SINCE the altercation between the Chairman of the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, and his deputy, Mr. Steven Oronsaye, over the report of the committee which it submitted to President Goodluck Jonathan on Friday, 2 November, 2012, it has been a rain of criticism and invectives on the latter in the media and other fora for public discourse.
There is hardly a day one does not get to read one article or comment in the print or social media castigating the former Head of Civil Service for daring to disown the report of the committee of which he was deputy chairman.
While some threw caution to the dogs and descended to name-calling, others took the popular path of reading meaning to his words and actions and summarily declared him guilty of playing the spoilsport, of allowing himself to be used by those in authority to discredit the report of the committee.
This type of media mob action against Mr. Oronsaye is fast becoming typical of the Nigerian society where it appears most citizens are just lurking around waiting for anyone on whom to hang the toga of a villain and then proceed to visit him with their own version of justice.
The curious and dangerous aspect of this trend which is fast becoming a culture is that when situations like this arise, there is almost always a conspiracy of silence from everyone, even among those who should know better.
It is true that corruption has grown to assume a life of its own in Nigeria to such a level that everyone is yearning for a monument of deterrence, a drastic punitive action against some members of the ‘untouchable’ class to serve as a signpost to warn others to desist from the evil.
Noble as this yearning seems, it has bred a mob sentiment which tends to make people see every other person as the, villain, the rogue or robber who should be crucified. Anyone who dares to raise a voice of caution is automatically branded a traitor, an enemy of the public or an accomplice who deserves to die with the ‘villain’.
That is what the Ribadu vs Oronsaye imbroglio has brought out in stark relief. His dissention with the report of the committee of which he was deputy chairman is seen as an act of treachery for which he is being pilloried.
The overwhelming urge to catch and punish the ‘fat’ thieves in the oil and gas sector has drowned the voice of caution which Oronsaye represents. It is not that he does not want the ‘fat’ thieves to be punished as insinuated by many of the commentators.
Nothing he said at that occasion suggests or connotes that. He only dissociated himself from the report on the ground that the process of arriving at the report was flawed and that he would not want to be associated with a report that did not follow due process.
I HAVE not met Oronsaye in person, but those who know him closely say he is a forthright person. His words and action at the report submission ceremony were consistent with that reputation.
It takes a forthright person to insist that the right and proper thing be done and due process be followed when his boss says otherwise. Oronsaye’s argument was simply that even if the President has directed that the report of the committee be submitted to him on a particular date, the committee should have been bold enough to request for extra time to ensure that due process is followed in compiling the report so that all loose ends are tied before submitting the report.
It is easy to understand how a rational position like that from a man known for being a stickler for due process and excellence could be misconstrued as a sign that he has been compromised to make the report look bad so as to give the government a reason not to implement its findings and recommendations.
For one, the pervasive nature of corruption in the land and especially the oil and gas sector, and the urgent need to stem it has put a lot of people in a thief-catching mode. Then, Ribadu, being a former police chief and anti-corruption crusader, is naturally imbued with the zeal to catch thieves and criminals.
So when Ribadu raises the alarm through the report of the committee that thieves abound in the oil and gas sector, everyone is bound to rush out with clubs to catch the thieves and lynch them.
Thus, anyone who comes out at that point to caution that due process was not followed in arriving at the conclusion that thieves actually abound in the sector (just like Oronsaye did) could easily be dubbed a spoilsport by the mob.
But what a rational and civilized mind would do is to ask if there is some truth in Oronsaye’s assertion that due process was not followed so as to avert hounding innocent people. Unfortunately, many of the people who are writing and commenting on the issue have not read the report to verify Oronsaye was actually lying.
A close look at the reports (both the leaked version and the one submitted to the President) would reveal to any objective reader that the committee was actually in too much of a hurry, apparently driven by the zeal of its chairman, to nail the thieves that it jettisoned due process which could have ensured that a water-tight case is made against any person or agency indicted in the report.
For instance, in its cover letter to the report, the committee admitted and stated:“The data used in this report was presented by various stakeholders who made submissions to the Task Force in the course of our assignment at various dates which have been discussed in relevant sections of the report.
Due to the time frame of the assignment, some of the data used could not be independently verified and Task Force recommends that government should conduct such necessary verifications and reconciliations.’’
What this simply means is that because of time constraint, the committee could not follow the due process of independently verifying the data submitted to it by the various agencies. The wider implication of this is that the figures and allegations contained in the report are not to be taken as facts until they are verified.
This clearly highlights the absence of due process that Oronsaye pointed out. What due process was supposed to achieve is to cast the report on the solid ground of facts so that no one can easily impugn it. Because at the end of the day, it is one thing to catch a thief, it is quite another to prove that he stole and get him/her convicted.
The committee, by its own admission, did not succeed in catching any thief as it tried to make Nigerians believe. Perhaps, if it had followed due process as suggested by Oronsaye it we would have been celebrating the imminent arrest and prosecution of some thieves as the ground for their indictment would have been cast on concrete.
At the end of the day, the Ribadu/Oronsaye imbroglio is a bold contest between raw zeal and propriety, and it is not difficult to say, in this case, which wins. And the question that ultimately comes to the fore is: If you were Oronsaye, would you endorse a report that disclaims itself the way the Ribadu Committee did?
Mr. ALEX AYEWOH, a public affairs commentator, wrote from Abuja.