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua once disclosed that the refusal of the Presidency to unbundle NNPC, as recommended by several committee, was because it was the greatest direct beneficiary of the rot. He promised to reform the NNPC, but never lived to do so.
Apart from Yar’Adua’s disclosure, different organisations, like KPMG, NEITI and even the House of Representatives, had released damning reports on the corruption and rot in the sector being aided by the NNPC.
So, when the federal government set up the three task forces, Nigerians were not expecting something different from what had been in public domain.
True to expectation, the Ribadu Committee came out with another indicting report, in which the NNPC, Ministry of Petroleum Resources and the Presidency were not spared, a development that made the powers-that-be jittery ahead of the submission of the report last Friday.
To many, that was responsible for the show of shame and breach of protocol in the Aso Villa during the submission of the report, as Ribadu and Oronsaye engaged each other in a heated argument before the President.
While the Sulaiman and Idika Kalu committees enjoyed a smooth presentation, the same could not be said of the Ribadu task force, as Ribadu, Oronsaye and another member, Mr. Bernard Oti, disagreed over the content of the report, raising doubts over the integrity of the process.
In the report, which Ribadu accepted as being the same as the one that had been leaked to the press several days earlier, he urged the federal government to put in place a coherent funding of oil projects, free monies tied up in the Joint Venture Companies (JVC) and intensify efforts to make oil companies pay up royalties to the government.
He stressed that oil firms in Nigeria were making huge profits, which they were investing outside the country, while owing Nigeria royalties.
Ribadu advised government to stop using traders to market its crude oil, but sell directly to buyers outside the country.
He also described the theft of crude oil in the country as an embarrassing national tragedy that must be stopped, while the insecurity in the Niger Delta should be addressed.
The report equally recommended the strengthening of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), just as it commended Jonathan and Petroleum Resources Minister, Mrs. Deziani Alison-Madueke, for their efforts at sanitising the sector, noting that carrying out reforms requires integrity.
However, Oronsaye quickly sought the permission of the President to speak and used the opportunity to instantly disown the report presented by Ribadu as flawed in the process of its compilation and containing un-reconciled figures, hence lacking a strong foundation and integrity.
He flayed the non-involvement of agencies like the DPR and the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) in the process.
But Ribadu countered that Oronsaye had been compromised in his stance, because he was appointed to boards of the NNPC and neither attended the committee’s meetings nor made submissions when asked to do so.
It was revealed that after the setting up of the committee, Oronsaye and Oti were appointed into NNPC board and management, a development Ribadu raised, saying they should have resigned their membership to avoid being judges in their own case.
Already, it appears there are moves by indicted parties to discredit the report, prompted by the subsisting controversy trailing it.
There are allegations that emissaries from the Presidency and the ministry approached the committee to know the content of its report prior to the compilation.
Ribadu was said to have rebuffed the move and uncomfortable with releasing the report directly to the Presidency without having the public know the contents of the report.
It would be recalled that the report had been ready for submission, but the minister was said to have sat on it.
But immediately the report was leaked, the minister said it needed re-modification and vetting before it could be accepted by the Presidency.
The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) has accused government of deliberately sabotaging the task force, following the controversy that marred the presentation of its report.
Its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the decision to appoint Oronsaye and Oti to positions in the NNPC while the task force was still working was a deliberate booby-trap.
It said if government did not have any ulterior motive, it would have waited for the task force to complete its assignment before the duo’s appointments.
“Alternatively, both men should have resigned their membership of the committee the moment they were given the plum jobs to avoid the apparent conflict of interest.
“The fact that they stayed on, only to disparage the report at the end, is the clearest indication yet that they were meant to play that exact role of spoilers,” ACN said.
It added: “All that these two men needed to have done, if indeed they did not agree with the report of the task force, was to write a minority report and present such to the President, instead of engaging in theatrics, as they did at the presentation, right in front of the whole world.”
To a United States-based (US) energy law expert, Felix Ayanruoh, government should see the report as the necessary incentive for social and economic re-engineering of the rot in the sector for good of the country, saying the task force should be commended for completing its assignment in good time.
The All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (VCACOL) and Campaign for Democracy (CD) had criticised Oronsaye over his action.
Executive Chairman of CACOL, Debo Adeniran, advised Jonathan not to take Oronsaye arguments seriously, saying: “It is an indication that all is not well with Nigeria. A critical look at the situation shows that some forces did not want the report to see the light of the day.
“If Oronsaye claims he did not sit with the committee, his name should not be written on the report. The tragi-comedy is a manifestation of the lopsidedness of our polity. It is an international embarrassment.”
Similarly, National Publicity Secretary of ANPP, Emma Eneukwu, said it was expected that those indicted by the report would kick and try to devise a cover-up and expressed pessimism about the political will to implement the report.