From JULIANA TAIWO-OBALONYE, Abuja
The bombshell by former Head of Service, Steve Oronsaye, who is also the Deputy Chairman of the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force yesterday, challenging the process leading to the compilation of the report of the committee almost marred the presentation of the committee. When he raised his hand to comment shortly after the Chairman, Nuhu Ribadu, submitted the report, nothing prepared President Goodluck Jonathan, the Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Allison- Maduekwe and others present for the bombshell and the embarrassment that was to follow.
The presentations of reports of the three task forces on petroleum industry were going smoothly until that moment after Ribadu submitted the report of his own committee. The three presentations were those of; the committee established to design a new corporate governance code for ensuring full transparency, good governance and global best practices in the NNPC and other oil industry parastatals which had Mr. Dotun Sulaiman as its Chairman; and the Committee headed by Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu which was charged with the duty of conducting a high-level assessment of the nation’s refineries and recommending ways of improving their efficiency and commercial viability and the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force.
But it was President Jonathan’s jokes teasing jorunalists that they were going to have a swell day reporting what happened that doused the tension in the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa. Jonathan who obviously was embarrassed by the altercation, however called on Nigerians not to be distracted by the small disagreement but to focus on the subject matter of the committee which is the sanitisation of the Petroleum Sector for the benefit of Nigeria and Nigerians.
The President whose disagreement with some of the submissions of Ribadu in response to Oronsaye’s disagreement, urged any member of the Committee who had a contrary opinion from those expressed in the report to submit his opinion to him (president) through his chief of staff or the Minister of Petroleum Resources. Trouble started when Ribadu submitted his report and spoke on his recommendation of a stricter regulation of the sector especially as regards collection of revenue from oil companies. According to him, “Mr president, the recommendation of our task force will strengthen institutions responsible for the management of petroleum institution, increase revenue accruing to federal government of Nigeria.
“Mr. President our assignment is essentially to enhance government revenue in proving transparency and accountability and help you to fight corruption in this industry. Therefore in the course of the assignment, our work was extensive, our findings detailed and our recommendations far reaching in these various issues covered in our terms of reference” On the recommendation of the committee, the chairman said to increase government revenue from the industry, “the government will need to put in place a coherent financing solution that allows government to fund its obligation under the joint venture contract.
Funding Government obligation will unlock additional capital from our JV partners which will overtime increase government revenue from the proportionate additional balance of crude oil revenues, royalties on he entire production and taxes on taxable incomes” He added: “Funding Government obligation will unlock additional capital from our JV partners which will overtime increase government revenue from the proportionate additional balance of crude oil revenues, royalties on he entire production and taxes on taxable incomes.
“Most of he recommendations are about management, about people and about how we run our own affairs. It probably may not have to do with the law. PIB or no PIB, some of these things right now can be implemented and even if PIB comes, it will still be very important in getting the result. “The federal government should take action on issues of outstanding royalties, petroleum revenue task, and various penalties for example, gas flaring penalties. “Mr. president, the companies that are operating in Nigeria today are making huge money from our country.
A lot of them are going out and investing in other parts of the world. The least they can do is to give us our own entitlement. We have found out that so many of them, even simple thing as royalties they don’t pay. We need the money. We need them here. We need them to continue to do business but let them also look at us and give us what is certainly our own entitlement. “Mr. President, another point I will properly highlight is the use of traders to sell our own crude oil.
Look at it critically, Nigeria is the only country in the world today doing that other than Congo. I don’t think we should be comfortable in the neighbourhood of Congo. We have our own crude, we can sell directly like what other countries are doing. “Mr.President increasing crude oil theft is a national tragedy and has grave consequences and there is need for urgent government action. One of the main reasons we are losing people who are interested in coming to do business in Nigeria is that so many countries today are discovering crude oil even within our region. Ghana, Serria Leone, Liberia. Companies do have options.
We have to work hard to make our place attractive for people to come and do business with us. “The insecurity in the Niger Delta. The theft of crude oil, Nigeria is the only country in the world where people steal crude oil. Mr. President, it is embarrassing. You have done well already, you are doing it, but you probably have to continue with it because you have to put a stop to it” he said. No sooner had Ribadu finished his submission when Orosanye who was former Permanent Secretary in the State House, raised objections on what he said was the “flawed process” adopted by the committee in arriving at its report.
