President Goodluck Jonathan’s determination to carry out much-needed reforms, even in the teeth of criticism from some quarters, was demonstrated when he brought back the country’s most feared anti-corruption champion, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, as head of the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force, a body charged with instilling probity and accountability in the Nigerian oil and gas sector of the economy. This is a very significant appointment as it goes to the heart of perhaps Nigeria’s most intractable barriers to greater investment – corruption.
Mallam Nuhu Ribadu was the bugbear of corrupt government officials while he was pioneer Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). His name alone sent cold shivers down the spine of those who were deemed to have misappropriated public funds.
Under his watch, which lasted between 2003 and 2007, prominent Nigerians including top politicians and bankers, who ran foul of the law, were made to face the music. Perhaps one of his greatest achievements was the delisting of Nigeria from the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) List of Non-Cooperative Countries and Territories. FATF is an inter-governmental body that develops and promotes national and international policies to combat money laundering. This further bolstered Ribadu’s reputation as the anti-corruption czar.
Even though he was later caught up in a web of intrigues, allegedly orchestrated by those on whose toes he had inadvertently stepped during his anti-corruption crusade, which led to his removal as EFCC boss, his almost larger-than-life stature did not diminish.
He left the country for the United Kingdom in 2009, on a fellowship, but returned to contest the 2011 general elections as presidential candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), one of the leading opposition parties, following overtures made to him by incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan.
Shortly after the election, which Jonathan eventually won, Ribadu was named part of a six-man international monitoring team set up by the UN under the Afghanistan Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee, to carry out a governance audit of that country, which is ranked the third most-corrupt in the world. The committee was given the mandate of exploring ways of reducing corruption in Afghanistan. It was while he was on this international assignment that the Nigerian government approached him about a new job.
The government must have taken these credentials into consideration when it gave Ribadu another opportunity to serve the country as head of a 21-member taskforce to sanitise the corruption-ridden oil and gas industry. However, the appointment was received with mixed feelings. While many Nigerians, who view Ribadu as a round peg in a round hole, have hailed his comeback, others have faulted the government’s gesture, which they say is designed to score cheap political points. They further alleged that the appointment is a way to compensate Ribadu, who lost out in the last presidential elections in the country.
Cleaning the rot in the oil industry
However, a government statement signed by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Goni Sheikh, insisted that Ribadu’s appointment and the constitution of the taskforce are in line with Jonathan’s pledge to sanitise the oil industry in the wake of the nationwide protests that greeted fuel subsidy removal in January. The nation’s lawmakers have alleged that the over N2 trillion ($12.5bn) claimed as fuel subsidy in 2011 alone, was a colossal scam.
An interesting feature of the Ribadu-led committee is the fact it draws membership chiefly from prominent Nigerians that have picked holes in the controversial subsidy regime, which is currently facing intense scrutiny from a House of Representatives Ad-Hoc Committee chaired by veteran lawmaker, Farouk Lawan. The pro-Ribadu camp point out this alone shows the sincerity of the government in tackling the alleged graft in the scheme.
The Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), the Ministry of Finance, the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) are to be represented by one member each.
The principal task of the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force is to work with consultants and experts to determine and verify all petroleum upstream and downstream revenues (taxes, royalties, etc.) payable to the Federal Government of Nigeria, to take all necessary steps to collect debts due to the government and to enforce payment terms by all oil industry operators. The task force will also submit monthly reports for Ministerial review and further action. Ribadu has described his appointment as a call to national duty. In accepting his new assignment, he said: “The history of my life is a history of public service, and if we cast an honest gaze back to the recent protests in the wake of the oil subsidy removal, it will be clear to all that the biggest single victory Nigerians scored was to put the question of corruption squarely back on the top of our national policy agenda.” He added that regardless of political differences, all hands must be on deck to salvage the country from the jaws of corruption, which he said is slowing down its march to greatness.
Despite some criticism, the consensus appears to be that the government made the right decision in bringing back the former EFCC boss to cleanse the Nigerian-oil Augean stable. If Ribadu and his team succeed even halfway, the entire business ethos of the country could change for the better and this giant of Africa will begin to realise its true potential.