You could mistake it for a scene in a chartbuster Nollywood movie. The only difference is that, this time around, the actors on parade are technocrats and highly revered top civil servants who have dominated Nigeria’s civil service like colossus for many years. And watching the drama as it unfolded with `ruptured’ attention was the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan including cabinet members, other top government officials and television-viewing public worldwide who were all dazed with amazement.
The setting of this theatre of the absurd last Friday was the Council Chamber of the Presidential Villa, Abuja. Present were three powerful committees set up by Mr. President to look into different aspects of our national life. These are Special Task Force on Governance and Control, Refineries Special Task Force and the Petroleum Revenue Task Force. They were there to submit their reports.
Prior to that ceremony, Reuters, an international news agency, had gone to town on its website with some ‘scoops’ from the report of the Petroleum Revenue Task Force headed by the former anti-corruption czar, Nuhu Ribadu. The report was also widely circulated by several newspapers. This extensive publicity sparked off instant public debates which seriously rattled the government. As tongues continued to wag over the report, the government knew that it needed to do something quickly to stem the tide of negative commentary.
Perhaps, to save its face, the government fixed last Friday for the submission of the report in which monumental corruption has been unearthed. But rather than work, the strategy actually boomerang and created more embarrassment for the Presidency. This was underscored by the confusion and avoidable altercation that ensued between Ribadu and Steve Oronsaye, the man who rose from the ranks to become the head of service of the civil service of the federation before he retired a few years ago.
The dilemma started during Ribadu’s presentation. First, he saluted the President for his courage in setting up the three committees and expressed the hope that Jonathan would find the courage to implement the various recommendations. While focusing on his own report, Ribadu assured the President that all the issues in the report were handled with sincerity, and that if properly implemented, they would set the country free from economic bondage. This, according to him, is because the recommendations would strengthen institutions and increase government revenue. He lauded the President’s anti-corruption and reforms agenda but emphasized that more needed to be done to fight the hydra-headed monster which corruption has assumed in Nigeria, adding that carrying out such reforms requires integrity.
As soon as Ribadu moved towards to Diezani Allison-Madueke, the petroleum resources minister, to present the report, an apparently uncomfortable Oronsaye, who served as deputy chairman to the committee, raised up his hand like a schoolboy in a classroom, to signify his intention to say something. But it was after Ribadu had handed over a copy of the report to the minister, that the President recognised Oronsaye, who had then become so desperate to speak. With subdued anger, Orosanye alleged that the process leading to the production of the report was flawed. He claimed, it did not pass through due process. This jolted everybody. The position of Oronsaye was supported by Ben Oti, another member of the committee.
Though infuriated by Oronsaye and Oti’s position, Ribadu calmly said Oronsaye, “never participated even (for) one day in the deliberations of this committee”. He then added a caveat: “During the work of the committee, Oronsaye got himself appointed on the board of the NNPC. The other gentleman, Oti, became the Director of Finance of NNPC, and they decided to, more or less, bully everybody to take over. And they wanted us to write for them, but the Committee members refused.” Ribadu added, “Steve (Oronsaye) has not been in the country. He flew in this morning for him to come and do this and I think our president deserves more respect than what you have done now.”
Ribadu’s position was corroborated by Samaila Subairu, the acting secretary of the committee and Ignatius Adegunle, another member. Subairu said the report was, indeed, the product of a joint effort of all members. Like Ribadu, he accused Oronsaye of staying away from most of the committee’s meetings. On his part, Adegunle said he was of the view that the forum was not the proper place for the issues canvassed by Oronsaye.
‘Oronsaye and his clique who have served their fatherland for more than 30 years should now take a back seat and allow those who are more vibrant, focused and result-oriented to take the centre-stage in piloting the affairs of this nation’
However, what is clear from the melodrama between Ribadu and Oronsaye is that many people entrusted with sensitive national assignments have always found it difficult to separate personal emotions and self-preservation from such assignments. Or how does one explain the fact that it was during this type of assignment that Oronsaye and Oti came on the board of NNPC, a department that was under probe.
I was quite astonishing viewing the video clips especially where Oronsaye repeatedly kept on hollering “the President said you should submit, and so what!”, with all the emphasis heaped on “so what!” That statement was contemptuous of the office of the president. Whichever way it is viewed, it shows lack of reverence for that office. What Oronsaye actually meant was that Ribadu and other committee members should have ignored the President’s directive. Perhaps, it was when this dawned on him, that he made spirited efforts to explain his “so what” just immediately after he said so repeatedly.
A consummate civil servant that he is, a man who once sat at the pinnacle of the nation’s civil service rule as it relates to such an issue, Oronsaye should not, and he cannot, simply interrupt the submission of the report the way he did it. If at all he had any reservation, since he has access to either the minister or the president himself, he could have sought appointment with the president and voice out his resentment. This way, that show of shame he exhibited under television klieg lights would have been avoided. After all in the civil service, you can only communicate by writing not by engaging in reckless vituperation right in the presence of your superiors, not to talk of exhibiting such gross misdemeanor right before the President. If such a scene had enacted itself in the presence of the man who appointed Oronsaye head of service during his tenure as president, I am sure he would have dressed him down and reprimand him for his ‘bad behaviour’.
The lesson from this is that Oronsaye and his cliques who have served their fatherland for more than 30 years should now take a back seat and allow those who are more vibrant, focused and result-oriented to take the centre-stage in piloting the affairs of this nation. Nigerians can no longer be bogged down by those who prefer to operate under archaic bureaucratic redtapism.
All these appointments here and there, including even that of NNPC, which Ribadu said should have necessitated Oronsaye’s resignation from the committee in order to avoid being compromised, are no longer for spent bullets like him. Resignation would have been the most honourable thing for him to do rather than constitute a public nuisance. The same thing applies to Oti, his comrade in disgrace.
With what the whole nation witnessed last Friday, Oronsaye need not be told any longer that he seems to have over-stayed his welcome in national affairs. The only option left for him at this moment is to devote his time to his community’s affairs back in Edo State, where his wealth of experience in the public service can make a whole lot of difference. I believe there are many things waiting for attention in Oronsaye’s community – youth counselling, community development, chieftaincy matters, settling matrimonial squabble and all that. It is time for him to retire from active public life and assume a father-figure. That it is why he should go home!