Between Jonathan and the Ribadu Committee

Posted on Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

It was a war of words at the Aso Rock Villa on Friday right before President Goodluck Jonathan as Nuhu Ribadu and Steve Oronsaye hotly disputed openly with each other over the propriety of the report of the Petroleum Revenues Task Force submitted to the president by Ribadu.  Senior Correspondent, Adeola Yusuf writes on the controversy surrounding the report of the committee.

President Goodluck Jonathan, on Friday, received the reports of the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force (led by Mallam Nuhu Ribadu), the Governance and Control Task Force (led by Mr. Dotun Sulaiman) and the National Refineries Committee (headed by Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu) at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

Nuhu Ribadu, former boss of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), is chairman of the Task Force set up by Jonathan in February review the country’s revenues from the oil industry, while Steve Oronsaye, a former Head of Service of the Federation, is the deputy chairman.

Ribadu submitted the report of his task force after two other special task forces – on Governance and Controls, chaired by Dotun Suleiman, and on National Refineries, chaired by Kalu Idika Kalu, similarly submitted theirs as directed by Jonathan without incidents.

Although the Sulaiman and Idika Kalu-led committees enjoyed a smooth presentation, the same could not be said of the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force, as its chair, Ribadu, his deputy, Mr. Steve Orosonye, 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, to free up monies tied up in Joint Venture Companies (JVC) while efforts are intensified to make oil companies pay up royalties to the government.

He stressed that oil firms in Nigeria were making huge profits, yet were investing their profits largely outside the country and owing Nigeria royalties.

The former crime fighter also advised that government should 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 Niger Delta should be addressed.

The strengthening of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) was recommended by Ribadu who then commended Jonathan and Petroleum Resources Minister, Deziani Allison-Madueke, for their efforts in trying to sanitise the nation’s oil industry, noting that carrying out reforms requires integrity.

His words “You are doing well in fighting corruption but we need to do more. A lot depends on that. We congratulate you on the steps you have taken and we are proud to be able to contribute. Carrying out reforms requires integrity, and I say that from a personal experience. We commend you and wish you successes.”

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 contained 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).

Reacting to this, Ribadu countered that Oronsaye had been compromised in his stance because he was appointed to boards of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and that Oronsaye neither attended meetings of the committee nor made submissions when asked to do so.

However, there are indications that indicted parties are making moves to discredit the Ribadu report submitted to the Presidency last week.

The plan is prompted by the subsisting controversy trailing the report.

It was learnt that the leadership of the regulatory bodies, who had procured copies of the draft report days before its submission to the President, was studying it for the purpose of taking a position in the coming days.

A top legal personnel in one of the establishments said the recommendations were not different from existing proposals that had been in public domain for years.

The officer, who said his organisation was examining the report with a view to making its position known on the matter, said the exercise of the committee amounted to waste of resources, as it added no value to ongoing reform in the sector.

He said “I am an insider, and I understand how these things work better than others. There is really nothing new about the report; anybody who knows the industry can confirm that. In my views, the commendations are not the types that can take the industry anywhere.

“What they are talking about are things everybody knows. There is nothing earth-shaking about them. I can tell you that nothing positive will come out of the report. Until you solve the fundamental issues, you cannot position the industry for growth.”

Insisting that the Report could not be implemented, Orosanye, an establishment personality, described it as a knee-jerk reaction, and the process flawed.

Although the acting secretary of the committee, Mallam Sumaila, explained that both Oti and Orosanye joined the committee very late, Oti, who is managing director of Diamond Bank Plc, insisted that the right process was not followed from the beginning.

Prior to the presentation, a version of the Ribadu report was being circulated in the media, prompting denial of its authenticity by the Presidency and some members of the committee.

But questions are being raised concerning the ease, or otherwise, of implementing the report, especially as the controversy trailing it appears to have weakened the hands of the Presidency.

On the readiness of the Presidency to implement the recommendations, Port Harcourt-based oil and gas consultant, Chief Oz Emoyon-Iredia, said it was a sign of what would become the fate of the panel’s findings.

“There has been talk about reforming the NNPC. People outside don’t see what the government is seeing. It is easier to say you will do certain things when you are outside, but by the time you are there, you understand that it is a rotten setup. That is why even reformists fail when they get there,” he said.

Emoyon-Iredia noted that the controversy over the report has provided the government an alibi to reject the findings or subject them to endless reviews.

Another industry expert, who wondered why the report was released to the media when the committee members did not agree with its content, however, urged the government to adopt it despite the misunderstanding.

The respondent also observed that the NNPC could not be run professionally, as suggested, unless is it was fully commercialised.

“And the way the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) is structured is shameful,” he said.

“You have civil servants in Abuja, who know nothing about the industry. How do they perform efficiently? You bring ignorant individuals together and you say they are regulators. Do things work that way?”

The source also said there was no panic in whatever form among handlers of the regulatory bodies.

But, citing economic considerations, stakeholders in oil and gas sector have called on government to move quickly and implement the recommendations of the committee.