His position was colloborated by another member of the committee, Mr. Bernard Otti who dissociated himself from the report because according to him, members did not see the report before it was submitted to the president. However, two other members of the committee, Sumaila Zubair who is the acting secretary of the Committee and Ignatius Adegunle rejected the submission of Oronsaye and Otti saying they never took part in the meetings of the committee. According to Oronsaye, “I want to say to you, Mr. President that the process that has been followed is flawed and the report that has just been submitted to the Honourable minister is the immediate reaction of the President’s directive that the report be submitted.
“The last time this committee met was in early July when the draft report was to be considered and I raised certain pertinent issues. It was agreed and suggested and accepted at that meeting that a small group be put together to review, modify and return to the report drafting committee before presenting to the whole house. That did not happen. No matter how good the efforts that have been put into this exercise, as long as the process is flawed and that report is one that can not be implemented. “When Mr. President gave the directive that the report be submitted today, we should be man enough to say, it is not feasible.
When I came in, I asked the secretary, where is the signature page? He said the chairman is to sign for all of us. I said certainly, I have not authorised any body to sign on my behalf. “I don’t know what the report contains. Therefore, in my view, I do not think the report should be accepted at this time, I challenge any member of this committee take me up. “It is unfortunate that the point has been missed on the process issue. We agreed that the committee be brought to a committee of the whole House. That was not done. Some of the figures that were in the draft report were un-reconciled figures and I did say at that meeting that we have institutions responsible for these figures and therefore you should work with these institutions.
I do not know whether DPR and FIRS are here. These are the people who should be talking about these figures and there were statements that were subjective. “What I am saying is that the President has said come and submit the report, so what, if we are not ready, we are not ready. When I say so what, the President has spoken, we should be man enough to tell the President that we are not ready. That is the reason you are handing over a report that is not process driven.” Mallam Ribadu who was asked by the president to respond to the remarks by the duo of Oronsaye and Otti accused them of having compromised their positions in the committee and ought to have resigned their membership since they had accepted to be members of the Board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
According to him, “this task force was set up in February and we started work almost immediately. Most of the members you are seeing here abandoned everything they were doing and gave everything to it. We worked almost everyday for about three months. Steve Oronsaye never participated even one day in the deliberation of this committee. Not even for a single day. He never. The first time we saw Steve was at the end of work when we were asking about recovery from companies that he jumped in. All the members are here they can bear witness to all I’m saying. Secondly, Mr. President, it is your government, it is your work and whatever it is it’s you and nobody else. This recommendation is for you to use.
You thought it wise to call people from outside to come into the industry and look at it critically and give you an honest opinion. “During the work of the committee, Oronsaye got himself appointed on the board of NNPC. The other gentleman who spoke, Otti became the director of finance of NNPC and they decided to more or less bully everybody to take over. And they wanted us to write for them but committee members refused. “By the time they were appointed the honuorable the thing they would have done was to resign from the committee. They refused to resign. Steve has not been in the country he flew in this morning for him to come and do this and I think our president deserves more respect than what you have done now.”
President Jonathan while down playing the disagreement between the members turned to the pressmen and said, “I know my friends in the media will have a filled day tomorrow.” He added that “any member that has any observations should write it and send to me through the chief of staff or the minister. “If there are errors of calculation from the institutions it will be filtered out. You don’t need to quarrel about it. Government has no interest in hiding any thing. It is not to investigate anybody in government.
Becoming board members of NNPC does not disqualify them to be members, sometimes you need those in establishment to explain certain things and not to influence anybody. I don’t believe anybody can influence Ribadu negatively.” The Minister of Petroleum Resources, who was obviously lost for words before submiting the reports to President Jonathan called on Nigerians to down-play the disagreement between members of the committee and focus on the salient recommendations contained there in.
She expressed appreciation to members of the committees while expressing hope that necessary steps will be taken to implement the recommendations of the committees as directed by the president. “I will not allow this to reduce the extent of hard work that people of integrity have done. They have done good work. It is more critical to concern ourselves about how well we will move forward when we finalize”.