The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) has accused the federal government of deliberately sabotaging the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force headed by Mr. Nuhu Ribadu through the controversy that marred the presentation of the task force's report last Friday.
In a statement issued in Lagos yesterday by its national publicity secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said the decision to appoint two members of the committee, Mr. Steve Oronsaye and Mr. Bernard Otti, to positions in the NNPC while the task force was still working on its assignment was a deliberate booby trap.
It said if the federal government did not have any ulterior motive, it would have waited for the task force to complete its assignment before naming Mr. Oronsaye into the board of the NNPC and Otti as the director of finance of the same body.
"Alternatively, both men should have resigned their membership of the committee the moment they were given the plum jobs to avoid the apparent conflict of interest. The fact that they stayed on, only to disparage the report of the task force so openly and ferociously at the end, is the clearest indication yet that they were meant to play that exact role of spoilers," ACN said.
The party said the temerity with which the duo sought to denigrate the report of the task force in the presence of the president of the Federal Republic showed that they must have been acting a well-prepared script.
"All that these two men needed to have done, if indeed they did not agree with the report of the task force, was to write a minority report and present such to the president, instead of engaging in theatrics as they did at the presentation, right in front of the whole world.
"Unfortunately, the president's efforts to downplay the whole disagreement and give the dissenters a soft landing did more to accentuate the damage done to the report by the two men. The president's statement that becoming board members of NNPC did not disqualify them from being members of the task force is an indication of his innermost thoughts on this issue," the party said.
ACN said it was not surprised at how things turned out with the task force, having previously warned, in a statement it issued on February 8, 2012, that naming credible people like Mr. Nuhu Ribadu to head the task force might just be part of the government's ploy to poach credible personalities from the opposition just so it can decimate it (opposition) and also tarnish the well-earned credibility of such personalities.
"Among our observations in that press statement, we had said: 'There is also the possibility that booby-traps will be deliberately set for such credible personalities to guarantee their failure in their stated assignment, after which they will be ridiculed and dumped like an ordinary chump'. We hate to say our fears have been justified."
It reiterated its earlier statement that the federal government is not interested in any genuine effort to clean up the corruption and mess in the oil sector, and that it is merely engaging in window dressing by setting up committees upon committees whose outcomes will eventually add to the growing list of reports that are now gathering dust at the presidency.
No comment - NNPC
However, when LEADERSHIP contacted the acting spokesman of the NNPC, Mr. Fidel Pepple, to react to the allegation, he said he could not comment on the matter as the NNPC does not appoint directors to the NNPC Board.
"NNPC does not appoint directors; government does. So I can't react to it," Pepple said.
It's all lies - Presidency
In a reaction, the presidency yesterday described the allegation as falling into the party's familiar pattern of availing itself of every opportunity to insult President Jonathan.
"Nothing can be farther from the truth. The statement falls into a familiar pattern by the party and its lying Lai, to seek every opportunity to insult President Goodluck Jonathan, as they write glibly about what they call 'the President's efforts to downplay the whole disagreement and give the dissenters a soft landing', and the President's 'innermost thoughts on this issue'," special adviser to the president on media and publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati , wrote in a statement yesterday night.
He implored the ACN to "desist from looking for faults where none exists, in the expectation that if they tell the same lies long enough, more gullible persons will be persuaded to trust them".
The presidency, Abati noted, "deplores the attempt by both the ACN to accuse it of having had a hand in the open dissension among members of the Ribadu committee", adding that "the disagreements during the presentation were as surprising as they were sudden".
Rather than being degraded, the presidential spokesman said, "President Jonathan should be commended for his mature handling of the situation, and not made the target of silly insinuations".
Abati added: "The drama that has been generated around the Petroleum Revenue Task Force Report, one of three reports that were submitted to President Jonathan on Friday, Nov 2, says a lot about the attempt by others to politicize everything possible and seek cheap advantages where they need not do so.
"For the avoidance of doubt, and for the benefit of the naysayers, the committees were set up as fact-finding and advisory bodies, to generate ideas and recommendations about how best to strengthen the oil and gas sector, and to further pursue the objectives of institutional integrity, transparency and accountability.
"President Jonathan remains committed to the war against corruption and every step his administration has taken has been in this direction.
"The ACN claims that Steve Oronsaye and Bernard Otti's membership of the NNPC while serving on the Ribadu committee compromises their position. It is important to note that this committee and other committees had government officials, and ex-staff as members.
"They were not set up as quasi-judicial bodies, but as committees of wise and knowledgeable men and women who would offer useful advice and, in getting such useful advice, there is nothing wrong in encouraging the participation of a broad category of persons including insiders and outsiders."