Long before the publication of The Accidental Public Servant, I had decided to resist joining issues with whatever commentators wrote in response to the book by way of either attacking the author or its contents. It is a narrative of my experiences and views, and I would simply invite others to document theirs. Many of those that commented on, or ‘reviewed’ the book had not even read it in full. Others had decided long before it was published that they would attack El-Rufai and whatever he writes, while a few others were simply going to be unhappy with how they were presented in the book as being less than perfect. When one writes a 700-page book, one has to take a deep breath and allow others the slack to write a few pages in response, however disagreeable or abusive.
When I wrote The Accidental Public Servant, there were no illusions that its account would be uncontested. As I have said repeatedly, it is simply my account of the people and events that defined my years in public service. I took several precautions (such as double-checking from the copious notes and diaries of events that were taken after every major encounter – about forty seven note books in total) of ensuring that it is a truthful, balanced and fair account of my experience. I do not have a professorial memory, so kept daily journals of events including verbatim records of statements. I am delighted that I took the time to write it, and I once again encourage others who have been privileged to be in the public service to similarly record their experiences. Those who may choose not to write books can still contribute by responding to specific issues mentioned in my narrative on which they may have other information, however critical or contrary to my account.
In December last year, the National Assembly Joint Committee on Petroleum (Downstream) asked the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) to justify the N5.7bn budget for overheads and personnel for its staff of 249 for 2012. Out of the N5.7bn, a total of N4.95bn had been released. Analysis of the PPPRA budget further showed that N2.1bn was earmarked for regular allowances, and had been released and utilized even before the end of the fiscal year. What kind of work is the PPPRA doing to justify paying 249 people nearly N6bn in just one year? Why should government pay each staff an average of a lavish N23m annually?
While it is true that the political leadership makes policies, the bureaucracy and agencies of government are tasked with implementing those policies, and in certain instances, also initiate policies in public interest. Considering the poor level of implementation and recurrent reversals of public policies in the country, it is little surprise that Nigerians have been left with the short end of the stick. Yet while the quality of governance is abysmally low, the running cost of our MDAs remains one of the highest in the world.
Since the beginning of the examination of government by this column, we have focused on specific policy areas. The message, if anything is that save for a handful of exceptional CEO’s not of MDAs, this president, nor his coterie of advisers have done a decent job of formulating sound policies and focused implementation. Indeed, what seems to come across very clearly is that the Yar’Adua-Jonathan administrations have systematically destroyed organizations, systems and processes in order to expedite the unmatched plunder of resources that is going on with impunity. Whatever the truth may be, it would be worth our while to examine some government agencies to see what Nigerians pay for the personnel, policies and processes that have only led to growing poverty, ballooning unemployment, division, hatred and general decay. It is actually a fair question to ask if Nigeria still has a functional government.
The following article was originally published on Huhu Online:
Erstwhile General Manager (Operations) of the defunct Nigerian Telecommunications (NITEL), Engr. S. O. Ogundele has absolved former Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE), Mallam Nasir El Rufai of blame in the ruin of the telco, instead identifying former President Olusegun Obasanjo, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and former members of the NITEL Board as those culpable by their direct and indirections.
In a treatise emailed to Huhuonline.com, Ogundele also claimed that the collapse was unrelated in any way to the appointment of Messrs. Pentascope to manage the government telecom company.
The treatise, in full reads:
A good proportion of young people today were taught from primary school that agriculture is the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. Agricultural Science as a subject is part of our educational curriculum and therefore taught at all levels of education. In spite of the constant emphasis on agriculture as a core aspect of the Nigerian economy in paper, the sector long since ceased to be the main revenue source since the oil boom of the 1970s.
Agriculture is extremely important for the sustenance and development of a nation. Apart from its subsistence uses, it is potentially a huge employer of labour for a country as Nigeria which is blessed with abundant arable land. Agriculture is a means of boosting the GDP and export profile of a nation thereby also contributing to its foreign exchange reserves. The advantages are innumerable; it is therefore atrocious to know that this sector of the economy is not given the priority it deserves.
Israel is the poster child for a nation that has turned the odds in its favour agriculturally. More than half its land is desert and the climate is unsuitable for agriculture, yet, it is a world leader in agricultural technologies and a major exporter of fresh produce. Only 20% of Israeli land is arable yet it produces 95% of its nutritional requirements.
Not many Nigerians may know Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and fewer still would have any reason to. Born in 1772, he was an English poet who lived long before any notion of Nigerian nationhood was forged, but his most famous work, ‘The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’ which was written in 1798, aptly describes the Nigerian situation: ‘Water, Water Everywhere, Not a Drop to Drink’.
Through a press release on the 28th March last year, Sarah Ochekpe, the Minister of Water Resources said that the country would require some $2.5bn (about N396bn) to provide potable water for 75% of Nigerians. It is 2013, barely 2 years to the Millennium Development Goals target of providing water to the 75% of the populace and official release from the ministry puts the percentage of Nigerians with access to safe drinking water at only 32%.
If this picture is not bad enough, at a briefing in Abuja just before the Presidential Summit on Water, the Minister confirmed that Nigeria will not meet the MDG goal on adequate water supply by 2015 if the country is not willing to commit an annual budget of some N360bn for the next 3 to 5 years.
