Nuhu Ribadu and Steve Oronsaye
By Yemi Ajayiâ€¨
The controversy that dogged the submission of the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force report is rooted in an age-old feud between the task force Chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, and the Deputy Chairman, Mr. Steve Oronsaye, THISDAY investigations have revealed.
THISDAY gathered at the weekend that the duo has been at loggerheads for about 10 years in the wake of Nigeria’s battle to escape sanctions from the global anti-money laundering agency, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
The Olusegun Obasanjo administration, during its first term in office, had set up a Presidential Committee on FATF, headed by Oronsaye, to work out how Nigeria could meet all the requirements that would earn it a clean bill from FATF.
The FATF, in its June 2001 report, designated Nigeria, along with seven other nations, as non-collaborative and they risked sanctions for their lethargy in fighting money laundering through the absence of the necessary legal framework and commitment from the government.
Besides Nigeria, other nations on the list were Egypt, Grenada, Guatemala, Hungary, Indonesia, Burma and Ukraine.
The FATF comprises about 180 countries that have signed protocols to fight international money laundering and financing of terrorism.
If blacklisted, the financial system of a non-collaborative country will be shunned by other FATF member countries, a fate Nigeria suffered before it joined the FATF in 2002.
In addition, correspondent banks worldwide would cut off credit facilities to the blacklisted country while its citizens are humiliated at airports and international borders across the world.
It was in a bid to escape these consequences that the Obasanjo administration set up the presidential task force to liaise with other stakeholders on measures to take to escape the FATF’s hammer.
One of the decisions was the setting up of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2003, with Ribadu, then an Assistant Commissioner of Police, as its pioneer chairman, to fight money laundering and financial crimes.
However, a presidency source told THISDAY yesterday that the setting up of the EFCC set Ribadu and Oronsaye on a collision course as the duo was engaged in a turf war.
Prior to the setting up of the EFCC, it was learnt that Oronsaye was handling negotiations with FATF and frequently travelled abroad to consult with the organisation so at to bring its leadership up to speed on the efforts Nigeria was making to comply with the FATF protocol.
However, when EFCC was set up, the source said Oronsaye refused to hands off, leading to the turf war between him and Ribadu, who felt that his organisation should now be in charge of liaising with the FATF.
“The turf war got worse, because even when Nigeria was taken off the list and Nuhu (Ribadu) set up the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) under the EFCC, Steve (Oronsaye) was still involved.
“Steve made moves to remove the FIU from the EFCC to make it independent, but this was resisted by Ribadu. So their quarrel has a history that started about 10 years ago,” the presidency source said.
At the submission of the Ribadu panel report on November 2 to President Goodluck Jonathan, Ribadu and Oronsaye had engaged in recriminations over how the task force, set up by Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, carried out its assignment.
The 21-member panel, set up in February 2012, was required to, among other tasks, determine and verify all petroleum upstream and downstream revenues (taxes and royalties, etc,) due and payable to the Federal Government and to take all necessary steps to collect all debts due and owed; to obtain agreements and enforce payment terms by all oil industry operators. It covered the years 2002 to 2012.
The Ribadu task force was among three others set up by the Federal Government in the wake of the nationwide protests that trailed the deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil industry that led to the rise in the pump price of petrol from N65 per litre to N141 per litre at the time, before the Federal Government was forced to peg it at N97 a litre.
The two other committees were the ones 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 headed by Mr. Dotun Sulaiman; and the committee headed by Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu, which was charged with conducting a high-level assessment of the nation’s refineries and recommending ways of improving their efficiency and commercial viability.
During the submission of the report, Oronsaye and another member of the task force, Mr. Bernard Oti, openly disagreed with Ribadu on the authenticity of the report.
In his remarks, Oronsaye had said: “When I joined the committee, I made certain observations. And if the process is flawed, the outcome cannot be implemented. The process is flawed. And the report is a knee-jerk reaction. I don’t even know what the report contains.”
Oti, who supported Oronsaye, said: “From the outset, I was very clear that we are not following the right procedures. And so, I am not persuaded to be part of the work being submitted.”
In his riposte, Ribadu accused the duo of nursing a hidden agenda, saying: “I was not expecting this development. The task force was set up in February. Most of the members abandoned what they were doing and we worked for three months.
“Steve (Oronsaye) never participated in any of the meetings for this work. And during the course of the committee work, Steve became a member of the board of the NNPC. And Mr. Oti became a director in NNPC.
“They opted to remain as members of the committee. By the time they had been appointed as a board member and director, they ought to have resigned. They didn’t.”
Curiously, Ribadu also maintained that his committee’s report that was leaked was the same as what was submitted to the president, a position which was not entirely correct, as a review by THISDAY of both reports has shown that some sections in the leaked report were either taken out or altered in the report submitted to the president.
Owing to the discord that had arisen between Oronsaye and Ribadu, Jonathan had to intervene at some point to prevent the altercation from degenerating.
The president, who called for truce, said: “I am not surprised there are disagreements. It is about money. There are some lapses and probably not everyone agreed. What I will advise is that any member who has certain issues or observations should write them directly to me through the Chief of Staff or the Honourable Minister of Petroleum.”
However, an official in the presidency told THISDAY that following their appointments, the proper thing would have been for either Ribadu or Oronsaye, knowing the frosty relationship between them, to have declined to work with the other, which none of them did.