On Acting President Goodluck Jonathan’s Presidential Advisory Council

Less than two weeks ago, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan created yet another government bureaucracy – the Presidential Advisory Council – that will be funded by the state. The council was given a blank cheque to proffer alternative inputs into policy formulation. But With less than 12 months to the general election, attention in the coming months will be diverted to party primaries and the forthcoming elections. How much will the 26-man council achieve?

The Snag with Alternative Views by Ijeoma Nwogwugwu 

Less than two weeks ago, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan created yet another government bureaucracy – the Presidential Advisory Council – that will be funded by the state. The council was given a blank cheque to proffer alternative inputs into policy formulation, promote good governance in the area of power, economy, security, infrastructure, social sector (whatever that means; perhaps this encompasses education, health care and social security), the electoral process, and the fight against corruption, among others. Its members with diverse backgrounds are also meant to evaluate policy implementation and make inputs into areas requiring adjustments.

Realistically, the said 26-man council cannot achieve much. With less than 12 months to the general election, attention in the coming months will be diverted from governance at the centre and states to party primaries and the forthcoming elections. Depending on the pace at which the National Assembly, and state assemblies are able to push forward constitutional amendments to the electoral process, elections could take place as early as January next year. 

But even if we were to discountenance the looming presence of another round of elections and assume that the “alternative inputs” will be adopted by a new government (which is hardly the case), of greater concern is that the presidential council is not just headed for a collision course with existing organs of government mandated to undertake similar assignments, but where alternative views are lacking, could end up duplicating them.

Already, concerns are being expressed by some ministries that the Presidential Advisory Council has swept into action by writing letters wherein project monitoring was mentioned. That is the first indication that the council has no clear idea of its terms of reference which clearly requires “inputs into policy formulation and promotion of good governance” in segments of the economy and national life.

Project monitoring at the federal level is the responsibility of ministries, departments and agencies responsible for the implementation of projects under their purview. The Office of Due Process, which approves the projects, is also meant to have an independent project monitoring unit that should regularly assess ongoing projects of the federal government to ensure that jobs awarded to contractors meet the terms and conditions of their contracts. Even the acting president has set up yet another presidential project assessment committee to assess abandoned projects in the country.

Besides, the Nigerian constitution provides for the establishment of the Executive Council of the Federation, Council of State, National Security Council, Nigeria Police Council and the National Economic Council, among several others. Legal statutes also provide for the set up of the National Council on Privatisation, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission. In addition to these bodies, is another layer of councils/committees, chief of which include the National Economic Intelligence Committee, Power Sector Committee, Presidential Steering Committee on the Global Economic Crisis, and the expanded Economic Management Team. 

Add to this the plethora of presidential advisers and assistants who loiter around the presidency. Their numbers, meanwhile, are about to be expanded by five new advisers to be announced by Jonathan any minute. This is despite the fact that several aides attached to the Office of the President have been made redundant by the absence of their ailing boss. Constitutionally and by virtue of his ascendance to the position of acting president, almost all the bodies listed above are chaired by Dr. Jonathan. So what more could the Presidential Advisory Council add to the numerous bureaucracies already in place. 

From all indications even though the Presidential Advisory Council may have been well intentioned, its mandate to make alternative inputs to policy formulation, good governance, etcetera, is certainly not what Jonathan needs to make a meaningful impact in the lives of Nigerians in the next year or so. Policy formulation, be it alternative or conventional, has never been the problem of this country. Its problem has always been lack of follow through and poor implementation even where laws are enacted and institutions set up to support the policies. Usually, lack of focus and pecuniary interests serve to divert focus from the objectives of most of these policies. 

Take for instance the Power Sector Committee responsible for the attainment of the 6,000mw target in 2009 and completion of the national integrated power projects, which coincidentally, Jonathan has chaired for over a year. More than most people in government, Jonathan has been exposed to the problems of the sector and the impediments that kept the government from attaining its December target. 

The lack of gas to run power plants is not something the presidential council has the capacity to resolve. Jonathan should know that what is required is the execution of gas supply agreements between power producers and gas suppliers that are benchmarked to the price at which gas is supplied to the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas company. Once this is sorted out, more than 70 per cent of gas supply issues for power generation will be resolved. 

Even instances of vandalism by thieves masquerading as militants who steal the condensates that build up in the pipelines, is a matter of national security that only security agencies responsible for safeguarding oil industry infrastructure can monitor and handle. 

The same is applicable to electoral reform and the anti-graft effort. The move to reform the electoral process is contained in the Justice Mohammed Uwais report which has been transmitted to the National Assembly for relevant amendments to the constitution and Electoral Act. On the effort to whittle down corruption, that the battle is being lost is not for lack of institutional structures, but because the political will, even on  the part of the presidency, is weak. 

Beyond the duplication of roles is the concern that the federal government keeps getting bigger and bigger. Conventional wisdom suggests that big governments are unwieldy, constitute a drain on the treasury, and several policy inputs inevitably help to increase the size of budget deficits. Concern has already been raised that this administration (Yar’Adua’s) has been very imprudent and has fritted away the savings made by its predecessor. The last thing we need is another round of fiscal indiscipline with nothing to show for all the expenditure.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like NITEL?

In 10 years, four attempts have been made to privatise the troubled national carrier, Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL). All attempts have failed. The latest attempt appears destined for failure also. But in a bid to salvage it, the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) set up an ad hoc committee to undertake further due diligence of the bidders and report back to the council in one week. As simple as it seems, the task cannot be completed in one week.

For one, for the ad hoc committee to undertake proper due diligence of each of the bidders, it would have to independently contact all members of each of the consortia that reached the financial bid stage of the process. Usually, foreign firms would not respond to enquiries that are not put in writing. As such, letters or e-mails would have to be written and managers will be required to escalate such enquiries to their superiors before a response can be sent back to the committee.

Second, the binding agreements between each member of the bidding consortia (except MTN which submitted a stand alone bid for NITEL’s SAT-3 submarine cable) would have to be properly analysed. Some must have submitted non-binding memoranda of understanding with no commitment to inject financial resources should their consortia win the bid. Others might only be coming in as technical partners that would end up carting away huge fees from NITEL, with no value added, should their consortia win.

Third, proper due diligence would have to be undertaken to ascertain the capacity of the bidders not just to pay for NITEL, but to inject additional capital into the business. Letters from Nigerian banks expressing preparedness to finance the bid will not suffice. This must be supported by evidence that bidders actually submitted the $20 million bid bond from an international investment grade bank along with their technical and financial proposals. Should a conflict arise on the deadline given for the submission of technical and financial bids, and the date shown on the bank guarantee (that is, it was submitted after the stipulated deadline for bid proposals), a red flag should be raised immediately. That is the clearest sign that the bidder struggled to raise the bank guarantee and would likely struggle to pay for NITEL.

Where none of the bidders meet NCP’s requirement, perhaps the time has come for it to consider liquidating NITEL. Unpopular as this may seem, this might be the only option left to the NCP to salvage its assets and save the jobs of its workers who remain on its pay role. A more detailed case for the liquidation of NITEL will be presented on this page as events unfold.