BY DAN ONWUKWE
There is no shortage of shocking news in Nigeria. Virtually every day, we see a momentum of classic drama especially of the absurd. The way it unravels every so often, it seems we tolerate drama so well. And government, one is sometimes inclined to believe, is the unseen orchestra behind the drama we are watching. Few things will beat the ugly drama we witnessed last Friday at the official presentation of the report of the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force headed by Mallam Nuhu Ribadu.
The drama which played out before our very eyes at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, venue of the event, began when two members of the committee-Mr Stephen Oronsaye and Mr Ben Oti-openly disagreed about the process that produced the report. Even if President Jonathan was “tipped off” that a “strange” thing would happen that blustery day, I believe it surpassed what he anticipated. For a president who already has his fingernails bitten to his skin by the myriad of problems that questions his leadership ability to govern, the Ribadu report is the ultimate test of his true mettle on corruption, especially in the oil sector.
Talk is always cheap, but success can only be achieved when genuine effort is put towards getting the purpose of every policy pronouncement done. The president has made promise upon promise to tackle corruption, including the oil sector. The question is: Is he waffling or playing to the gallery? Even if we give the President benefit of the doubt, that he means what he says, and he chose the former EFCC boss to head the task force because be believed in him.
For whatever his failings may be, Ribadu remains one of the very few Nigerians who do not live in ideological bubble. Ribadu is a hot-headed guy, no doubt, just as hard as nail. He is working with the zeal of a zealot. Those who have worked closely with him say he has no record of compromise.
According to them, Ribadu’s idea of a meeting of minds is sticking to his guns and persuading colleagues that he was right. The disgraceful drama displayed by Oronsaye and Oti, when they alleged that the process that produced the final report was “flawed”, for me, justifies whatever reasons behind leaking the report Reuters, an international news agency. Ribadu authenticated after the submission of the 146-page report that it was the same that Reuters has in its possession. I suspect that Ribadu and other members of the committee had a hunch that Oronsaye and Oti could play “Judas Iscariot” and wouldnt mind to fight at a public square in order to discredit the report. The stakes are high.
Both men have recently been appointed into government boards. The case of Oronsaye is even more interesting. Until last year, he was the Head of Service of the Federation. He is used to leading and not a good follower. He headed the panel on the restructuring of government ministries and parastatals. Only recently, he was appointed into the board of the most enticing and corrupt- infested corporations in Nigeria, NNPC. In short, Oronsaye is used to be a “government pikin”, an euphemism for spoilt adult who’s used to privileges, catered for at public expense.
It therefore would have been a huge surprise seeing these dissenters, Oronsaye and Oti, putting their signature on a report that raked up a lot of sleaze in NNPC and some multinational oil firms. The duo couldnt also agreed to be part of a committee that discovered that “discretionary” oil licences were handed out by Mrs Diezani-Alison Madueke, minister of petroleum resources.
A hefty $183m(about N28.73 bn) in signature bonuses are said to be missing from the deals. Although Diezani flatly denied she gave out such licences, she however acknwoledged that the President has such “discretionary” powers to hand out oil licences to whomsoever he pleases. You can see the dilemma of Oronsaye and Oti and why they chose to be the “flies in the oitment” of the report. It is too easy to ignore Diezani’s claim that she did not interfere in the work of the committee.
But, why was she holding on to the report one clear month before the leakage compelled her to speak up? Were Oronsaye (who was said to have attended only few of the committee’s sitting) and Oti, doing the bidding of government or “spying” on the contents of the report so that they can make mountain out of mole-hill out the report? These are questions that dont lend themselves to easy answers.
Again, lets believe the President is neutral in all of this, it is in the best interest of Oronsaye and Oti, to take the advice of the president and write their own reports if they strongly disagree with the process. But the greater interest is with the President who set up the committee. It is in his best interest, though not a must to implement the recommendations of the committee.
A presidency is often defined by what a president chooses to be his agenda.Jonathan claims his presidency is a “transformational” one, and tackling corruptional a major plank of this agenda. In politics, some issues blaze with opportunities to ascertain such claims or for the citizens to take them as cheap talk. That’s why leadership matters.
Nigerians are asking: Does the president have the courage to do what he says he will do? Ribadu’s report presents him with that rare chance to change that public perception or write him off as a wimp. This is the time for the President to prove that probes are not for entertainment, but real efforts to get things done for the country.
There’s no doubt that the affairs of the oil industry in the last decade at least( 2002 – 2012), a period which the Ribadu committee covered, represents an era of anything goes in the oil sector. Only Nigeria and republic of Congo are such abuses and revolving doors of corruption seen anywhere in the world. That much was said in the report. As we all know by now, the report reveals, among other things, that between 2002 and 2012, Nigeria lost tons of billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues from cut-price deals allegedly struck between three major oil companies – Shell, Total and Eni.
Such bumper profits from such cut-price crude oil and gas deals, the report remarked, may not be “illegal”, but they did not follow best standards of using open bids. Government is estimated to have lost $29 billion from such cut-price deals. Such discretionary favours undermine the tenets of transparency and accountability since international oil traders who were not on the “approved master list of customers had been sold crude oil without any formal contracts”. such contracts.
Overall, the report made far-reaching recommendations to sanitise the oil sector, one of them, an independent review of the use of international oil traders. This is the practice in many oil producing nations. For years now, the NNPC has been at the centre of many scandals . Not long ago, the Nigeria Extractive Industries Initiative (NEITI) has reported that the corporation lacked due process, while individuals there have helped themselves at the detriment of national interest.
Public expectation high on what the President would do with the report. Today in America Global Cable News Network(CNN), has in the hectic period of presidential campaigns, reminded the world that “American elections are for Americans but its impact is on all of us”. True. And today, American citizens go to the poll, it is either to re- elect President Barack Obama of the Democratic Party for a second term, or his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney.
It has been an intense campaign like no other in their history, with an estimated $3 billion spent. It comes down to the choice of the people. Pundits are predicting perhaps one of the closest contests in years, with Obama tipped to get the required 270 Electoral College votes to remain in the White House. In all, America continues to teach the world that democracy is about people and issues that affect them.
That’s why the impact of what happens in USA will continue to affect us. Last Line Effective tomorrow, this column will go on vacation for some weeks. Hopefully, God willing, will return mid-December. God bless you all.