…not a single public official has been sacked or has gone to jail for scandals at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), and the Federal Ministry of Finance, despite several reports factually stating that billions of dollars went missing in subsidy scams…
Government is inherently incompetent, and no matter what task it is assigned, it will do it in the most expensive and inefficient way possible. – Charlie Reese
The media space is currently inundated with stories of how China donated some tons of rice worth a few million dollars to Nigeria for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and food insecure people in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States of about 4.4 million people. With our usual reactionary nature, different stakeholders are calling for the investigation of what went wrong concerning the non-delivery of the food items because a report by the House Committee indicated that about N800 million was incurred as demurrage costs on these at the ports.
Procedurally, before another country engages in any form of transaction of such nature, the normal process would, probably, involve the Nigerian ambassador to China, who would inform Nigeria of the gesture to be received, or the Chinese ambassador to Nigeria would notify the Nigerian government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the matter. Either way, the problem that usually ensues is that within the process, letters would be ‘missing’, while lots of unreturned phone calls and unreplied letters would occur. Coupled with the culture of unproductive bureaucracy, egos and palms would have to be massaged on official matters, and most likely, tribal, political and religious considerations would still affect the decision-making process. With the paperwork done in nothing less than six months, the actual activity may begin to take place.
From the report of the House Committee, about 6,779 metric tons of rice was donated by the Chinese government and shipped to Nigeria in June 2017. That translates to about 271 trailers or approximately 162,696 bags of rice. The Ministries of Agriculture; of Finance, Budget & National Planning; and National Emergency Management Authority were charged with the different responsibilities of receiving, clearing, storage, transportation and distribution of the consignments to the IDPs in the North-East. Those are four fully tax-payer funded federal government agencies. However, till date, the report states that there is no evidence that a single bag of rice has been delivered to any community within Apapa, not to speak of the North-East.
The reason for the non-delivery is primarily because the rice has not been cleared from the Ports! This is despite the efforts of the Chinese government, which entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with all the parties listed above and had duly notified them on the date of arrival of the consignment. The MoU has adequate information and indicates the role each agency is supposed to play and the expected day that the ship would berth in Lagos. The Ministry of Budget and National Planning was to provide the funding for the clearing, transportation, handling and logistic charges involved in the shipped rice consignment, as agreed in the MoU signed by the government agencies. The Ministry of Agriculture was responsible for providing silos for the storage of the rice. The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) was saddled with the responsibility of delivering the consignments to different designated silos and to distribute all the tons of the Chinese rice to the IDPs within states in the North-East that have been affected by insurgent activities.
With time elapsing, the Chinese made the effort to notify the Ministry of Budget and National Planning that the rice could not be evacuated for over a year at the seaport, despite an import waiver that was obtained from Ministry of Finance, informing them of the delay in clearing the items.
For the Nigerian public service, who pays for inefficiencies? Are chief executive officers of public institutions given deliverables by which their performances are measured, or are they merely given appointment letters, without expectations being required of them? What exactly does the president demand at the recruitment of his ministers and appointees?
The monetary value of producing a bag of rice in China is at least $10. Multiplying that by 162,696 may have cost the Chinese at least $1,626,960, which is about N591 million. This excludes bagging, logistics and other payments incurred. Our government paid N800 million as demurrage to APM terminal and Maersk Line for the consignment, due to delays arising from the inability to and negligence in clearing goods of less than or about the same amount! This is just the economic inefficiency of the matter. Apart from the decadence of the whole activity, there is, as usual, the corruption angle. APM Terminal provided invoices on the demurrage, showing payment by the Ministry of Agriculture, but NEMA testified that it made the payment. NEMA could not, however, provide before the Committee with evidence of payment to APM terminal, yet the amount paid is reflected in their books.
By Nigerian standards of decadence, this is not surprising. It’s nothing new. What is appaling is that nothing is likely going to come out of it. Now, that is something to worry about. We have, over several decades, developed a culture of setting the bar so low for governance. When we write examinations in school, there is consequence for not reading and failing. You repeat the course or get withdrawn. When deposit money banks set targets for their staff in sourcing for funds from possible and impossible sources, goals are met, and penalties are incurred by those who fail to meet up on time. Even in gangs and criminal groups, there are penalties for not being evil enough. Armed robbers and kidnappers that are weak during operations are disengaged from their groups.
