The report of the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force (PRSTF), which was headed by Nuhu Ribadu, is still generating come controversies. The National Coordinator, Procurement Observation and Advocacy Initiative (PRADIN), Mr. Mohammed Bougei Attah, in this interview with CHARLES OKONJI, calls for the review of the report, as the current report submitted to President Goodluck Jonathan seems to have some elements of personal interest.
How would you assess the Nigerian petroleum industry in terms of it boosting the nation’s economy?
The Nigeria petroleum industry is today a major source of economic development for the country. With over 70 per cent of the entire income coming from oil, it is no longer in doubt that it is a major boost for the economy. But for the endemic and systemic corruption that has engulfed the sector, Nigeria would have remained one of the largest economies in the world.
The recently released Ribadu Report claimed that over the last 10 years, Nigeria has lost approximately $29 billion to price fixing and contract scams involving oil and gas corporations. These frauds have made nonsense of our situation and denying us basic services and infrastructures. It has also greatly affected employment generation, poverty reduction among many.
Some people are saying that in spite of the fact that Nigeria is making huge revenue from the petroleum industry, many of the oil and gas companies, include NNPC, are short-changing the country. How would you react to this?
This is an undisputed fact. The various reports on the downstream sector over the last couple of months are indicative of the rots in the sector. The House of Representative, otherwise known as Farouk Lawan Report and the most recent Nuhu Ribabu’s Executive Report on the Petroleum sector clearly showed Nigerians and the world that oil and gas companies operating in the country are pests that have milked the nation dry.
It is also on record that civil society has over the years cried out over the great anomalies going on within the petroleum industry. The January 2 uprising by Nigerians was in reaction to this clear-cut robbery of the people’s wealth by the rot in the sector. It is uncertain till date, the level of corruption or how much of the looted funds that has been recovered.
What is your evaluation of the report of the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force (PRSTF), which was headed by Ribadu?
There are certain facts that are not known to Nigerians on the Nuhu Ribadu Committee and the eventual release of the report two weeks ago. First, the report has been debated as lacking in credibility due to some disagreement between the committee members.
Secondly there are concerns over the content of the report and that the Chairman of the Committee, that is, Nuhu Ribadu himself, aired in the course of submitting the report to the Council among others. First we need to ask what does the report represent in the eyes of the law? Two, what are the terms of reference for the committee? And what are the specific interests of the parties involved?
It is only when we have answers to the above and Nigerians understand the implications and import of the committee and the report that we can appreciate the events of the last few days. So far, all the discussions around the report have been viewed from a political angle rather than the statutory requirement or professional angle.
Some people are saying that for the report to have been leaked to the press before it was submitted to the President and for the fact that some members of the committee disagreed on the report have made the report to lose its credibility and, therefore, it must be reviewed to give it relevance. What is your reaction to this?
The committee was set up by the executive to do certain assignments with clear terms of reference. Nuhu as the Chairman of the committee is under obligation to submit the report to the executive as a first party report. It is not wrong to say certain terms are beyond their powers and asked the executive to initiative or engage other parties to do the rest. Ribadu or the person that leaked the report to the press, erred when he leaked the report to the press via Reuters and eventually to the general public before its submission.
Ribadu, by saying he is with the people, is an extension of his personal interest. The people are the second party and he was employed by the first party to do the job. He has forgotten that he is no longer the Chairman of Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC). He was acting as someone eager to indict some people. Despite all these however, the report is credible because certain aspects of the assignment have been carried out.
The report is not yet a second party review and eventually a third party assessment that will lead to indictment and prosecution. This is where I commend the President despite that he was advised by Steve Oronsanye, a member of the committee to reject the report. The President said he would accept the report in its present form and present it to another party for further review.
Nigerians also need to be reminded that the same incident is similar to the Farouk Lawan’s report in June where the Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke, said the Lawan’s rport is merely a fact finding mission and some sections of the civil society began to condemn the Minister until I gave a lecture to interpret his statement which is purely statutory. In summary, the report in its present form is short of certain information but not lacking in credibility because there is still room for further investigations.
