Subsidy Thieves: Jonathan And This Ribadu’s One-Week Proposal By Ifeanyi Izeze
By Ifeanyi Izeze
The declaration by the former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) presidential candidate in the April 2011 general elections, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, that fishing out the fuel subsidy thieves is not a difficult task and could be done within one week if given the task is one of the most cheering news coming out from the government circle and governance in this era of funny scandals and foolish bloodbath in the country.
The erstwhile chairman of the EFCC, who blamed the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) for all the malfeasance in the management of oil subsidy, said as the agency responsible for releasing the funds that were allegedly stolen, the PPPRA did nothing to enforce transparency and accountability in all the subsidy transactions.
His words: “If I were to work on this subsidy, I would just arrest PPPRA officials, and through them I would bring out every single person who took one penny from government. I would get all of them because it is the gatekeeper that has failed so I would not bother myself with anybody else. No one can take money for product he did not supply except PPPRA allowed it. For every single person that benefited from subsidy I can assure you public officers gained three times. Look at the energy sector and see what we are talking about. Most of the problems we are having now came from the failure of those who would have regulated the subsidy scheme. If the PPPRA had performed credibly, it would have been difficult for anybody to steal the funds provided by the government for the scheme.”
True to what Ribadu said, public servants benefitted more than the oil marketers from the corruption circle in the subsidy regime and “for every one person outside of government that benefited in this subsidy scam, public servants benefited three times.” At the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission in Abuja on Tuesday 10 July 2012, Ribadu was convinced that “all the regulatory irregularities in Nigeria are due to leadership failure.” This is true.
However, for Ribadu to now start advising the federal government “to beam its searchlight more on the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) and other relevant officials of government if it truly wants to get to the root of the contentious issue of subsidy payments,” was mere self- deceit by government and the government-people because we have passed that stage. Is Ribadu not aware that no single subsidy payment was made without approval from the Presidency? And by the way, who actually decided who brought what products into the country? Was it not the Presidency through its ministers? So if Ribadu was sincere, he should have outrightly hit the nail at the head. But he dodged that because he is canvassing to be appointed as executive chairman, Subsidy Probe Agency of Nigeria. You see the deceit?
If as an intelligent chief (claimed), who already knew what to do as he would “simply check their (PPPRA’s) letters of credit and bill of landing to bring all those who benefited from the subsidy to justice,” then what else is President Goodluck Jonathan waiting to sign on Ribadu if for nothing at least to show government’s sincerity in fishing out the subsidy thieves and make them refund our stolen money?
However, before the President engages Ribadu as canvassed, there is a serious caveat that needs to be thoroughly addressed. The Ribadu Nigerians knew: what he said in his past service as EFCC chairman were usually very different and most times directly opposite of what he actually meant or rather was capable of doing and this is an area Jonathan should actually pay serious attention in dealing with the former ACN presidential candidate. The former EFCC henchman would never accept he could have behaved or rather done things differently. It is still fresh in our memories how he convicted almost all the 36 state governors for corruption during the Obasanjo administration without even making a single effort to build a credible case against any of them even when some genuinely had very serious cases to answer. Serious-minded people talk less and do more especially when occupying sensitive public positions of trust.
Nigerians are still waiting for the report of the Mallam Ribadu-led Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force constituted by Federal Government on February 28, 2012 which was supposed to address some of these things the Action Congress presidential candidate wants to do as the chairman of the canvassed federal government subsidy probe committee/ agency. Let him first deliver on this assignment before any other thing.
The rationale behind the setting -up the Ribadu-led conscription was one of the widely expressed fears on the sincerity of the federal government particularly the petroleum minister, Mrs Diezani Allison- Madueke to get to the root of the scam in the subsidy regime. Is it not funny that in less than 48 hours that the task force came up with a story that the report of its findings may not come out as at when due (end of July) and even if it does, will disappoint many Nigerians in its quality because it may not credibly answer most of the questions for reasons of lack of access to proper information as “the system (ministry of petroleum resources) runs like a close circuit,” the chairman of that same task force is telling Nigerians that he can fetch out all the subsidy thieves within one week?
Ribadu’s task force, as reported in the media, has already raised alarm that it is being frustrated by the Ministry of Petroleum Resources insiders. As alleged, some vested interests in the ministry of petroleum are frustrating the committee’s work using “delay tactics” to buy time for the period given to the committee to round up its findings to elapse. Is this not an interesting excuse?
Is it not shameful for the task force/committee to even tell Nigerians that “Some people in some of the departments and agencies under the ministry were deliberately undermining its efforts to have access to the right documents? This is the committee’s complaint as widely reported: “When a particular document is requested for by the committee instead of giving them what was asked for, a muddled up document will be presented. Instead of giving you a proper document that will be useful for the assignment, they will bring volumes that you can hardly make meaning out of and when you complain, they will plead and request for more time to bring it. Be sure they will not return to you in the next one week and when they do, it may not be exactly what you want or how you want it arranged.” For a taskforce set up for expediency by the Minister to claim it had difficulty obtaining relevant documents from departments and agencies under the same Minister means the investigator is disabled either by omission or outright design.
Nuhu and his taskforce should be told in plain language that his performance in the first assignment to probe and collect revenues accruable to the country from both the upstream and downstream sectors of the oil and gas industry including those domiciled in the presidency would be the basis for further discussion and/or engagement. Maybe the President can pass this message to him in Izon otherwise his new party (the PDP) national chairman should do that in Fulfulde.
It would be recalled that the taskforce was charged among other things: To work with consultants and experts to determine and verify all petroleum upstream and downstream revenues (taxes, royalties, etc.) due and payable to the Federal Government of Nigeria; To take all necessary steps to collect all debts due and owing; to obtain agreements and enforce payment terms by all oil industry operators; To design a cross debt matrix between all agencies and parastatals of the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources; To develop an automated platform to enable effective tracking, monitoring, and online validation of income and debt drivers of all Parastatals and Agencies in the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources; and To work with world-class consultants to integrate systems and technology across the production chain to determine and monitor crude oil production and exports, ensuring at all times, the integrity of payments to the Federal Government of Nigeria. And the committee is expected to achieve all these in three months (May-July). Ribadu and his committee are still struggling with these mandates and yet he wants Nigerians to believe that he can fetch out all the subsidy thieves in one week. Haba Mallam! Let him first deliver and then we know how far!
IFEANYI can be reached on: firstname.lastname@example.org; 234-8033043009)