Ribadu Oil Panel: Of Oronsaye, Otti and the service of God and mammon, By Adeolu Ademoyo

Adeolu Ademoyo

As I returned from a weekend Nigerian event here in the US, I got a call.  The caller called my attention to (i) our February essay  “Ribadu And The Metaphor Of a Moral Call” and (ii) the submission of the Ribadu Panel report. The caller is a patriotic Nigerian. From day One, the caller and I took different positions on whether Ribadu should accept the task from President Jonathan. I said Ribadu should, the caller then disagreed. Like all Nigerians, we waited with bated breadth for the outcome of the work of the Ribadu panel. In that essay, from a moral point, I defended why Ribadu ought to serve Nigerians by accepting President Jonathan’s call.

With the submission of the report and Messers Oronsaye and Otti’s outbursts, the caller wanted me to see why unfortunately he was right that Ribadu ought not to have served the country in that capacity. If given Messers Oronsaye and Otti’s outburst and if my caller was right that Ribadu ought not to have accepted the task, was I then wrong to have argued that Ribadu ought to accept to serve the country?  I do not think so. However, then and now, this is the way the moral question is put and will always be put.

I had written at the time: “But this moral question has an indivisible duality to it.  Mr. Ribadu’s historical task is that of a moral agent which serves as: (i) a common resource, which is a universal estate of all Nigerians; and (ii) and the cleansing mechanism of an industry, which is a cesspool of corruption.

A moral agent is a public agent answerable only to the public even if the “enabling factor” for its emergence is a morally corrupt government such as Mr. Goodluck Jonathan’s government.  We have good examples in the history of our country to illustrate these “moral calls” on some of our uniquely placed compatriots with strong moral talents and virtues. Dr. Tai Solarin’s work as the head of Nigeria’s public complaints commission is just one example.

Invariably, moral talents such as Mr. Ribadu are always caught in the dilemma of either keeping their talents to themselves, privatize such talents, or putting them at the service of the people. The problem with our country is that moral talents live paradoxical lives because they are constantly faced with the moral challenge to serve or not to serve; and tragically, Nigeria has never had the good fortune of the correct enabling factor of governance to harvest all the moral talents that abound, and make them work for the public good.” (PREMIUM TIMES, February 12, 2012).

I place this defence before readers, and I invite them to fault on basis of reason my defence that Ribadu should serve.  I believe that my defense was right then and now. But I concede that I failed to anticipate Messers Stephen Oronsaye and Bon Otti immorality and their service of Mammon.

Let us pretend that similar attempts at investigating oil subsidy which led to the  “Farouk Lawan /Otedola” stalemate does not exist.  Please I am not drawing a complete analogy here  because Farouk Lawan is not a moral analogy of Ribadu even when Otedola (in Farouk Lawan case)  is a moral analogy of  Stephen Oronsaye and Bon Otti   (in Ribadu case).  So let us cover our eyes and pretend that the two cases are different.

Since the need to be faithful to facts is crucial in this season, I will present what the panel members say in their own words. Mr. Stephen Oronsaye and  Mr. Ben Oti  argued against the submission of the Ribadu report as it is on procedural ground  because according to them the “process” at arriving at the report is “faulty”. Mr. Oronsaye said: “No matter how elegant a house may be, if it is built on faulty foundation it will collapse…” Suppose Mr. Oronsaye  had told Nigerians all the truth and facts in his assertions, his objection is therefore not about the content of the report but about the process of arriving at the content-a content Oronsaye had described as “harsh”.

A member of the panel countered Mr. Oronsaye and said while members sent their views on the report to be submitted and  a timeline was set, Messers Oronsaye and Otti did not  send their views.

Mr. Ribadu, the panel chairman observed that though the panel worked for about 90 days, Mr. Oronsaye  was consistently absent for and from he panel’s  work. Mr. Oronsaye attended ONLY ONE MEETING. Though impossible, but suppose the only ONE DAY meeting Mr. Oronsaye attended lasted for  fifteen hours, it means Mr. Oronsaye who is the deputy chair of the panel  WORKED FOR ONLY FIFTEEN HOURS  out of 90   WORKDAYS OF THE PANEL.

