27 June 2005

Nigeria: Pentascope Report: Sanctification of Subterfuge


Lagos — When I read of the life long ban from holding public office placed on Mallam Nasir El Rufai, the Federal Capital Territory Minister based on the report of a technical consultant, a feeling of numbness and betrayal came over me. For days I wondered what was wrong with the black man that we cannot have sustainable authentic heroes.

I consoled myself with the thought that human beings are complex creatures capable of living a lie, for what other explanation could there be for the fall of El Rufai? One had hoped that the political class, represented by the House, will realize the need to align with ardent political appointees like Mallam El Rufai in the bid to bridge the gap between the necessary populism of politics and the equally essential unpopular task of economic and social reforms. The announcement of the life ban was a rude awakening on the difficulties of creating that middle ground where politics and policy interact symbiotically. I was, however, happy that the fight against corruption has finally found anchorage in the legislature where it ought to emanate and sincerely hope the House will be in the Vanguard of the cleansing process.

Instinctively I went on the internet in search of the report to at least acquaint myself with the details of the horrendous malfeasance of Mallam El Rufai that warranted a life ban from public office. The search for the report was not successful so I requested a friend in Nigeria to mail a copy to me. To put this in perspective, it is pertinent to note that I have been a public ideological defender of a new leadership ethos, which finds muscular expression in Mallam El Rufai, that stand for transparency, intellectualism, courage and commitment to the ideals of modern efficient government. This paradigm, I believe, is exemplified, in the main, by the members of the President's economic team. After briefly sojourning in Singapore and now in the United States I have come to realize the importance and need for strong and courageous leadership; if we desire to build a modern nation. To that end I had espoused strong views in support of these ideals and in defence of El Rufai in the media; hence my concern and interest on the consultant's report.

As I skimmed through the report, I decided to find out more about the author, Professor Augustine Odinma, I searched for him using MSN search to no avail. Further search excluding the Professor title resulted in some articles and the fact that he had a stint as a lecturer at Morgan State University, Baltimore, Maryland, where the school of engineering website recorded him as a lecturer. I was now very curious. I looked up his resume attached as Appendix H of the technical report in which he claimed that he was a Professor at Benedict University in South Carolina, USA. A quick call to the university's personnel department proved that he had indeed been on the faculty of the University from 1998 to 1999 as an Associate Professor, which is the equivalent of a Senior Lecturer or Reader in the British and Nigeria university system.

Noting that Dr. Odinma got his doctorate degree from a British University I couldn't fathom why he boldly and misleadingly described himself as a Professor, after a one year employment as an Associate Professor. The term Associate Professor according to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia is "the mid-level position, usually awarded (in the humanities and social sciences) after the "second book" -- although the requirements vary considerably between institutions and departments. Can be tenured or not. In most institutions, the position is tenured, however strictly speaking the position is related to a pay differential and can be awarded to non-tenured persons" Also recalling that it was an issue in the Senate screening of Dr. Femi Borishade who though a Reader at University of Ife allowed himself to be addressed as a Professor, I wondered why Dr. Odinma had to inflate his standing before the honorable House of Representatives.

With this at the back of my mind I delved into the report and it turned out to be a catalogue of self advertisement, illogical at best, barely concealed vendetta and a blatant display of bias. Dr Odinma is lucky that the information machinery of this administration is rudderless and devoid of appetite for engagement, otherwise this report should have been unmasked for what it was; an odious attempt to denigrate the reform agenda of the administration.

David Cash et al in their seminal work titled Salience, Credibility, Legitimacy and Boundaries: Linking Research, Assessment and Decision making defined credibility as "refer (ring) to whether an actor perceives information as meeting standards of scientific plausibility and technical adequacy. Sources of knowledge must be deemed trustworthy and/or believable, along with the facts, theories, and causal explanations invoked by these sources." Reading through the report which was prepared by a "Technical Consultant" it became obvious that Dr. Odinma either took the intellectual standing of members of the House of Representatives for granted; or was careless in his use of terms, facts and theories; or both. The report fails the basic test of credibility in its entirety as few examples will show.

In the first chapter, Dr. Odinma gave definitions of companies in telecommunications without citing any industry authority for his novel typology. He creates a Type I and Type II consultancy firms which he defines thus "Type I consultancy is one owned by a major operator or innovator and is an integral part of the company. Using the services of Type I consultant is synonymous to using the parent company. An example of Type I consultancy Company is TDC or BT Teleconsultâ-oe" He went on to define the Type II. "The Type II consultancy is a stand alone company, with limited consultancy skills and liability. An example is Pentascope and such company is unsuitable for full scale management of large companies such as NITEL. Type II consultants are only suitable for ad-hoc services and for specific function and not for full scale management as was envisaged for NITEL." This is unbelievable from a PhD holder! Dr. Odinma not only created his own typology of consultancies but engages in the worst form of academic fraud by creating an implausible and technically inadequate foundation for his report. Let us dissect his definition of type II consultancy which is the basis of his opinion about Pentascope.

Where in telecom peer reviewed literature do we find a term like Type II consultants? How does being a stand-alone company become synonymous with "limited consultancy skills and liability"? Can a company with limited skills truly be referred to as consultants? Dr. Odinma provides no evidence that links Pentascope with "limited consultancy skills and liability." Assuming we accept the technical definition of our telecom guru, who cites no authority to back his assertions, is it true that stand-alone consultancy companies does not provide full scale management in the telecom industry? Swedtel, a Swiss telecom consultancy company now owned by Worldtel provides management service to telecom operators. Recently it signed a three- year management contract with Reltel, Nigeria. Swedtel is also providing full scale management services to Omantel in Oman to position the company as a world-class telecoms operator. Yet our telecom expert proclaims with pulpit certainty that stand-alone consultancy firms (or did he mean Pentascope) are not suitable for full scale management of an operator.

With this false and embarrassingly poor academic premise, Dr. Odinma proceeds to rehash the contents of an article he had earlier written to condemn the BPE approach to the management contract. On this count alone, any honest and self respecting intellectual would have excused himself from this technical report considering that he had been a public opponent of Mallam El Rufai's nay BPE's approach to the privatization of NITEL. Dr. Odinma rather than including caveats and disclaimers to contextualize his report unprofessionally quotes himself as authority in a technical report. He makes no effort to use industry literature to justify his assertions. In the entire report Dr. Odinma makes no reference to any academic article published in a journal under his name or to any other peer reviewed essay on the issues he is investigating. Rather he embarrassingly cites his newspaper articles as authority.

We turn our gaze to the legitimacy of the report. Here legitimacy as defined by Cash et al "refers to whether an actor perceives the process in a system as unbiased and meeting standards of political and procedural fairness. Legitimacy involves the belief that S&T systems are "fair" and consider appropriate values, interests, concerns, and specific circumstances from multiple perspectives. Audiences judge legitimacy based on who participated and who did not, the processes for making those choices, and how information is produced, vetted, and disseminated." The report shows definite signs of illegitimacy; it is very low in political and procedural fairness. The report did not consider issues from multiple perspectives. An example will suffice here on page 10 of the report; Dr Odinma in very uncharitable language avers that "it was pathetic and shameful to hear the former BPE DG, Mallam El Rufai say that he got our President to call few operators' CEO in order to get them to be interested in NITEL. It was shameful for BPE to get the President to degenerate to CEO management level." Again we ask Dr. Odinma on which authority does he rely on to make such value judgment about the

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