By Danlami Nmodu
More than two weeks after the Petroleum Reform Task Force was inaugurated by Minister of Petroleum Affairs, Mrs Diezani Allison –Madueke, it has not been able to commence its work. For starters Newsdiaryonlne learnt that the Task Force led by Nuhu Ribadu is in a limbo as it has no office or secretariat from which it could operate yet.
But it appears the challenge before the task force is even bigger than what was initially envisaged. According to an informed source, “there appears to be no budget for them to operate with, so we have a situation where Ribadu and his men have to figure out how to raise money to do a thorough job.” It is a task the former chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) has pledged to do properly. He said his committee would wave the red card at fraudsters in the petroleum sector.
But a highly placed source told Newsdiaryonline that getting the task force to begin its job has become an obstacle race. No office, no funds from government yet to assemble the technical experts required to assist in carrying out the job. The situation appears so bad that Ribadu has been reaching out to donor agencies seeking funds to enable the task force to do its job. An insider believes this twist in the tale is a sign that government may not truly be committed to reforming the petroleum sector.
The task force has a time frame of 60 days within which it should wrap up its job. Yet two weeks after inauguration, there is a seeming paralysis. Aside from the issue of lack of office and funds, discerning observers have also noticed that there is an overlap in the duties of the Ribadu committee and committee headed by Dr Kalu Idika Kalu which is also looking into the issue of refineries. There are issues in Ribadu’s terms of reference that require experts to handle. And to get these experts, you also need the funds and all the accompanying facilities to get the best, sadly none is available yet.
Newsdiaryonline learnt that attempts to seek financial support from donor agencies will likely introduce further complications as they are very likely going to insist on giving some conditions before granting support and this will have further implications. Meanwhile, Newsdiaryonline has learnt that the difficulties Ribadu’s committee is confronted with are making global donor agencies fear that government may have set up this task force “just to do some white washing job”.
If it is not for whitewash why would government not equip such a task force with all that they require? If not for white wash, why will they set this body up and refuse to fund it, an insider told Newsdiaryonline. Some observers had feared that the Goodluck Jonathan administration was just out to take advantage of Ribadu’s credibility when it gave him this job. The suspicion has been that government just wanted to be perceived as doing a good job. But feelers from the task force indicate the government may have bungled yet another opportunity to make its reform programme look credible.
A source even claimed that that since the inauguration of the task force, the petroleum minister has not bothered to meet with them and let them discuss government’s expectations beyond what was said at the inauguration hall. “Everybody just dispersed. And little progress has been made.”
This delay in taking off is reinforcing the feeling that given the gamut of the task ahead, government needs to take the committee more seriously. “You need to put these people in government on their toes so that this task force doesn’t end up in total paralysis”, an insider said.