I am not the copyright owner of the above headline. As many know, it belongs to the maverick Afro-beat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. When the Olusegun Obasanjo administration despatched fully armed soldiers to blow up Fela’s residence, a government panel set up purportedly to unravel the perpetrators of the brazen assault on a private citizen turned up with the startling verdict of ‘unknown soldier.’ It blamed the phantom unknown soldier for what happened; for the rape, arson and killings.
Trust him, Fela came up with a monster hit where he carpeted ‘government magic’ in turning black to white and electric to candle. Government, he lamented, could conjure anything they wanted whenever they so wished. I could not help thinking about Fela’s brilliant exposition after watching the rambunctious presidential public affairs spokesman, Dr. Doyin Okupe, last week as he tried to rubbish the report of the Mallam Nuhu Ribadu oil revenue task force. I couldn’t believe my ears. I thought I was dreaming.
The language was straight from the gutters. He dismissed the entire report as “a job badly handled and only political and personal interests were handled. It is most unfortunate.” I felt like weeping for our country. I felt really bad. I felt let down because a few days earlier, I had tried to convince myself that the altercation between former head of service, Mr. Steve Oronsaye and Mallam Nuhu Ribadu during the presentation of the report was a storm in a tea cup, and not orchestrated to frustrate the entire probe report.
I nursed the faint hope that government could not set up a probe panel if it was not serious about implementing its recommendations. Okupe’s unprovoked, unwarranted and uncharitable assault on the report has finally wiped off any such illusion. What we are being treated to is simply government magic! A few days before Okupe’s deadly punches at the report, I had spent almost half an hour with Oronsaye, a man I know fairly well. In the chat with him which was published in last Monday’s Daily Sun, he told me he couldn’t have been used by anybody to frustrate the oil probe report.
He affirmed he was a man of integrity, and not a hired gun. He said he only had issues with the process adopted by Ribadu, not the substance of the report. He didn’t know any oil company neither was he offered nor received any gratification by any oil company. I also spoke with Ribadu last Sunday evening. The two views were published under our crossfire front page. Ribadu swore the two men(Oti and Oronsaye) were heavily tainted and compromised to play the spoiler roles. In the case of Oronsaye, he alleged that the man was an absentee panel member who could not be talking about process since he didn’t even partake in the sittings.
I was still turning over the points of the two combatants and weighing on the side of caution, before Okupe’s bombshell shattered whatever doubts anyone had that the government was in a dead hurry to bury the report by muddling up the whole issue of the rot in the petroleum sector. And that truly saddens me. And I hope all Nigerians, especially those who were naive enough to believe they were serious. First, this is one of the rare instances government would set up a committee and before even digesting its contents properly rush out to publicly discredit the head of that committee. If the report was full of excreta, should they not clean up the mess with some decorum? If they knew Ribadu was incompetent to do the job, why saddle him with the task?
A man they had praised to the high heavens while inaugurating the committee? Why not privately correct his errors rather than making a song and dance of his failure? Was the committee job then a trap to ensnare and smear his reputation? If the report was so bad, was a case of compromise or financial inducement established against the chair of the panel? I smell a rat and rabbit in the manner Okupe and the government have chosen to rubbish a panel it empowered to clean up the oil mess. Did Nuhu inch too close to the establishment’s interests? We may never know. But, the way it is, it is the government that will end up having eggs on its face with the way it is shoddily handling the contents of the report and the fight by the chair and vice-chair of the panel. I thought the sensible thing to do would have been to set up a panel to review the panel’s submission given the disputation, and then find ways to implement the implementable parts of the report. To dismiss the entire report is to insult not only the intelligence of the men in the task force, but all Nigerians.
There should be a limit to playing games and magic with the people. Indeed, when Petroleum minister, Dieziani Allison-Madueke first set up the petroleum task forces, I thought she was on a circus. In a piece I did on February 13, 2012, I had observed, “ At the last count, we have an almost 60-member ministerial task force on one single issue: oil. That, in itself, tells how critical the sector is to our existence or lack of it as a nation. That also tells of the extent of rot in that rotten place. From the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, committee, to another Task Force on Reforms in the Petroleum Sector; to the Nuhu Ribadu Task Force on Petroleum Revenue to the Idika Kalu Refineries Building Task Force, it’s indeed been a rain of Task Forces. Now, the popular joke all over town is: ‘Ol’ boy, have you been appointed a member of any Task Force?’ ‘Not yet o. May be, soon.’ ‘Well, for me, I’d rather prefer to be a member of Task Force on National Assembly or one to manage Aso Rock!’
Whether it’s sarcasm or not, the view out there is that a 60-man group spread across several committees or Task Forces in an administration seeking to prune down cost of governance, cut wastages and keep a lean budget is far too many and may not achieve the desired outcome. There is also the associated view of too many cooks exhibiting their culinary skills in a single broth. And messing up the broth in the process!” Have some of us been proved right or wrong? I also noted, “I believe the Task Forces and members are too many. A single Task Force of not more than 10 members could still have done what an almost 60 member team is being assembled to do. Pray, what exactly is the difference between the Ribadu Task Force of 22 members and Idika Kalu Task Force of 21 or so members?
While one is saddled with the task of monitoring revenue(sales and debt recovery), the other is charged with building new refineries. Why not merge the two Task Forces? Sooner than later, the committees would clash because their functions are basically overlapping. Why can’t the committee collecting revenue also see to the building of new refineries? Then, nothing was mentioned about the duration or timeline of the Task Forces. Will they be in office throughout the tenure of Minister Allison-Madueke? What I thought I saw in their terms of reference is that they will submit a monthly report to the supervising minister? Is it full time or part-time job? What is the remuneration budget of the Task Force men? Is the job pro bono?
Is it a Red Cross job (humanitarian service to the nation) or a task they hope to be ‘oily’ remunerated? In the spirit of transparency, I thought it would have been ideal to let Nigerians into these facts to avoid ugly stories and rumours flying around. So also that Nigerians may express gratitude to the appointees for their anticipated selfless service to the nation if that is the case? I am also not sure Nigerians understand what the relationship between the Task Force men and the ministry officials would be. After the Task Force would have completed their jobs, who will implement their findings: the NNPC that is daily being lampooned as corruption personified? The Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, the PPPRA or ministry personnel? I hope I am wrong, but the ministerial task forces, does appear to me, as either a panic reaction to a problematic situation or an attempt to play to the public gallery: see, we are doing something! Or both.
By bringing in reputable men into the probe panels, the Jonathan administration could be trying to pass a message to the international community that it intends to be more open and transparent in its dealings in the petroleum sector. For the sake of our nation, I pray this is so. That the Jonathan administration intends to be truly transparent and accountable in the management of our petroleum resources. One way of convincing us that it means business is by first ensuring that the subsidy rogues as revealed in the House probe report are seriously dealt with according to the law. If we don’t know what happened to over two trillion naira(2trn) allegedly squandered under the pretext of payment for fuel subsidy, what is the guarantee that the Task Force reports will ever be adhered to or implemented?
What we are talking about here is the political will to do what is right.” With what’s happening now, you win no prizes for guessing what becomes of the panel reports. All thanks to government, the ultimate magician.