The Ribadu Report and Oronsaye: Matters arising

on   /   in Viewpoint 7:07 am   /   Comments

IN life, only very few things are  as painful and psychologically enervating as the experience of being vilified by the public for taking a position which you know is right while the criticizing majority is gullibly led in the opposite direction which you know is patently wrong.

That was the kind of experience one of Nigeria’s most accomplished technocrats and bureaucrats, Mr. Steven Oronsaye, was made to go through recently. He was the butt of cruel jokes and acerbic criticisms for disowning the report of the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force of which former EFCC Chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, was Chairman and Oronsaye was Deputy Chairman

The committee was set up to, among other things, look into the various sources of revenues from the petroleum sector in the last 10 years and see if all monies that should accrue to the Federal Government actually got paid and, if not, recommend ways of plugging the leakages.

Long before the committee concluded its work, Nigerians were regaled with reports in the media with headlines like: “Ribadu Vows to Nail Oil Thieves” and “Ribadu Gives Oil Thieves Red Card”. These and the reputation of Ribadu as an anti-corruption czar helped to raise expectations about the committee’s report.

So when the report of the committee found its way to the media with a hint that it had earlier been submitted to the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, who appeared not to be enthusiastic about its implementation, it immediately caused a hoopla which made President Goodluck Jonathan to direct that the report be formally submitted to him by the committee.

During the report submission ceremony on November 1, 2012, at the Presidential Villa, Oronsaye publicly disowned it, arguing that due process was not followed in compiling it.

For a report that had already been leaked to the media on the assumption that the powers that be want to consign it to the shelf to gather dust like most others before it, Oronsaye’s action was seen as a confirmation that there was indeed a conspiracy to kill the report. He was dubbed an ‘agent’ who had been ‘settled’ to deliver the bomb that would blow the report into smithereens.

To  make the toga of a ‘settled agent’ fit well on Oronsaye, Ribadu went ahead to point out that he (Oronsaye) was appointed into the Board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation NNPC a few months after the Task Force was inaugurated.

Ribadu further insinuated that Oronsaye refused to attend meetings of the committee and only turned up once when the issue of Addax’s alleged financial malfeasance was to be discussed and that he (Oronsaye) apparently turned up for the meeting because of his perceived interest in the company which Ribadu accused him of defending spiritedly throughout the session.

ORDINARILY, these allegations are enough to sway anyone that Oronsaye delivered his disclaimer on the report for rather selfish and unpatriotic reasons. But the facts that are beginning to emerge about the report as the dust of sentiment begins to settle down indicate otherwise.

I must confess that I was one of those who believed that Oronsaye was guilty as charged, especially as his position that due process was not followed in compiling the report was endorsed by only one other member of the Task Force, Mr. Bernard Oti, who incidentally was appointed as Group Executive Director, Finance and Accounts, of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and member of the Corporation’s Board a few months after the inauguration of the committee. To me, this showed a clear pattern of settled men were working hard to earn their pay.

But having taken the pain to study the report, I am persuaded that Oronsaye has been vindicated and that he may have been moved by patriotic zeal to stick his neck out to disown the report. Oronsaye may have carefully considered how disappointed Nigerians would be when they would discover that the report did not so much as hold the so-called oil thieves by the elbow not to talk of catching a single thief. Or how else do you describe a report that contains the most damning disclaimer of its essence in paragraph 4, page 2 of the report which states: “The data used in this report was presented by various stakeholders who made submission to the Task Force in the course of our assignment at various dates, which have been disclosed in relevant sections of the report. Due to time frame of the assignment, some of the data used could not be independently verified and the Task Force recommends that the Government should conduct such necessary verifications and reconciliations.”

If the statement quoted above is not a disclaimer, then somebody needs to explain to Nigerians how it differs from what Oronsaye said at the report submission ceremony. In fact, I tend to believe that Oronsaye was being euphemistic in stating that the Task Force did not follow due process in arriving at its report because what Ribadu and his fellow committee members tell Nigerians by the above statement is that they did not do the job for which the committee was set up. And to my mind, not doing the job for which the committee was set up is definitely worse than doing it but not following due process.

Not verifying the data submitted to the committee and recommending that “government should conduct all necessary verifications and reconciliations” is like pushing the job back to the government that set the committee up in the first place to thoroughly appraise data and figures with a view to determining where there are revenue leakages in the system. If the data and figures were not verified as admitted in the report then on what basis did it arrive at the conclusion that some companies and agencies did not pay what they ought to pay to government? How did the Task Force expect the government to prosecute those it indicted? On the basis of unverified and unreconciled figures?

The point that Oronsaye was trying to make at the report submission ceremony has now become very clear: The Committee did not do what it ought to have done; if it was because of time constraint, it should have asked for more time to do the right thing.

Looking back now, it is also getting clearer that all the allegations against Oronsaye that he disowned the report because he has been settled with appointment to the Board of NNPC and that he has interest in Addax are mere attempts to tarnish him and render his observation about the report questionable. If in spite of Oronsaye’s appointment into the Board of NNPC he was insisting on getting a better report done that could nail all those who shortchanged the country in one way or the other, then it is safe to conclude that he is a patriot.

On the allegation that Oronsaye has interest in Addax because he turned up for meetings after a long period of absence from the committee’s meetings and insisted on the right process being adopted in appraising data that pertained to the firm, that argument is neither here nor there. In fact, it could be argued that Oronsaye’s action was consistent with his position that the committee’s work be properly discharged and above board. He has since denied having any interest in Addax. What we know about Addax in Nigeria today is that it has been bought over by Sinopec. It is left for those who made the allegation to substantiate it by coming out with facts. The Presidency has challenged Ribadu to name those whom he claimed tried to compromise him. It will be just fine for him to tell the Nigerian public all he knows about Oronsaye’s interest in Addax so that we can appraise him appropriately.

But from all that we have seen in the report so far, there is no ground to impugn on Oronsaye’s integrity. In fact, the only thing the report has done very well, as far as one can see, is that it has vindicated the man. What we have seen in the report is another betrayal of our hope by Ribadu and his committee members who clearly abdicated their duty and wanted to blame it on the man who had the courage to publicly disown what they themselves had disowned secretly.

Mr. ATIKU ATAGUBA, a quantity surveyor, wrote from Kaduna.

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