Ribadu Reports: Matters arising

Monday, 05 November 2012

Kunle Oderemi examines the row surrounding the report of the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force submitted to President Goodluck Jonathan last Friday.

They are two of a kind. One is a petrel and the other a typical bureaucrat, reserved but intelligent and thorough. Lately, the two have become part of the catalysts in the re-engineering agenda of the Jonathan administration on the Nigerian project.

Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and Mr. Stephen Oronsaye are not new to national assignments. The former was able to carve a niche for himself as chair of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), while Oronsaye rose to the exalted Head of Service of the federation.

Fate brought them together under the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force, which was set up by the government. Their primary task was to painstakingly look into the books of a sector that holds a lot of promise for the country. Yet (it) has become a cesspit of corruption. After weeks of scrutinising tonnes of official documents, the two gladiators are enmeshed in a row. The report of the task force seems to have thrown spanner in the works. Intrigues, melodrama and other theatrics are taking the centre stage to the point of obfuscating the real issue that necessitated the setting up of the task force.

While Ribadu said all the salient issues raised in his report were incontrovertibly true and factual, Oronsaye picked holes in the report, thus raising public concern on the fate of the report.   “The FG should take action on issues of outstanding royalties, petroleum revenue tax and various penalties, for example, gas flaring penalties. The companies that are operating in Nigeria today are making huge money from our country. Many of them are going out and investing in other parts of the world. We’ve found out that so many of them, even  don’t pay simple thing as royalties. We need the money. We need them here. We need them to continue to do business. But they should also look at us and give us what is certainly our own entitlement,” Ribadu emphasised.

The flip side of Ribadu is controversy. His role as czar was shrouded in controversies, especially after his exit as EFCC chair. His adventure into party politics has equally elicited much controversy. Oronsaye also shares a similar attribute at least, going by the fallout of one of the major national assignments he handled in the past. He headed the Committee on the Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies which, in its 800-page report, recommended the reduction of statutory agencies of government from 263 to 161 and the scrapping of 38 agencies, including EFCC, as well as the merger of 52 and reversal of 14 to departments in ministries. Ribadu is not imbue from controversy. Since he retired in November 2010, Oronsaye has served as a member of the Presidential Committee on the Review of the Reform Processes in the Nigerian Public Service. It was headed by Alhaji Adamu Fika. He was made head of an eight-man committee that X-rayed the operations of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), which recommended the dissolution of the commission’s board and the eventual removal of NDDC chairman. On February, 7, 2012, the government named Oronsaye the deputy chairman of the 17-member Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force headed by Ribadu to “enhance probity and accountability in operations of the Petroleum Industry.

But the drama that characterised the presentation of the report of the body last Friday to President Goodluck Jonathan was indeed  a climax to the chain of events that trailed the supposed leakage of the report to a foreign news wire a couple of weeks ago. There was a spontaneous public outrage over the allegation that the country was deprived of tons of millions of dollars of oil and gas revenue through shade deals in official quarters.

In the days ahead, the issue is bound to remain in the front burner of political discourse. So far, such individuals like the Executive Chairman, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Mr Debo Adeniran,  have advocated a holistic shake-up in the oil sector, alleging that the submission of the report through the ministry was part of the plot to bury the report. In its own comment, the Executive Director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Mr Adetokunbo Mumuni, said the issue that should bother the authority now is the content of the report and its full implementation and not mundane matters. He said, “It is worrisome that the government sets up committees and commissions of enquiry, only to dump their reports after damning discoveries have been made. We hope the Ribadu committee report is considered and its recommendations implemented.

The deputy president of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Promise Adewusi,asked the  presidency and the legislature to take immediate steps to establish the veracity of the report and bring all culpable parties to book. He said, “Such impunity against the national treasury is a draw- back on efforts to check corruption, if not tackled immediately and with tenacity of purpose.” In the same vein, the Chairman of the United Action for Democracy, Mr Jaye Gaskia, called for a drastic action against those fingered by the report if the government was truly serious with the prosecution of the campaign against corruption.

The President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Comrade Peter Esele, said any company that was fingered in the corrupt practices, whether directly or indirectly, should be duly sanctioned and the personnel involved prosecuted. That way, the institution would be strengthened. “Right from when we started the strike in January, we have been more interested in strengthening the institutions and not necessarily sacking anybody. It would be unfortunate if these reports are swept under the carpet.”

On its part, the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) was doubtful of the government taking necessary action on the report, going by what it regarded as the fate of previous probes in the country. Its spokesman, Mr Yinka Odumakin, said only the less perceptive could think that this probe would achieve anything. Has he forgotten that he indicted many top politicians in 2007 when he was chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and they are still free men?”

Like the controversies that trailed investigations into the petrol subsidy regime, power probe scam and others, the row is seen by many stakeholders as capable of raising public fears about the need to ensure transparency, probity and public confidence in the oil sector. Analysts  say the issue now should be about the government taking concrete action on the contents of the report and not the gladiators playing to the gallery.

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