Jonathan, they said, could write his name in gold by engendering radical reforms in the sector.

They also observed that the industry was in dire need of reforms to make petroleum income more transparent and the sector more open to genuine investments.

Executive Director Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa, Dr. Eberechukwu Uneze, warned of vested interests in the petroleum sector that could move against the implementation of the committee’s recommendations.

Calling attention to an urgent need to restore investors’ confidence in the lucrative oil and gas sector, he urged the Federal Government to make public the full content of the report, contrary to past experiences, in which government literary puts away committee reports.

Uneze identified the right political will as the biggest evidence of sincerity on the part of government.

On its part, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) has accused the Federal Government of deliberately sabotaging the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force, following the controversy that marred the presentation of the task force’s report on Friday.

In a statement issued in Lagos on Sunday by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said the decision to appoint two members of the committee, Mr. Steve Oronsaye and Mr. Bernard Otti, to positions in the NNPC while the task force was still working on its assignment is a deliberate booby trap.

It said if the Federal Government did not have any ulterior motive; it would have waited for the task force to complete its assignment before naming Mr. Oronsaye into the board of the NNPC and Otti as the Director of Finance of the same body.

‘’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 of the task force so openly and ferociously at the end, is the clearest indication yet that they were meant to play that exact role of spoilers,’’ ACN said.

The party said the temerity with which the duo sought to denigrate the report of the task force in the presence of the President showed that they must have been acting a well-prepared script.

‘’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.

‘’Unfortunately, the President’s efforts to downplay the whole disagreement and give the dissenters a soft landing did more to accentuate the damage done to the report by the two men. The President’s statement, that becoming board members of NNPC does not disqualify them from being members of the task force, is an indication of his innermost thoughts on this issue,’’ it said.

ACN however said it was not surprised at how things turned out with the task force, having previously warned, in a statement it issued on February 8, 2012, that naming credible people like Ribadu to head the task force might just be part of government’s ploy to poach credible personalities from the opposition just so it can decimate it (opposition) and also tarnish the well-earned credibility of such personalities.

‘’Among our observations in that press statement, we had said: ‘There is also the possibility that booby-traps will be deliberately set for such credible personalities to guarantee their failure in their stated assignment, after which they will be ridiculed and dumped like an ordinary chump’.’’ the party said, adding: ‘’We hate to say our fears have been justified.’’

It reiterated its earlier statement that the Federal Government is not interested in any genuine effort to clean up the corruption and mess in the oil sector, and that is merely engaging in window dressing by setting up committees upon committees, whose outcomes will eventually add to the growing list of reports that are now gathering dust at the presidency.

Similarly, a US-based Energy Law expert, Felix Ayanruoh, called on government to see the report as being the necessary incentive for social and economic re-engineering.

He stressed that the Ribadu Task Force should be highly commended for completing its assignment in good time.

“The Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, who set up the committee, stated that the move is “designed to enhance probity and accountability in the operations of the petroleum industry.

“When it comes to implementing committee reports, I think our nation need social and economic re-engineering. There have been reports since independence that are still unattended to (or sabotaged) by some people in government.”

In another development, opposition parties and civil society groups have described the uproar over the report by the Nuhu Ribadu-led Petroleum Revenue Special Task force as an “international embarrassment.”

They said it was an indication that the probe was a populist move by the Federal Government.

The All Nigeria Peoples Party, the Congress for Progressive Change, the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders and Campaign for Democracy took turns to lambast Oronsaye.

The Executive Chairman, CACOL, Mr. Debo Adeniran, advised Jonathan not to take Oronsaye arguments seriously.

He accused the antagonists of the report of having ulterior motives.

He said, “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. The embarrassment the massive corruption in the sector forced Presidency to use Ribadu’s name to launder its image.

“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.

“If Jonathan is considering a soft landing by asking Oronsaye to present his own report, that will not be acceptable.”

Similarly, the National Publicity Secretary, ANPP, Mr. Emma Eneukwu, said it was expected that those indicted by the report would kick and try to devise a cover-up.

He expressed his pessimism about the political will to implement the report.

He said, “If Ribadu presents a credible report, friends of the system,” will query its credibility.

“Almost all of those indicted have skeletons in their cupboard. Antagonists are just rising up to rubbish the report. We have advanced in this country and we know what is happening. If the President wants to fight corruption – which I know he does not, going by the fate of similar reports – he should work with the report.”

The President, Campaign for Democracy, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, said Nigerians would not relent in their fight against corrupt officials until the reports from probes into the petroleum sector were fully implemented.

She said, “The scenario is not surprising, as people have motives for everything they do. The track record of Ribadu will convince anyone that the report is credible. It only shows the type of game we are playing, in terms of political will to implement probe reports.

“My advice is that once more, the government should restore the confidence of the people. We are only subsidising corruption by failing to nail it. The implementation of the report must be very fast in prosecuting those indicted,” she said.

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012 |

 

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