Petroleum Resources Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, today brushed aside calls by anti-corruption activists and opposition politicians for her to step aside to allow for unfettered probe of some agencies in the petroleum industry said to be riddled with monumental corruption.
The Minister, who was speaking during the inauguration of the special task force on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), said the calls on her to step down did not bother her because it was one of those sacrifices she had to make for holding public office.
The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) had asked President Goodluck Jonathan to fire Mrs. Alison-Madueke, to allow for proper investigation of the oil industry, arguing that her continued stay in office while the probe lasts would not only impede proper investigation, but would also put to question the commitment of the government to fight corruption in the petroleum industry.
Similarly, Executive Director of the Benin City-based civil society group, Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), David Ugolor, said the Minister should not be allowed to play a pivotal role in the probe as this would amount to her being “a judge in her own case”.
But, Mrs. Alison-Madueke, who claimed not to have heard many of such calls for her to step down, dismissed them as the right of citizens to express their views in a democracy.
“Let me say for the record that we all live in a democratic country where everyone has an opportunity to speak their mind, both for and against any individual, particularly those who put themselves up for public office,” she said.
“I think all of us who put ourselves up for public office should be very open to criticism, without which we cannot actually grow,” the minister said. “If we fight it, instead of taking it in the best possible way, and using it to better and further our positions and our place in government, then we would have missed the point of being in public office.”
On the task force, the minister said it became necessary to have industry professionals and technocrats come together to redefine and finetune the provisions of the draft bill that missed passage in the sixth National Assembly for speedy passage by the current National Assembly.
She said the task force would help review the provisions of the draft law, with particular emphasis on certain sections that are critical to the strategic interest of government in initiating the PIB, in view of the many versions of the draft law that were in circulation at the time the last assembly ended.
“We need to get it right once and for all,” Mrs Alison-Madueke said. “The law has been there for more than 50 years. The committee needs to finetune and redefine the provisions as well as ensure that it is speedily passed by the National Assembly, because it is a critical Bill that would enhance the capacity of the entire oil and gas industry to enrich the country’s economy for the good of all Nigerians.”
The task force is made up of some former members of the National Assembly, with Udoma Udo Udoma as Chairman. Former Senator Tunde Ogbeha, for House deputy speaker, Chibodom Nwuche, Emmanuel Agboji, Alhaji Gumal, Habib Fashiro, and President General, Trade Union Congress (TUC) Nigeria, Peter Esele, are members.
The task force would work alongside a technical sub-committee and the office of the Minister of Petroleum Resources with the mandate to review all versions of the draft Bill and produce a draft copy for presentation to the National Assembly within 30 working days as well as liaise with the lawmakers to facilitate a quick passage of the PIB into law
The technical committee chaired by Austin Olorunshola, director, Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), has former legal Secretary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Senan Anthony, Umar Gana, George Osahon, ID Waziri, Victor Briggs, Francis Adigiwe, Victor Onyegba, Seyi Peterside, Hillary Nwokoko, and representatives of the Ministries of Finance, Justice as well as Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) as members.
On whether the task force is not another opportunity to create job for the boys, considering the enormous effort the Oil and Gas Sector Reform Implementation Committee (OGIC) put into the production of the draft bill, Mrs. Alison Madueke described such insinuations as unfair.
“You have seen that the committee is made up of highly respected members of both the Senate and the House, who are now private people, doing very well in their various walks of life as well as the caliber of professionals on the technical committee. I will refrain from using such a term as ‘job for the boys’, because there are no boys here, or girls for that matter,” she said.