Why is it that in Nigeria, we serially mismanage institutions and projects, allow them to fall into disuse and lie fallow, only for us to come back after many decades and ceremoniously try to revive them, at great cost to the public till?
Last week, Minister of Works and Housing Babatunde Raji Fashola restated the Federal Government’s controversial plans to rebuild toll plazas on federal highways. We had man toll gates on federal highways before January 2004, when President Olusegun Obasanjo unceremoniously ordered the Federal Controllers of Works to move in with bulldozers and demolish them. Obj accused the toll gates of providing only N800m annually to the public till and said a new road maintenance tax, which he incorporated into a fuel price hike, would fetch N4 billion instead. NLC mass action however thwarted that increase after the toll gates had been demolished. Government ended up losing even the N800m. After 15 years, Fashola wants to reinstate the toll gates. Who will pay us for the demolished ones?
A prominent story in the newspapers at the weekend had the federal and Lagos State governments hand over the National Theatre, Iganmu to Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele who in turn handed it over to Access Bank managing director Herbert Wigwe for immediate revival. The idea, Emefiele said, is to revive the iconic 30-hectatre facility with a hub for fashion, movies, IT and entertainment. National Theatre had been on a downward slide since 1977, when it served as a major venue for FESTAC events. It arrived at its sorriest state in recent years. Just when it could fall apart no further, bankers are coming forth to revive it.
Also this weekend, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Mohammed Sabo Nanono was reported to have pledged in Zaria that Federal Government would revamp the Ahmadu Bello University’s [ABU] three old agricultural institutions. They are some of the oldest agricultural research institutions around, dating back to the Samaru Agricultural Station that the British established in 1922. We left them to falter and wither, and now we want to revamp them.
Yet another once great institution, Administrative Staff College of Nigeria [ASCON] at Badagry, is also about to be revived after being run aground. In August this year, the then Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, set up an 11-man technical committee to revitalise ASCON. She “expressed concerns over the present status of the college” and said the idea was to “revamp the college and restore it to its original status as the numero uno management training institution in Nigeria.”
The committee’s terms of reference indicated how far ASCON has sunk. They include: “revisiting the issue of the directors who are pursuing judicial options and seek justifiable administrative solutions to their grievances; reviewing the Act establishing ASCON with a view to proposing an amendment in line with current realities; proposing an enhanced revenue generation framework for the College and the judicious management of the funds; reviewing the entire human resource architecture of the college, including recruitment, career progression, training, succession planning, linkages and staff welfare and planning a retreat for top management and board of ASCON to review the vision, mission and programmes, in order to reposition the college to contemporary international standard.” So much for the country’s premier institution for training administrators.
Next in the queue of Nigeria’s kill and revive are the oil refineries. Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation’s (NNPC) new Group Managing Director Mele Kyari recently announced that full rehabilitation of its four refineries in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna will commence in January next year. He said, “We will deliver this project by 2022. We will commence actual rehabilitation work in January next year. We will do everything possible between October and December this year to close out all necessary conditions for us to deliver on the project.”
Mele Kyari should forgive Nigerians if they greet his pledge with a yawn. For more than 30 years, NNPC’s refineries operated at sub-optimal levels, regularly broke down, underwent many rounds of costly but unsuccessful turn-around maintenance, and finally ground to a halt. All these cost this country trillions of naira in fuel import bills, fraudulent subsidy payments and unfathomable amounts in “under recovery.” It will be a miracle if the combined political, business, technical, bureaucratic, banking and criminal forces that conspired over several decades to foist this situation on Nigeria will suddenly give way and allow the refineries to bounce back.
Yet another Nigerian kill and revive is the awaited return of coins and lower denomination notes into the national economy. Two years ago, the Senate launched a probe into the scarcity of lower denomination notes as well as the disappearance of coins. It asked CBN to take steps to bring them back. Senate also demanded that N5, N10, N20, N50, N100 and N200 should bounce back as coins instead of paper notes. The question to ask is, why did CBN stand akimbo for three decades when the coins that we once used to buy sweets and groundnuts vanished, shortly followed by lower denomination notes? Cashless policy cannot answer this question; will girl child groundnut hawkers carry POS machines around?
Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika is determined to revive another dead ogre, Nigeria Airways. He said last month that the plan to re-establish a national carrier for Nigeria was still being pursued vigorously and that transaction advisers for the establishment of Nigeria Air have concluded their studies. We all watched how the Flying Elephant ran aground. Why talk about reviving it at great cost when it is almost certain to fail again?
Three years ago, stories arising from a National Economic Council retreat indicated that the Nigeria Agricultural Land Development Authority [NALDA], which was created by the Babangida regime in the 1980s and then allowed to die, was to be revived again. What kind of thing is this? NALDA had gone about clearing bushes to make way for land to be tilled since government asked people to go back to the farm. For some reason, government winded it up, maybe because it thought young men and women were fleeing from the land instead of returning to it. Now they want to bring back NALDA even though the Steve Oronsaye report said we have too many government agencies.
Two weeks ago, Secretary to the Government of the Federation Boss Mustapha received the committee report on the implementation strategies for strengthening internal security framework and community policing in Nigeria. In receiving the report, Mustapha mentioned “terrorists, kidnappers, bandits, militants,” the apparent factors that drove government to reconsider the idea of community policing. He told the committee, chaired by Permanent Secretary, Special Services Office Dr. Amina Shamaki, “The outcome of your recommendations would enthrone a paradigm shift that will focus on Community Policing, re-orientation of citizens and building a sustainable conflict resolution process that would assist in solving the perennial security challenges in the country.”
Yet another case of kill and revive. Fifty years ago, this country was effectively policed by the Native Authority police, what we called Yan Doka. Overnight the federal government abolished them and replaced them with a federal police. When our security problems worsened instead of improving after five decades, we are surreptitiously sliding back to the idea of local policing without first apologizing for doing away with the Yan Doka. When community police chase away kidnappers, we will abandon them again.
The government’s biggest revival project right now is the hope of reviving Lake Chad. Fifteen federal administrations since 1960 sat on their hands and dammed its tributaries while Lake Chad shrank to one tenth of its original size. Pray it is not too late.