What advice would you give to the Federal Government concerning the report?
First, the President had acted well by accepting the report with a promise to forward same, just as in the Farouk Lawan’s report, to the third party. My advise will be that the Federal Government should revisit the terms of reference for the Ribadu Committee and constitute another committee, this time around, a third party committee made up of professional organisations and experts in the field of procurement processes to conclude the assignment.
Mark you, the Nuhu Ribadu statement that they are unable to complete the assignment is based on their capacity. Though the committee was asked to engage the services of experts and professionals to enable them get to the root of any frauds therein, Ribadu may have reasoned that the last part of the assignment is not within their jurisdiction.
Reason being that none of the committee members is a professional procurement practitioner and thus cannot engage the services of experts in the areas where a statutory body, that is, the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) exists as a third party to the issues. Alternatively, the government can go ahead and submit the report in its present form to a third party institutions like the EFCC, the police, BPP, the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) and others for review and final submission. On the outcome however, any result from these independent bodies should be subject of prosecution where necessary.
What do you think is the problem of Nigeria’s four refineries?
Very simple! Lack of patriotism on the part of our leaders to do what is right. The culture of impunity has eaten so deep into our fabrics that they only think of what they can get out of the country and not what they can give to the country. Since the Sani Abacha era, the cries of most Nigerians have been to fix the refineries so they can refine our products and avoid crude export which is a clear avenue for fraud.
The problem of our refineries is lack of maintenance which has resulted in their nonfunctional state today. If the four refineries are in good working condition, it is certain that we would no longer need to export crude and buy same again for our local consumption. The monies stolen from the oil subsidy proceeds can conveniently fix the refineries without looking back in many years to come.
How would you assess the Federal Government’s efforts to arrest the gas flaring in the Niger Delta?
Ironically, most government efforts, if they are indeed genuine, to arrest this or that have always come out with no results and more problems. In an organised society where the leaders are serious and committed, gas flaring is guided by international instruments and does not require any special efforts because there are clearly defined standards to monitor and checkmate abuses.
The new PIB is currently before the National Assembly. What are your views on some of its provisions?
The PIB is one area where I am working with many civil society groups to ensure its quick passage. On Wednesday, October 31, in Abuja, I joined the End Impunity Now Campaign (EINC) to clamour for its passage. Our request is that the bill be passed in its present form to allow room for amendments at a later day if there are gray areas to amend.
I personally share the views of some northern elements that the bill did not take into consideration the federating unit that make up the country in view of previous resources generated from other parts of the country and used in servicing the country. However, the bill in its current form will no doubt address transparency and accountability in the petroleum sector by encouraging competition, open and non-discretionary licensing and tender processes. Remember the bulk of the problem of the fuel subsidy scam that has put Nigerians on the edge now evolves around oil lifting which is contained in section 55, one to four, of the Public Procurement Act 2007.
How do you think the PIB can help to address some of the fundamental issues in the nation’s oil and gas industry?
I have already discussed transparency and accountability as a component, let me add that it will also assist in addressing institution reforms, such that it will empower the inspectorate as a single independent regulator for upstream, midstream and downstream. The creation of multiple agencies to regulate the sector is abolished in the new PIB and I think it will be a great departure from the past.
Gas is money for some countries and the experience of Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG), which has earned a lot of revenue for Nigeria, is a case in point. How do you think Nigeria can have a holistic approach to gas development and utilisation to be able to boost the country’s economy?
The role of government over the years in the management of gas has been multifaceted and requires a review. The first step as agreed in a policy dialogue over the gas sector is to reduce the dominance of government. There should be gas regulatory units to guide the commercialization of the sector. All these should be tied to the Section 55 of the PPA to guarantee fiscal regime and tax utilization. A holistic approach that encourages private sector led gas utilisation should be encouraged and these are all captured in the new PIB.