A Child of Controversy

Maureen Chigbo, Editor
Maureen Chigbo, Editor

By Maureen Chigbo  |

WHEN President Goodluck Jonathan asked Nuhu Ribadu to head the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force, the idea was akin to what President Barack Obama of the United States of America said he would do after winning his re-election November 6. Obama had said during his victory speech that he would sit down with Governor Mitt Roomey, his opponent to fashion a way forward for their country. Roomey had, in his concession speech, said that he and his wife Ann would join the rest of Americans to pray that the president succeeds in leading the nation. Their meeting is expected to hold sometime in the future.

IN Nigeria, Jonathan reached out to Ribadu, his opponent, to help him solve the problem of revenue collection in the oil and gas sector as well as strengthen the federal government

’s revenue collection mechanism. For these reasons, he nominated him as the chairman of the Petroleum Special Revenue Task Force. Ribadu graciously set his election defeat aside and for the love of his country and in spite of his party’s opposition, took the bull by the horn and did what was best for the country. In doing his job, he mapped out a strategic way for government to achieve its objectives in the sector which is bedevilled with corruption. However, the job Ribadu did is marred by unnecessary controversy which started when a version of the report was leaked to the press before Ribadu submitted the authentic one to the president.

Most commentaries on the report from the government and Ribadu on the one hand and the media and the public on the other hand amounted to over-reaction and an unnecessary bickering. I refused to join the fray until I have had the opportunity to read the report. Contrary to the attention being given to its salacious aspect, the final report which I have contains recommendations that should help government to curb crude oil theft, generate more revenue and strengthen the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Department of Petroleum Resources and the oil and gas sector as a whole. This is why I found the drama between factions of the Ribadu committee at the reports presentation disgusting. It portrayed the committee badly.

The controversy could have been avoided. But then, Ribadu, former chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, thrives on controversy. Everything about him – from his time as the EFCC chairman to his joining Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, where he emerged as its presidential candidate have been controversial. Controversy even trailed his appointment as the chairman of Petroleum Revenue Task Force as some viewed it with utmost suspicion. Some pundits actually said it was a kind of settlement for Ribadu for his election expenses. There were others who had faith that, given his performance as the chairman of EFCC, he was going to do a thorough job that would help to sanitise and steady the machinery of revenue collection in the oil and gas sector. As a keen observer of the oil and gas sector for more than one decade, I had my reservations about the outcome of the committee’s job. I had written in an article early in the year entitled: “When the Hurly-burly is Done” after the fuel subsidy removal upheaval that: “looking at the books of the federal government is like the proverbial case of the more you look, the less you see”. I said then that even though investigators know that some figures just don’t add up, “they will be at pains to figure it out because those who cooked the books are watching closely, keeping mum and keeping a straight face and smiling inwardly at the folly of government to think that it can catch them red handed in a “game” that has been mastered over time. The officials of the affected parastatals will “co-operate” with government but I think that co-operation will not be total for whatever reasons that is most certainly not altruistic.”

Just as I expected, Ribadu confirmed in his report that it was unable to verify all the allegations and issues raised because, as they were completing the job, information was still trickling in. According to Ribadu’s committee report, “The data used in this report was presented by various stakeholders who made submissions to the Task Force in the course of our assignment at various dates which have been discussed in relevant sections of the report. Due to the time frame of the assignment, some of the data used could not be independently verified and the Task Force recommends that government should conduct such necessary verifications and reconciliations.’’

This sounds like Ribadu is disclaiming the committee’s report. This disclaimer could impinge significantly on the accuracy and reliability of the conclusions and recommendations contained in the report. The key question is: why did the committee not ask for an extension of its deadline to enable it complete the verification? Could it be that Ribadu and the members of the committee realised that it will be futile or a mission impossible to actually verify the submissions even if they wanted to because officials of the stakeholders’ organisations will not provide the needed information and therefore they sought out by asking the federal to complete the job?

This notwithstanding, the recommendations in the report should be implemented if the federal government wants to move the oil and gas sector forward. It should also pass the Petroleum Industry Bill and remove fuel subsidy which is the major means of fueling corruption in the oil and gas sector, especially in the downstream sector.

— Nov. 19, 2012 @ 01:00 GMT

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