In the days when each Nigerian university had enough money to publish a bulky annual “prospectus” which outlined in great detail its academic programs and staff members, a copy was often made available to every student and staff member. One part of the prospectus that fascinated me in those days was the number and composition of university Council and Senate committees. There were enough of them to fill a lecture theatre.
In addition to the Visitor, Chancellor, Pro-Chancellor, Vice Chancellor and Deputy Vice Chancellors, each Nigerian university also has a Council, Senate, Congregation, Convocation, Body of Principal Officers, Committee of Deans, Faculty Boards, Departmental Meetings, as well as committees on Establishments, Academic Planning, Finance and General Purpose, Minor Works, Space and Time Table, Examinations, Ceremonies, Faculty Seminars, Research and Publications, Library, University Bookshop, University Press, Health Services, Security, Students Welfare, University Farm and Disciplinary Committee, to mention but a few.
Looks like one former university lecturer is determined to import this arrangement into the Executive Branch. The Constitution of the Federal Republic 1999 provided enough offices and institutions to kill a horse. They include President, Vice President, Senate President, Speaker, Chief Justice, judges, senators, Representatives, Governors, Deputy Governors, Secretary to the Government, Head of Service, Attorney General, ministers, service chiefs, inspector general, special advisers, auditor general, special assistants, ambassadors, commission chairmen and members, State Speaker, state assembly members, Local Government Chairmen, councillors and civil servants. It even found time to mention media houses, although it entirely forgot to mention traditional rulers, a mental lapse on its part.
Now, even though the Constitution refused to outline all of them, the Federal Government went ahead and created 28 ministries and 465 parastatals and agencies with an estimated 2 million staffers. This is a very small number, if you remember that the old Soviet Union had more than 100 ministries, including the Ministry of Building of Military and Naval Enterprises, Ministry of Agricultural Engineering, Ministry of Construction of Heavy Industry, Ministry of General Machine Building, Ministry of Special Construction and Assembly Works and Ministry of Electrotechnical Industry and Instrument.
Wistfully angling for the Soviet model, the Presidency here has apparently decided that this country’s nearly 500 MDAs are either not enough, have achieved nothing, are incapable of achieving anything, cannot be trusted to achieve anything or all of the above. It has therefore decided to run this country through the agency of committees.
Last week alone, the Federal Government rolled out two high-profile committees, each with a puzzling mandate. One, called Petrol Revenue Special Task Force, is headed by former ACN presidential candidate Nuhu Ribadu. The other, called National Refineries Special Task Force is headed by former Finance Minister Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu.
What work are these committees supposed to do that no one is doing right now? That is to say, how many agencies and committees are required to repair a refinery? Already, each of this country’s four oil refineries has a management, which is supervised by NNPC, itself supervised by Ministry of Petroleum, which is in turn supervised by the Presidency, which has a Special Adviser on Petroleum. To boot, six committees of the National Assembly exercise oversight functions over them all, which are in turn answerable to the Senate and House, with the Ministry of Works and a myriad of consultants ready to provide technical assistance.
Now, if all that layer of technicians, managers and politicians cannot repair a refinery, I suspect that one telephone call to Chiyoda Corporation can do it. In the late 1970s, when this medium-size Japanese firm was building the Kaduna refinery, it placed one memorable ad in TIME magazine. It said, “Chiyoda has just built Nigeria’s third and largest refinery. To do so, we had to move 600,000 tons of equipment from Lagos to Kaduna in central Nigeria. To do that, we had to move hundreds of power lines, reinforce several bridges in advance, widen some roads, and we completed the project in time.” Why can’t we just recall these people? They will probably clear away Boko Haram before they get down to work.
If Chiyoda cannot do it, perhaps we could try Hyundai. This big South Korean company once put out an ad in TIME magazine which boasted, “Rome was not built in a day, because Hyundai was not there.”
Anyway, the two committees formed last week add to an impressive list of earlier ones created by the Jonathan Administration. They include the T.Y. Danjuma Presidential Advisory Committee; the Ambassador Galtimari Presidential Committee on Insecurity in the North East; the Sheikh Lemu panel on Post-Election Violence; the Justice Belgore panel to review past recommendations on constitutional review; another Justice Belgore committee to negotiate with Labour on fuel prices; the Steven Oronsaye Committee on the Restructuring of Government Agencies and Parastatals, as well as the presidential panels on Power Sector Projects and on Almajirai, each chaired by Vice President Namadi Sambo.
With luck, some of these committees could join the ranks of the greatest committees and commissions in Nigeria’s history. These include the great Civil Service Review Commissions of the 1970s [“Adebo’ and “Udoji’]; Justice Bello commission on the 1970 Langalanga train disaster; another Justice Bello investigation panel into the January 1973 Kano plane crash; the 1975 Justice Irikife panel on state creation; the 1975 Justice Aguda panel on relocating the Federal Capital; Colonel Pedro Martins committee to review the great purge of 1975-76; Justice Usman Mohamed Commission on the 1978 Ali Must Go riots; General Abisoye panel on the 1986 Ango Must Go riots; the 1980 Justice Aniagolu Commission on the Maitatsine riots; the 1980 Presidential Commission to determine the nationality of Shugaba Darman; and the 2001 Justice Oputa panel on abuse of human rights.
I do not therefore intend this morning to be an old drag, sneering from the sidelines at the great idea of running this country through committees. In fact, I want to urge President Jonathan to immediately set up six more committees to tackle problems as intractable as repair of refineries.
We need a Presidential Commission on ASUU strikes. At least, it should find out the last time that lecturers at Harvard University and the Oxbridge colleges went on strike, maybe well before the Industrial Revolution. We also need a Presidential Committee on Curbing Incessant Election Court Cases. Despite the constitutional amendment to limit the time period for determining election cases, politicians and the judges have found new ways to circumvent them. We need a Presidential Panel on Preventing the Escape of High Value Suspects, as well as another Presidential Committee to Ensure that Presidential Committees Do Their Work.
Jokes apart, Nigeria urgently needs a Presidential Panel to Dust Up Committee Reports. There are now several hundred reports of administrative committees, judicial commissions, visitation panels, technical committees etc at various levels of government, all crying out for white papers.
In the last four decades, a judicial commission of inquiry, fact finding mission, administrative panel or orderly room trial had been ordered by government after every student riot, every communal clash, every plane crash, every financial scandal, every collapsed building, every election crisis, every flood or dam collapse, every jail break and every fertilizer diversion. Most of them never had any white papers issued for them. For the ones lucky enough to get white papers, these were either never implemented or they subsequently had committees set up to review them.
What do you do in this situation? In the 1980s, one Latin American nation created a Ministry of De-Bureaucratisation to streamline its many ministries. The time is already here for the Federal Government to set up a Presidential Committee on the Streamlining of Presidential Committees.
Why is it that so many ministries, agencies, task forces and committees fail to achieve their purpose and the Presidency keeps setting up new ones? When the American humorist Mark Twain heard that a divorcee had remarried, he said, “That is the triumph of hope over experience!”