For the Nigerian public service, who pays for inefficiencies? Are chief executive officers of public institutions given deliverables by which their performances are measured, or are they merely given appointment letters, without expectations being required of them? What exactly does the president demand at the recruitment of his ministers and appointees? What do governors demand from their commissioners? What do heads of parastatals require of their department heads? What do we ordinary citizens demand of our public officers – elected and appointed? Is there an assessment criteria in the public service that measures efficiency and penalties for non-delivery?
We have heard of people being sacked for ‘disloyalty’, whatever that means. But we have not heard of a person resigning or getting fired for failing to prevent a terrorist attack, a financial crisis, mass failure in WAEC or JAMB exams, an increase in smuggling and the trafficking in persons, an escalation in drug abuse, upsurge in rapists and paedophiles, a reduction in the standard of living or the failure to improve infrastructure. Which doctor has been sacked for administering wrong medication as a result of wrong diagnosis? Which teacher has been relieved of his or her duty due to the poor performance of students? For the core civil service, is it only appraisal forms that are used and if so, what is the score and criteria used for all the heads of MDA’s that warrants them to still be in charge?
In saner climes, someone would answer for an increase in a single digit in the interest rate! Heads would roll for every single terrorist attack. There will be consequences for an increase in food prices caused by natural disaster. A few years ago, the head of the equivalent of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) paid the supreme price for being negligent in her duty. Expired baby food was imported that made some babies become sick. Although, none of the babies died, but someone paid heavily for this negligence. Efforts are not rewarded. Results are. Salaries are not supposed to be entitlements. They are supposed to be rewards for effective services rendered.
Which law enforcement agency has been held responsible or someone take responsibility for the level of insecurity that has made most roads unpassable due to the fear of kidnappers and robbers? Who is going to loose his job for all the rape and human trafficking cases that have bedevilled the country?
What performance reports do ministers and heads of agencies send to the president and what does the president do when these heads have not met their targets? This, of course, is assuming that goals and objectives were set in the first place! For the States, which are mostly run like fiefdoms, with no consequences from citizens, what do commissioners send at the end of the year to evaluate their performances?
One of the saddest things to hear on the news is a governor boasting about not owing salaries! Salaries?! I am yet to understand the work that entails, in sitting down in a public funded government house, waiting for releases from the federation account at the end of the month and simply allocating the incoming resources on the basis of caprices. Which secondary school leaver with three credits can’t do that? A glitch in international oil prices and kaboom, some states can’t pay salaries. We often see the commisioning of a secretariat or new vehicles for commissioners with fanfare. They are advertised as dividends of democracy.
Lest we forget, not a single public official has been sacked or has gone to jail for scandals at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), and the Federal Ministry of Finance, despite several reports factually stating that billions of dollars went missing in subsidy scams in the last ten years in the petroleum sector. No Police, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) official has been sanctioned for inability to ensure that those who steal the commonwealth have been effectively prosecuted. What you have are a bunch of unfortunate oil marketers being toyed around the Courts as if they could have acted in isolation. The cycle of decadence whirls round and around.
Which law enforcement agency has been held responsible or someone take responsibility for the level of insecurity that has made most roads unpassable due to the fear of kidnappers and robbers? Who is going to loose his job for all the rape and human trafficking cases that have bedevilled the country? The usual slang is “the perpetrators will be brought to book”. What about the officers that allowed the perpetration in the first place? Who was responsible for allowing the rice to remain uncleared for over a year? Or are the basis for loosing jobs based on subservience to whom or who facilitated the appointment?
Since we love to throw money at every problem, maybe its time to form a ‘high-powered committee’, comprised of spoon-fed civil servants that would look at the possibility of establishing an ‘Efficiency Agency’. For now, not a single staff will miss his salary or travel allowance in all the four ministries that are involved in the rice saga. No one will pay for the inefficiencies of the past and then when pretend and act surprised when things don’t seem to work!
Umar Yakubu is of the Counter-Fraud Centre.