Published on Monday, 05 November 2012 02:33
Written by Abdu Labaran Malumfashi
As far as fighting corruption is concerned, it is obvious that the Nuhu Ribadu-led Petroleum Revenue Task Force was a union with two strange bedfellows in its two leading members. One is universally considered as the nemesis of corruption and the other is, somehow, not quite so.
One is associated with fighting it, while the other, whose name was whispered in the pension scam, allegedly encouraged it. The altercation that ensued between the two after the presentation of the report to President Goodluck Jonathan on Friday last week hardly came as a surprise; it only confirmed fears that some interests, who are uncomfortable with the report, are leaving nothing to chance to kill it. Therefore, the report, in the eyes of those who want corruption fought to a standstill, represents a daunting litmus test for the president’s avowed resolve to fight this cankerworm, which in terms of integrity, has made Nigeria a pariah in the comity of nations.
Fears as expressed by some NGOs and opposition political parties that the report of the 21-man Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force under the chairmanship of Mallam Nuhu Ribadu may not find favour with the government had been expressed two weeks before it was finally presented to the President Friday last week. When penultimate week, the report somehow found its way into some foreign media, Presidential Spokesman Dr. Reuben Abati had said that the ‘leakage’ was an attempt to embarrass the government, whereas the Minister of Petroleum Resourses, Alison Maduake, who it was that constituted and inaugurated the panel, described the ‘leaked’ report as a mare draft, for which “There will be some areas where the government … may have a slightly different opinion … (and) will put its point of view to the committee.”
However, Nigerians were somehow reassured by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe that there would be no cover up in the implementation of the Ribadu committee’s report when eventually it was received.
He said in a statement that the accusation by the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) and the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) that the Federal Government was trying to cover up the conclusion of the Ribadu report has no foundation.
But the controversial manner the report was presented and received has reignited those fears that the government may use the controversy as an excuse to dump or, at best, tinker with it to suit its liking.
At its setting in early February, the government had been commended for the move, seen as a courageous attempt to sanitise the Augean oil sector, seen as the epicenter of the nauseating corruption that has held down the nation’s growth. As yet, fighting corruption has been limited to lip service except for the few occasions the fight reaches the courts where, more often than not, it terminates without any convincing conviction.
The disagreement between Ribadu, chairman and his deputy, Mr. Steven Oronsaye before the president on the wholesomeness of the panel’s report indeed raises doubt over the motive of either or all of them. But given the alleged attempts to sabotage the work of the panel, it may be safe to conclude that there are those who are indeed not comfortable with the report, and would therefore do all that they could to kill it.
It is difficult to disagree with Malam Ribadu who accused the (only) two dissenting voices among the 17-member team. The team leader had questioned the fidelity of the former Head of Service of the Federation and Mr. Bon Oti to the committee when he pointed out that it wasn’t a coincidence that “Oti got a job as NNPC Director of Finance while Orosanye was made a board member of the NNPC, both happening at the time the committee started its work”.
“The two committee members- Orosanye and Oti that opposed our report were grossly compromised. Orosanye in particular never participated in any of the committee’s work. While others abandoned their respective businesses to face the national assignment, Orosanye came very late and he alongside Oti attempted to bully other members into doing the work their own way,” Ribadu had declared, after which he faced Orosanye and pointedly said, “And let me tell you, based on the way you spoke today, the President deserve more respect from you.”
Shortly after Ribadu had been done with his speech after presenting the report, the former Head of Service stood up to disassociate himself from the report telling the president that, “This is a system assignment whose report and recommendations are supposed to be strictly backed by facts if they are to be implemented.
“I emphasised that we needed to be more thorough, to go through all the transactions again and the agencies in order to be able to arrive at a good finished product. Mr. President, despite the circumstances that have mandated us to be here today, I am not part of what is being submitted.”
And he was quickly corroborated by Bon Oti.
But two other member of the committee, Malam Sumaila Zubairu and Mr Ignatious Adekunle sided with Malam Ribadu by discrediting the submissions of Orosanye and Oti. The duo insisted that during the sittings Orosanye had wanted certain amendments to be made to the report which the committee refused. They also asserted that the reservations raised by the duo had been resolved, and therefore bringing them up before the president was unnecessary.
Unfortunately, the president’s response to the hot exchange of words between the two before him, does not engender much hope that much may be born from the report’s recommendations.
“From what I have listened to, I will advise that any member that has any observations should write it and send to me through the Chief of staff or the Minister (of Petroleum).
“If there are errors of calculation from the institutions, they will be filtered out. You don’t need to quarrel about it. Government has no interest in hiding anything. It is not to investigate anybody in government. Becoming board members of NNPC does not disqualify them to be members of the committee; sometimes you need those in establishment to explain certain things and not to influence anybody. I don’t believe anybody can influence Ribadu negatively,” the President has said somewhat discouragingly.
Already there are indications that indicted industry players are jostling to discredit the report.
The Guardian newspaper reported unnamed top legal personnel in one of the establishments as saying that “the recommendations were not different from existing proposals that had been in public domain for years”.
The officer, according to the newspaper, has said that “his organisation was examining the report with a view to making its position known on the matter”, even as he added that “the work of the committee amounted to waste of resources, as it added no value to ongoing reform in the sector.
“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.”
But earthshaking is what many human rights activists, NGOs and opposition political parties believe the revelation of the report of the committee to be.
The Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) and Campaign for Democracy (CD) expressed reservation with the with the position of Messers Orosanya and Oti, accusing them of having ulterior motives.
According to the Executive Chairman of CACOL, Mr. Debo Adeniran, “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.”
As for the President of CD, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, Nigerians should not relent in their fight against corrupt officials until the reports from probes into the petroleum sector are fully implemented.
According to her, “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.”
In his views, Mr. Emma Eneukwu, National Publicity Secretary of ANPP, asserted that, “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 ball is now in Mr. President’s court to decide who wins between the good Nigerian people and those bent on crippling it for good.