Talkative Democracy and Self-Defeating Probe-Mania

Nigeria stands stark naked as ridicule of governance in comity of nation. We do things not because we want to improve but because other nations do. Our problem is not knowing but not doing. We know much but we do less. We think much but we act little. We eat much and produce less. We react more and act less. We have the best minds in policy formulation but we have the least will and low rated sincerity to implement policies that enthrone cult of good governance.

Think of many panels that have been constituted in the Nigeria political history and the beautiful white papers they released! Have these translated to changing the physical landscape of the country, addressing wounds of injustices and violations of human rights and privileges and restructuring of the psychological minds of citizens? A democracy that is not worried that Oputa Panel has laid in presidential dustbin for ten years and yet goes on to set up more panels is a talkative democracy. In a talkative democracy, National Assembly is a toothless bulldog, embarking on endless cyclic probes as major legislative duty.

At the beginning of 2012, the Jonathan-led government announced full deregulation of downstream sector, removing subsidy because of endemic corruption that had marred the entire sector. That decision did not go down well with Nigerians as they responded with strikes and protests calling for reinstating of subsidy and prosecution of cabals in the sector. When government did reverse its decision in February it set up committees to help sanitize the entire Petroleum Sector.

The three committees so set up were those of; the committee established to design a new corporate governance code for ensuring full transparency, good governance and global best practices in the NNPC and other oil industry parastatals which had Mr. Dotun Sulaiman as its Chairman; and the Committee headed by Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu which was charged with the duty of conducting a high-level assessment of the nation’s refineries and recommending ways of improving their efficiency and commercial viability and the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force headed by Nigeria’s foremost anti-corruption czar, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu.

Two weeks ago, the three committees submitted their reports at the prompting of the presidency. Ribadu-led committee was exhaustively patriotic in its recommendations which most are about management, about people and about how we run our own affairs. The committee advised the federal government not to delay action on issues of outstanding royalties, petroleum revenue task, and various penalties for example, gas flaring penalties, revealing that even as we still need to keep companies operating in Nigeria for business, they are making huge money from our country. The advised that Nigeria shouldn’t be comfortable at sole neighbourhood of Congo on the use of traders to sell her own crude oil, describing crude oil theft as a national tragedy that scares investors especially with alternatives now in Ghana, Serra Leone, Liberia.

But no sooner had Ribadu finished his submission than Steve Orosanye, former Permanent Secretary in the State House, who is also the Deputy Chairman of the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force raised objections on what he said was the “flawed process” adopted by the committee in arriving at its report. His position was collaborated by another member of the committee, Mr. Bernard Otti who dissociated himself from the report because according to him, members did not see the report before it was submitted to the president. However, two other members of the committee, Sumaila Zubair who is the acting secretary of the Committee and Ignatius Adegunle rejected the submission of the duo saying they never took part in the meetings of the committee.

Early in the year, Farouk Lawal led-House Committee on the probe of oil subsidy ended in ethnic politics that blurred the entire exercise. The objections of Orosanye and Otti are unfortunate and seek to use ethnic sympathy to retain corrupt political habits. If Oronsaye had felt sidelined as his absence during the entire committee’s seating was established, he should have gone to the press to raise his fears before the presentation. Besides, his absence was suspicious. During the work of the committee, the duo were said to have got themselves appointed on the board of NNPC with Otti becoming the director of finance of NNPC.

If the wisdom behind the constitution of the task force was to call people from outside to come into the industry and look at it critically and give presidency an honest opinion, government was wrong to have offered the duo such appointment. Nobody can be a judge in his own case. The appointment compromised their membership and they ought to have resigned honorably.

Sadly, Mr. President seems comfortable with the arrangement, “becoming board members of NNPC does not disqualify them to be members; sometimes you need those in establishment to explain certain things and not to influence anybody.” This is hypocrisy which reveals that the decay in oil business may have Aso Rock anointing, otherwise nothing explains why government should plotting the downfall of its committee.

Ribadu’s message to talkative government is exhaustively prophetic: “Mr. President our assignment is essentially to enhance government revenue in proving transparency and accountability and help you to fight corruption in this industry. Therefore in the course of the assignment, our work was extensive, our findings detailed and our recommendations far reaching in these various issues covered in our terms of reference”…”Secondly, Mr. President, it is your government, it is your work and whatever it is it’s you and nobody else. This recommendation is for you to use.”

More than previous panel reports, Ribadu taskforce cannot find government favour because it contains the seed of self-defeat. Ribadu himself knows this. Dragnet is indeed in awe of a talkative democracy with compulsive probe-mania disorder.