Mr. Ribadu asserted further that the panel was set up as “an outside of industry panel” . My understanding of this feature of the panel is  that it is conceived as an  “outside of industry panel” to fulfill a basic test of moral objectivity in its work. But Mr. Ribadu observed that during the time the panel started working, Mr. Oronsaye became a member of he NNPC board, and Mr. Bon Otti became the Chief Director of Finance of NNPC.  NNPC is one of the units the Ribadu panel is supposed to investigate.

In view of these stated facts the following is the moral question. Even if Messers Oronsanye and Otti are right about process, should they have continued to be members of the Ribadu panel after they became officials of NNPC –one of the units under investigation? Shouldn’t they have refused the NNPC jobs or resign honourably from the Ribadu panel?  In an ethical situation, the claim of an agent is   irredeemably flawed if there is a conflict of interest.  And there is one in the case of Messers Oronsaye and Otti.

A moral conflict of interest is a higher moral question than Oronsaye’s “process”. Or paradoxically, it is not impossible that Mr. Oronsaye was actually referring to himself and Mr. Otti’s NNPC jobs when he talked about a “flawed process” and a “fault” for he ought to know that he and Mr. Otti have compromised themselves on the Ribadu panel by taking the NNPC jobs. In other words, Mr. Oronsaye was being autobiographical in his so-called questioning of the panel. Given their moral conflict of interest, Messers Oronsaye and Otti are actually the flawed moral process and fault line Mr. Oronsaye referred to.  The problem is that they refused to resign because hey had an immoral and dubious job to do as plants in the panel.

Beside the fact that Mr. Oronsaye worked for less than a day on a task that lasted for  about 90 days, there is an avoidable conflict of interest in his and Mr. Bon Otti’s continuous participation in the Ribadu panel.  These two men refused to resolve that moral conflict of interest. They waited as “members” of the panel until the day of submission to raise a “procedural issue”. Messers Oronsaye and Otti’s continuous membership of the panel and their morally dishonest “outburst” is analogous to  a rapist being asked to investigate his own act of rape!

In the Diaspora, one’s family  is one’s first Nigerian community. My family and I listened to the tape and the  assertions of some members of the  panel. After we finished listening to this tape on PREMIUM TIMES, my eldest child looked at me straight in the eyes  in the American style  straight talk and immediately  took his eyes away in  deference to the African moral code of “ as a child you do not look your elders in the face even when you are right”. But he asked “Papa, you said we should love Nigeria, yes we will, but who is Mr. Oronsaye?”

This is my son. I am his father. I am African. I am Nigerian, yet I could  not look my son straight in the face for my face dropped embarrassingly at what we so-called fathers and adults do to our children by being morally fraudulent right before our children. I felt ashamed about the  intense and sickening immorality in what  this men who are parents too, these fathers  called Messers Oronsaye  and Otti had done to our children. Mr. Oronsaye worked for less than a day on a task of 90 days and he talked about “a procedural issue”!.  Messers Oronsaye and Otti were appointed as members of a “Ribadu outside the industry”   independent panel  to ensure moral objectivity, Messers Oronsaye and Otti went to mammon to eat, they went into the same industry to take jobs during the lifetime of the panel.

On the basis of these I make the following assertions. I own this opinion, it is mine and I free the PREMIUM TIMES from any prosecution. I am putting myself on the line for Messers Oronsaye and Otti to take me to court for defamation.  In the name of our heroes dead and living who beckon us to say the truth to help our dear country, I say that Messers Oronsaye and Otti are a public disgrace to Nigeria and Nigerian children. They are the moral fault line who were deliberately planted in the Ribadu panel to attempt to ‘rubbish” the panel’s work after the fact.  They are the Otedola in the Ribadu panel. They have lost the respect of at least one Nigerian child. They are beneath contempt for they are pieces of worthless rags. They do not deserve to serve in any capacity in any Nigerian institution.

I challenge Messers Oronsaye and Otti to take me to court for public defamation.  My son and I will be in Lagos or Abuja or any Nigerian court  at cost to myself – in other words at no cost to anyone except myself. The only condition I will ask of the court is that the court allows me to publicly point Messers Oronsaye and Otti to my son. My son had asked who these men are. I want my son to know face to face those who continue to destroy and desecrate our dear country and the future of our youths. These  disgraceful and  morally questionable characters are also free to bring their children to court.

Adeolu Ademoyo (aaa54@cornell.edu) is of  Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca New York.

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