Of Probes and Government’s Lack of Political Will – Adewale Kupoluyi
The nation’s yearning for development may continue to be an illusion as long as we are not ready to learn from our past mistakes.
Whenever one hears of committees or probe panels being set up to investigate some activities, what readily comes to mind is either — politics at play or nothing would come out of it.
Before the return to democratic rule, Nigerians used to take the failures of implementation of probe panel reports as part of the outcome of military dictatorship but events have shown that this is not so.
This worrisome trend is neither limited to the Executive arm of government nor the Jonathan administration — and if care is not taken — it may continue to be a burden the nation will live with.
The latest of such disdain for public reports is the alleged moves to discredit the submission by the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force, headed by Mallam Nuhu Ribadu.
The drama began at the presentation of the report at the State House, Abuja, when Steve Oronsaye, deputy chairman of the task force and Ben Otti, another member of the 17-member committee tried, in a futile bid, to discredit the report. They claimed that they were not privy to the final draft being tendered.
The committee produced the 146-page document, based on the request by the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, covering 10 years — 2002 to 2012.
According to the report, Nigeria had lost tens of billions of dollars in oil and gas income over the last decade from shady deals struck between multinational oil companies and government officials.
The report alleged that foreign oil traders often bought crude without any formal contracts, and that the state oil firm had short-changed the nation’s treasury by selling gas and crude oil to itself below market rates without any transparency.
The task force also found anomalies ranging from about $183m in signature bonuses for oil bloc licences not accounted for and $3.02 bn as unpaid royalties, theft of up to 250,000 barrels of crude per day and fraud by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation in converting its dollar earnings to naira.
Discrediting the report, presidential spokesman, Doyin Okupe, had said “an obvious DISCLAIMER (emphasis mine) issued by the committee on the entire report, makes it impossible under our laws to indict or punish anyone except, and until, the Federal Government fully verifies and reconciles the facts as recommended by the committee in its submission to the government.”
Okupe also criticised part of the report which says, “Due to the time frame of the assignment, some of the data used could not be independently verified and the task force recommends that the government should conduct such necessary verifications and reconciliations.”
He blamed Ribadu for the politicisation of the report and claimed that it was a calculated attempt to overheat the polity and incite Nigerians against President Goodluck Jonathan.
Over the years, findings of many panels and committees have not been made useful to the nation, resulting into wastage of material resources and man-hours.
A very few examples suffice: Following the violence that trailed the 2011 general elections in the country, over 900 persons were said to have lost their lives. President Jonathan inaugurated a 22-man panel of enquiry, headed by Sheikh Ahmed Lemu, to look at the incident and make recommendations on how to forestall a recurrence.
On October 10, 2011, the investigation panel submitted its report and advised that “the first and probably the most important major cause (of violence) is the failure on the part of the previous successive regimes, since the military handover of power in 1999, to implement the recommendations of various committees, commissions and panels that had taken place in our nation.”
The panel also called for the implementation of the Babalakin Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Bauchi State Civil Disturbances, Justice Snakey Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Wase and Langtang Disturbances and Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee, Karibi Whyte Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Kafanchan Disturbances, Professor Tamuno Panel of Inquiry on National Security, Niki Tobi Judicial Commission of Inquiry and Justice Disu Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Plateau State Disturbances.
Several Judicial Commissions of Inquiry had been set up by both the Federal and the Plateau State governments, to investigate the Jos crises but unfortunately, many of these reports were not made public or the culprits made accountable.
The denial of the public’s right to know the content of these reports by successive governments had provided moral grounds for speculations, distrust, and disregard for constituted authorities which significantly contributed towards escalating the crises that had led to wanton destruction of lives and property.
Another of such hibernated reports is the Steve Oronsaye Committee on the restructuring of Ministries, Departments and Agencies.
The Oronsaye panel recommended that government should reduce its over-bloated statutory agencies from 263 to 161 and also called for the abolition of 38 agencies, merger of 52 and reversion of 14 agencies to departments in the relevant ministries. Again, nothing concrete has been done to the report after its submission to the President.
The Ndudi Elumelu-led House of Representatives Committee on Power and Steel set up to investigate the alleged $16bn expenditure in the power sector, the Farouk Lawan-led House Ad hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy Management and the Nigeria Stock Exchange probe headed by Ibrahim El-Sudi, and the N6.2bn SIM cards registration probe had some reports that generated serious debates but are idling away.
In June 1999, former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration set up the Human Rights Violations Investigation Panel, popularly known as the Oputa Panel to review the human rights abuses experienced during previous military regimes.
While the panel worked assiduously according to its mandate, nothing came out of its report, as some powerful Nigerians even sought court orders to stop its proceedings.
Halliburton had sacked its top executive, Albert Stanley, for allegedly bribing senior Nigerian government officials with about US$180million to win Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas contracts in the late 1990s.
While the Federal Government set up a probe panel, headed by the former Inspector-General of Police, Mike Okiro, to investigate the case, the Senate and the House of Representatives separately also probed the incident.
Till date, no result has come from the probes and nobody was ever prosecuted from the outcome of the probes even when other foreign countries had sanctioned those indicted in the Halliburton scandal.
The report of highly celebrated Dr. Pius Okigbo-led panel went the same way. The panel was meant to probe the Gulf War period oil receipts. The full report, submitted on September 27, 1994, never saw the light of day, and was declared “missing” from records till date.
The failure to implement previous reports has been attributed to the lack of political will on the part of government in bringing about a change.
It should be appreciated that probing is a core part of governance and public office management. It is a modern tool used all over the world to get to the roots of problems, not necessarily for witch-hunting.
– Adewale Kupoluyi writes from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, vide firstname.lastname@example.org