In February, the federal government set up the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force headed by Mallam Nuhu Ribadu to thoroughly examine the systemic rot in the oil and gas sector. The unofficial report of the investigations leaked to the media ahead of the formal submission of the document on November 2.
In a swift reaction, the Presidency declared that the leakage was intended to embarrass government. Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, in her response to the development, said government would make an input after studying what she described as a “draft” copy of the outcome of the enquiry.
Thereafter, the authentic version would be made public. From experience, governments doctor reports of investigative panels they establish before they are released. It is the fear that such documents could be adversely tampered with that gives rise to their leakage. Nobody can stop government from making its input, but the latitude should not be abused through emasculation of the recommendations.
Instead of raising dust over the leakage, government should be more interested in the kernel of the report and how to address the scandals uncovered by the panel. Nigeria’s oil sector has, since the discovery of oil in Oloibiri, Rivers State, in 1958., been characterized by unmitigated sleaze so much that independent sources put the aggregate loss at trillions of naira. As it is, the sector remains a testy area since nothing has changed—rather the graft profile keeps taking new dimensions and unprecedented proportions!
The whole process from exploration to marketing is underscored by official laxity and collusion in the legendary national rip-off. The essence of the Ribadu Committee was to open up the shenanigans going on in the oil industry and make suggestions on how to end such acts of national economic sabotage and foreclose recurrences. The raging oil subsidy scam running into billions of naira is just one of the integrated and complex channels through which the country has been losing premium revenue.
This latest impropriety is almost on the verge of becoming yet another circus show because of the calibre of the culprits and the country’s perverted judicial system. Just like most other oil-bearing countries, Nigeria is also caught in the grisly web of corruption arising from the mismanagement of this natural resource. The magnitude of misappropriation is such that there is hardly any year that Transparency International, a global body that monitors how countries conform to the ideals of governance, does not rate Nigeria as one of the most corrupt nations in the world!
This notoriety, perhaps, explains why corruption still thrives under the nose of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. We enjoin government to be courageous enough to release the report with all its warts and go ahead to fault areas it disagrees with. Luckily, Ribadu said while submitting the report that the contents of the unauthorized version were the same with the authentic copy. So, it is now fruitless for any official manipulation. Jonathan should use this report to make a statement—it is indeed a golden opportunity to stop the criminalities and frauds that have bedevilled the country’s oil and gas sector.
All the agencies and individuals indicted should return the loot and also face the law. Tucking away this report in one disused cabinet will send wrong signals about the seriousness of this administration in addressing the associated deep-rooted corruption.
The slight procedural disagreement between two members of the committee and their colleagues should not weaken the substance of the findings. Government should ignore the discrepancies raised by the dissenters and focus on the redemptive recommendations.
This critical report should be released immediately and its resolute recommendations implemented forthwith. President Jonathan cannot afford to dither on this instrument for the sanitisation of the petroleum resources industry.