The first quarter of the fiscal year has practically ended, yet Nigeria and Nigerians are yet to know how the approximately $140 million dollars the country earns daily from crude oil sales alone are being spent and how much more is going to be borrowed in our name to provide for services that we can neither see, nor feel. This hefty amount does not include daily collections for royalties, petroleum profits taxes, sales of liquefied natural gas and other condensates, income taxes, value added tax and other “internally-generated” revenues.
For an annual ritual that started about six months ago, the questions are: why is it that the Presidency and the National Assembly have been unable to reach a common ground on the federal budget? Is government blind to the urgent need for infrastructure development, social services, poverty alleviation and job creation? Is the budget really for the Nigerian people, or simply a convoluted mechanism to further defraud long suffering citizens?
To answer these posers, we will continue with deeper analysis of the 2013 budget which, from all indications is not different from preceding Jonathan-era budgets in terms of absence of positive improvements. We will look at some major sectors of the Nigerian economy and their indicative budgetary allocations, attempt to correlate how the appropriations have been designed and determine whether they are structured to bring about meaningful development to our country. It would also be important to assess if there have been any improvements over the years, drawing comparisons with model countries and possibly identify solutions where government has veered off, in the hope that policy makers would be willing to make necessary changes.
Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, with characteristic candour and verve, discusses his new book, his travails, his many fights, and… 2015.
Interview: Olusegun Adeniyi and Waziri Adio.
Prologue: Simon Kolawole.
You don’t know Mallam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai if you think you know him. He is a politician (at least, he was a card-carrying member of the People’s Democratic Party and is now a chieftain of the Congress for Progressive Change). But he is not a politician (well, he talks too bluntly). He is a technocrat (he regrets paying little attention to the politics of economic reform under President Olusegun Obasanjo). But he is not a technocrat (or, rather, he is an accidental public servant who one day received an epiphany that if government doesn’t work, society will not work). Surely, el-Rufai is not one man you can describe in one sentence without a lot of parenthesis and footnotes.
Depending on the angle from which you are staring at him, you could be seeing a bully or a bully’s nightmare. You are either seeing a frank, no-nonsense, no-mercy personality or a conceited, attention-grabbing, uncharitable character. You don’t encounter el-Rufai and walk away indifferent. You might hate him. You might like him. You might fancy him. You might detest him. You might adore him. You might disdain him. But you can’t be indifferent.
Traditional masquerades have one enduring commonality: they run backwards and forwards; jump up and down and generality create an atmosphere of chaos. At the end of their exertions, though, not much would have changed because both the masquerade and the spectators know one thing: it is all drama.
If any scenario can be used to describe the imbroglio surrounding Nigeria’s budget this year, it must be that of the dance of the masquerade – from the Presidency to the National Assembly and back again, with little substance by way of policies and programmes to create jobs, stimulate economic activity and reduce poverty. If anything, the Nigerian public who are little more than befuddled spectators are left with nothing but the dust from the meaningless exertions for which they would be charged about 5 trillion naira.
Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief in September 2012 when the Finance minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala announced that the N4.92trn 2013 draft budget had been concluded. She was emphatic that it would be presented to the National Assembly as soon as it resumed from its recess in September. Being the second time since 1999 that both chambers were likely to pass the Appropriation Act before year end, Nigerians thought the nation would mark a return to the normal budget cycle of January to December as opposed to the current cycle which runs from about April to March the next year, mainly due to arguments between the executive and the legislative arms and all the paraphernalia surrounding passing and signing the budget.
In a functional democracy, the arguments and divisions currently wracking the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) would be seen as a sign of the healthy debates and disagreements that are critical to democratic progression and the constant alignments and re-alignments that are permanent features of the electoral process.
But Nigerians now know better because the people currently in control of the PDP have no altruistic guiding principles and ideology to shape the party and promote good governance. The PDP’s top brass: President – Goodluck Jonathan, former president and BoT chairman – Olusegun Obasanjo, National Chairman – Bamanga Tukur, former and new BoT Chairman – Tony Anenih, Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum – Rotimi Amaechi and a number of Governors have been engaged in a naked dance that amounts to exhibition of little more than raw and unbridled ambition.
At the root of the argument is not about which approach to adopt to tackle the enormous challenges confronting Nigeria. No one is talking about how to address the problem of our 20 million youth who have no jobs and are losing hope, or how to improve our collective security. None of the naked dancers is interested in seeking solutions to the problems of growing poverty, de-industrialization, deteriorating infrastructure, rising inequality, falling standards of education or decaying healthcare. None of the combatants in the PDP’s disagreements is concerned with tackling Nigeria’s mind-boggling corruption, impunity or even how to prepare for the day when our oil revenues will dry up. The one and only thing on the minds of these PDP apparatchiks is personal ambition, the pursuit of power and the senseless looting and primitive accumulation associated therewith.
The Federal Government earned N2.2trillion as opposed to N1.9trillion it targeted in 2009; N2.9trillion as against N2.5trillion in 2010; N4.7trillion in 2011 as opposed to N3.6trillion and N5trillion generated in 2012 as opposed to N3.6trillion. No, these are not foreign exchange earnings or even the Jonathan administration’s spurious borrowings. These are the sums generated by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) in the last five years.
With these figures, borrowing to fund our budget deficits which grew from N161.1billion in the third quarter of 2011 to N459.1 billion in the third quarter 2012 are unjustifiable. Despite claims of deficit reduction by the Finance Minister, the projected deficit for 2013 is N1.039trillion. When we consider that these deficits further compound our national debt which is around N6.9trillion ($44billion) we begin to see where the transformation agenda of this administration is taking Nigeria – long term sovereign insolvency!