By Clara Nwachukwu
THE Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, has described Mallam Nuhu Ribadu-led, Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force, as a cover up, even as industry operator argued that the move will block some revenue leakages in the system.
ANEEJ, a non-governmental organisation, NGO, while commending the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, for tackling the issue of revenue transparency in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry, however, said that the litany of committees being set up by the minister are “more like a desperation for a big cover up.”
In a statement made available to Vanguard, and signed by the Executive Director, ANEEJ, Mr. David Ugolor, said that while the appointment of the taskforce is “to enhance probity and accountability in the operation of the Petroleum Industry,” it also underscores the mass protests that swept across the country calling for reforms in the nation’s oil and gas sector.
Plethora of committees
ANEEJ argued that the plethora of committees that have been set up by the minister in recent time, are however too many such that they may have lost their relevance.
But the Managing Director/Chief Executive, International energy Services, Dr. Diran Fawibe, in a telephone interview, told Vanguard that the Taskforce is Federal Government’s way of “monitoring what is happening with oil and gas revenues, and to ensure that government is not losing money.”
He argued that government in recent times, had lost a lot of revenue from the petroleum industry, and needed to block all avenues of wastes.
According to the NGO, “The number of committees and Task Forces set up by the Minister since President Goodluck Jonathan’s national broadcast, which saw to the end of the mass action, including inviting the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate the activities of the ministry, while she still presides, even as the National Assembly is probing into the affairs of the ministry with startling revelations tumbling in from her principal staff, is indicative of a rudderless system and national malaise.
“All these multiplicity of committees and Task Forces reinforce the fear Nigerians have in the sector and point to the fact that the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) devoid of sector encumbrances remains the panacea to the deep rooted corruption in the oil and gas sector in Nigeria.”
Notwithstanding the parade of stars in the revenue taskforce including Ribadu and Olisa Agbakoba, the NGO expressed concern about the absence of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, NEITI, which is statutorily saddled with the responsibility of managing revenue transparency in the extractive sector. “In other words, the terms of reference of the Task Force conflicts with the NEITI Act,” it added.
It said further, said, “The objective of the committee summarizes the five (5) objectives of NEITI as stated in section 2(a-e) of NEITI Act 2007. Section 3(f) of the NEITI Act 2007 empowers NEITI to monitor and ensure that all payments due to the Federal Government from all extractive industry companies including taxes, royalties, dividends, bonuses, penalties, levels and such like are duly made. This is also reproduced in the terms of reference of the Ribadu-led task force, which is mandated to take all necessary steps to collect all debts due and owing: to obtain agreements and enforce payment terms by all oil industry operations.”
Besides, the NGO noted, “NEITI being established by an Act of the National Assembly and the taskforce being established by the Minister of Petroleum raises the question of who will be accountable to Nigerians in the case of corruption and absence of transparency in the sector.”
But again, Fawibe argued that there is no conflict of responsibilities with NEITI, but rather complementary, saying, “The specific duties of NEITI have been taken care of by the law. But when you have specific objectives, government has the responsibility to set up a taskforce to complement the existing system and not to have overlap of functions.”
Besides he added that NEITI is backed by the law, its functions are superior to those of the taskforce.
Also, “The terms of reference of the Task Force is silent on their tenure, it only requests them to make monthly reports to the Minister. Will the Task Force last forever or what is the time frame for their operation?” ANEEJ wondered.