Joachim MacEbong - Nuhu Ribadu goes back

Nuhu Ribadu is a man that has always divided public opinion. As head of the EFCC, his actions drew different views. You either appreciated what he tried to do given his limitations, or hated him outright. After his removal as EFCC boss and subsequent demotion in the police force, many were jubilant, saying the outcome was his just desserts.

Accepting his appointment as head of the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force has also generated a lot of reaction. Some are disappointed, calling him a ‘sell-out’ for going to serve in an administration he has criticised. Some are happy that he has chosen to serve his country, and prefer to remain hopeful that he can untangle the oil industry to some degree.
Let’s start from the top. Last month, the Jonathan administration lost a lot of popularity and credibility in its handling of the fuel subsidy removal. The justifications for the removal of the subsidy were insufficient, and the hearings that followed the protests exposed more incompetence and complicity. No one seems to know how much was spent on subsidy, how much petrol Nigeria consumes in a day, how much crude is exported, among other things. What we witnessed was a buck passing exercise between the Ministries of Finance and Petroleum, Marketers, IOCs, Customs, PPPRA and other agencies. It is a complete mess.
It is that mess that Nuhu Ribadu has been asked to clear up. It is clear that a fresh pair of eyes are needed to try to improve the workings of the oil industry, and make them more transparent. He gives this administration much needed credibility and brings a fresh perspective which, coupled with his experience  at the EFCC, makes him probably the best person to attempt such a task. Having been at the top level of government before, he knows how the game is played and hopefully, he has learnt a number of lessons from last time.
Of course, it could go horribly wrong. Ribadu reports to the Petroleum Minister, who could very well have her own questions to answer. There is also the fact that the committee’s terms of reference are quite similar to the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), which raises issues of duplication, especially at a time when government waste is in focus. In addition, Dora Akunyili, Olusegun Adeniyi, Reuben Abati and others have seen their stock diminish in recent times after joining the government. Mallam Ribadu could end up being just another name on that list. Or not. This administration needs him far more than he needs them, and he must realize this. To be successful - or to at least keep whatever is left of his credibility - he must be prepared to resign if it becomes clear he cannot be effective. Taking the job is not a betrayal in any way. Failing to deliver (or resign), however, will be.
Nigeria needs fundamental change but before it can happen, the ship needs to be kept afloat in the meantime. If there is even the slimmest chance that the petroleum industry and fuel subsidy regime can be made that a little more transparent and straightforward, then that chance should be taken.
Failure by successive governments, each one greater than the last, has made a lot of people highly cynical. This is understandable, but we must take care that cynicism does not consume us. Regardless of how anyone feels, the truth is a government that works is in all our best interests, but that won’t happen if good people stay out. The danger inherent in letting the worst of us continue to take important decisions on our behalf should be apparent by now.
In the quest for a better nation, some will find that their calling is to create jobs, some will go into government, some will prefer to stay out of government to keep it accountable, and so on. Everyone has a role to play. I have begun to imagine the Nigerian government as a giant castle with high walls, with the citizens massed at the doors, trying to get in. To get inside the castle and take it back from the impostors who inhabit it, allies on the inside are necessary to open the doors and let the people in.
In his statement accepting the appointment, Ribadu said: ‘This therefore is a national call.  In answering it, I go back to the template of my own parents who taught me that honest public service is the greatest asset a person can offer his community’. That is the path he has chosen, and I for one wish him well on it for his sake, and for Nigeria.
By Joachim MacEbong

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