by Reuben Abati
It is so unfortunate that there has been so much ignorant carping and malicious tittle-tattling about the report of the Petroleum Revenue Task Force chaired by Malam Nuhu Ribadu, both failings arising from a deliberate attempt to individualize what was actually group work, a mischievous attempt to politicize one report out of three, and to smuggle into an emergent grand web of conspiracy, elements of blackmail, mischief and outright opportunism.
I should like to dispel the putrefacious stench of the fart that seems to have overtaken the subject by returning all of us to certain basics that have not changed since President Jonathan approved the setting up of committees to inquire into different aspects of the Petroleum Sector and particularly since the reports were presented and accepted. The facts are as follows.
The committees in question and the probe into the Petroleum sector were initiated by President Goodluck Jonathan to ensure transparency and accountability in the extractive industry; the goal was to transform the sector and raise levels of integrity accordingly. Every step that has been taken by this administration in this regard has been in fulfillment of this well-stated principle. This includes the decision to completely deregulate the downstream sector, which has now resulted in the exposure of oily deals in that sector, with consequences for the indicted persons.
It also includes the launch of a concerted fight against crude oil theft and illegal payments of fuel subsidy. Zakari Mohammed of the House of Representatives talks absent-mindedly about “lack of political will” to fight corruption. He certainly doesn’t know what he is talking about. A legislative position should not confer a right to mendacity. He should know, if he had been reading the newspapers, that on the basis of both the report of the House of Representatives and the Aig Aig-Imokhuede committee report on fuel subsidy payments, persons are currently being prosecuted in the law courts by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The Federal Government has not done anything to stop or discourage the prosecution of indicted persons. We have made the point, again and again, that in this on-going fight against corruption, there will be no “cover ups”; and no “sacred cows,” and that President Jonathan’s only interest is the people’s interest. This same President has demonstrated the political will to deal with corruption in the country’s electoral process, to both local and global acclaim. He has no reason to make compromises in other areas of national life. Interestingly, many of those who are now talking ignorantly about “political will” are beneficiaries of this administration’s commitment to the rule of law and fairplay.
On the specific issue of the Petroleum Revenue Task Force report, the mischief-makers should go back to the statements made by President Jonathan, and subsequently by the Petroleum Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, on the occasion of the presentation of the report. The President’s position that the work of the Ribadu Committee, and of the two other committees that presented their reports on that occasion, the Idika Kalu committee on Refineries and the Dotun Sulaiman Committee on Governance is useful and enlightening has not changed. Alison-Madueke has further echoed that position more than twice. The three committees were set up as fact-finding and advisory bodies. That fact was further underscored by the President’s mature response to the altercation that the Ribadu Committee Report generated when he said that those who have issues to raise should be free to make their own independent submissions. This shows a determination to get every possible piece of information and to accommodate all concerns. This shows a will to act. President Jonathan has not dumped any input, rather he welcomes every possible input and he has no private interest in this matter. So for anyone to say that the Ribadu committee was “calculated to fail from the beginning”, is absolutely uncharitable.
Indeed, for the benefit of those playing politics and doing quick business with this matter, the truth is that President Jonathan is already taking steps to address some of the issues raised in the various reports. When President Jonathan sets up committees to investigate particular issues, he does so, because he wants to address those issues. I had, before now, drawn attention to the fact that the President gave clear directives on the state of the refineries and that at least one meeting had been held since the presentation of the Report on Refineries, to act specifically on the recommendations made. President Jonathan has directed that he wants the refineries fixed and steps are already being taken; deadlines have been set. That didn’t make the headlines, rather, falsehood hugged the headlines, because these days it pays to fart all over the place, and attract attention.
To set the records straight, here is what happened. After the presentation of the reports by the three committees; the President directed the Minister of Petroleum Resources to take up the recommendations of the Kalu Idika Kalu committee on refineries. The committee recommended, in part, that the country’s refineries should be rehabilitated without any further delay.
On November 8, the Minister and her team were at the Villa to brief the President about the state of the refineries, their current capacities, and steps that need to be taken to get them to function at optimum capacity.
The President made it clear that the government is committed to getting the refineries to work, so that we would no longer have to import refined petroleum products, which he considers shameful, and by so doing, government would have succeeded in creating jobs and put an end to the hardship that attends importation. The meeting discussed the possibility of ensuring the Turn Around Maintenance of the refineries by March 2013, and subsequently, the rehabilitation of the facilities. The meeting ended with a directive that the Minister and her team should return with further presentations on the technical details of the agreed plan of action. This is one clear example of prompt action and demonstration of commitment.
President Jonathan has no reason to embarrass anyone who served on any of the three committees. While receiving the reports, these were his words: “…we have seen that the people that have been selected in these committees are people that are known by Nigerians, people that are credible, most especially people that are patriotic and I believe that they put all that into consideration for the interest of the country not for the interest of any individual. You have submitted your reports today. We have to thank you very sincerely and government will surely make use of these reports… because we feel that the oil industry as it is, need to be reformed.” I urge you to note the emphasis on all the reports without exception!
Thereafter, President Jonathan commented on the work of the individual committees. On Dotun Sulaiman committee, he said: “…we feel that our governance and control, (in the oil and gas sector) we need to look at it. And of course quite a number of issues raised by the presenters link up with even the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) issues and I believe it will even help the National Assembly robustly in terms of looking at some aspects of the PIB. So we thank you very sincerely for that.”
On the Kalu Idika Kalu Committee he said: “In the case of the refineries, I really have to thank you because I was listening, trying to see the kind of recommendations you will bring up…Maybe some of you don’t know but those of us who are in politics, they used to “yab” us some years back that in Nigeria we import what we have and export what we don’t have. They say we import what we have because we have crude oil for God’s sake. Ordinarily if it is a country where we placed our focus right, we should be having filling stations all over Africa and all over the world …It is disgraceful that we are importing petroleum products. If in the next ten years this country still imports petroleum products then all of us who have the opportunity to be here, in fact when we die they should write something and put behind us that we did not rule this country well, because we must stop the importation of petroleum products.” Hence, the President held the aforementioned follow-up meeting on refineries.
Now, on the Ribadu Report, President Jonathan said, inter alia: “…Probably not everybody agreed on some of the conclusions but I don’t think we need to bother…what we would say is that any member who has one or two observations should please write it either directly to me through the Chief of Staff or through the Minister of Petroleum Resources…But the issues of finance, if it borders on corrupt practice or outright stealing, definitely it will go to the EFCC for investigation…If there are errors of calculation or misinformation from the relevant agencies of government that are supposed to give the correct figures, that will be filtered out. It will not be used against anybody, because the interest of government to set up these committees is to help us do what is right. It is not to help us do what is wrong. And that is why we have to be careful and do what is right. So I plead with you. But let me assure you that government has no interest in hiding anything…”
Let me cut this short, at this point, by saying that President Goodluck Jonathan has no reason whatsoever, personal or political (since at least one character has said that the furore over the Ribadu Report has something to do with 2015!) to protect wrong-doers in the land. He took on this assignment to make Nigeria better and that is what he is doing everyday: working hard at the Nigerian project and taking every step to transform it for good. The Nigerian people are enjoined to stand on the side of truth and to reject the mischief of all hunters of fortune whose interest is their own ambitions, for in this Ribadu Committee Report matter, personal ambitions are beginning to becloud the facts. President Jonathan will continue to provide leadership. Nobody should drag him into the cheap arena of opportunistic demagoguery.
*Dr. Abati is Special Adviser to President Jonathan on Media and Publicity.