Treating public reports with condescension

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THE nation’s strive for development may continue to be an illusion as long as we are not ready to learn from our past mistakes, errors and shortcomings that could give room for a brighter future.

Whenever we hear of committees or probe panels being set up to investigate incidents, what readily come to mind are two things – politics at play or nothing would come out of it.

Before the return to democratic rule, Nigerians used to take the failures of implementation of probe panel reports as part of the outcome of military dictatorship but events have shown that this is not so.

This worrisome trend is neither limited to the Executive arm of government nor the Jonathan administration – and if care is not taken – it may continue to be a burden the nation will live with.

The latest of such disdain for public reports is the alleged moves to discredit the submission by the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force, headed by Mallam Nuhu Ribadu.

The administrative task force was established to streamline and improve the revenue collection machinery of government in the oil and gas industry and to verify all petroleum upstream and downstream revenues, including taxes and royalties due and payable to the Federal Government, take all necessary steps to collect all debts due and enforce payment terms by all industry operators, among others.

This time around, the drama began at the presentation of the report at the State House, Abuja, when Steve Oronsaye, deputy chairman of the task force and Ben Otti, another member of the 17-member committee tried, in a futile bid, to discredit the report. They claimed that they were not privy to the final draft being tendered.

The committee produced the 146-page document, based on the request by the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, covering 10 years – 2002 to 2012.

According to the report, Nigeria had lost out on tens of billions of dollars in oil and gas income over the last decade from shady deals struck between multinational oil companies and government officials.

The report alleged that foreign oil traders often bought crude without any formal contracts, and that the state oil firm had short-changed the nation’s treasury by selling gas and crude oil to itself below market rates without any transparency.

The task force also found anomalies ranging from about $183 million in signature bonuses for oil bloc licenses not accounted for and $3.02 billion as unpaid royalties, theft of up to 250,000 barrels of crude per day, and fraud by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation in converting its dollar earnings to naira.

Presidential spokesman, Doyin Okupe, had said the paragraph “is an obvious DISCLAIMER (emphasis mine) issued by the committee on the entire report, makes it impossible under our laws to indict or punish anyone except, and until, the Federal Government fully verifies and reconciles the facts as recommended by the committee in its submission to the government”.

Okupe also criticized part of the report which says: “Due to the 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”.

He blamed Ribadu for the politicization of the report and claimed that it was a calculated attempt to overheat the polity and incite Nigerians against President Goodluck Jonathan.

Over the years, findings of many panels and committees have not been made useful to the nation, resulting into wastage of material resources and man-hours.

A very few examples suffice: Following the violence that trailed the 2011 general elections in the country, over 900 persons were said to have lost their lives. President Jonathan inaugurated a 22-man panel of enquiry headed by Sheikh Ahmed Lemu, to look at the incident and make recommendations on how to forestall a recurrence.

On October 10, 2011, the investigation panel submitted its report and advised that “the first and probably the most important major cause (of violence) is the failure on the part of the previous successive regimes, since the military handover of power in 1999, to implement the recommendations of various committees, commissions and panels that had taken place in our nation.

The panel equally called for the implementation of the Babalakin Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Bauchi State Civil Disturbances, Justice Snakey Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Wase and Langtang Disturbances and Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee, Karibi Whyte Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Kafanchan Disturbances, Professor Tamuno Panel of Inquiry on National Security, Niki Tobi Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Plateau State Disturbances and Justice Disu Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Plateau State Disturbances.

Several Judicial Commissions of Inquiry had been set up by both the Federal and the Plateau State governments to investigate the Jos crises but unfortunately, many of these reports had not been made public or the culprits made accountable.

The long denial of the public’s right to know the content of these reports by successive governments had provided fertile grounds for speculations, distrust, and disregard for constituted authorities which significantly contributed towards escalating the crises that has led to wanton destruction of lives and property.

Similarly, the reports and white papers of these Commissions of Inquiry have remained unpublished and inaccessible, even though the public’s right to information is guaranteed by the Freedom of Information Act, Section 39(1) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution as well as Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Another of such hibernated report is the Steven Oronsaye Committee on the Restructuring of Government Agencies and Parastatals.

Mr. ADEWALE KUPOLUYI, wrote from Federal University of Agric., Abeokuta, Ogun State.

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