16 January 2013

Nigeria: Manitoba - Perspectives After a Storm


Now that relative calm has returned after the recent stormy saga of the reported cancellation and reversal thereof of the management contract of Manitoba Hydro International in respect of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), I think there is need to look back at the events associated with both developments and put them in perspective. The cancellation was reportedly done by President Goodluck Jonathan, with the advice of Emeka Eze, the Director General of the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), and Mohammed Bello Adoke, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.

The danger to which the reported cancellation exposed our country's power sector reform has been highlighted by non other than the eminent journalist, Ijeoma Nwaogwugwu, in her back page column in This Day of November 19, 2012, entitled "Emeka Eze's Misadventure," in which she poses this rhetorical question: "But even if we had to look through the narrow prism of the attorney general's legal opinion and agreed with him as the Chief Law Officer of the Federation, was it not the responsibility of Mr. Adoke to serve the best interest of his client, in this case, the Federal Government of Nigeria?"

This question is the culmination of Ms. Nwaogwugwu's interrogation of the roles allegedly played by Messrs Eze and Adoke in the saga. The impression arising from Ms. Nwaogwugwu's column is that those roles were of questionable merit, that of Mr. Eze having allegedly been influenced by the Indian High Commission seemingly intent on wrenching the contract from Manitoba in favour of Power Grid of India whose bid for it failed in favour of Manitoba's. It is a role Ms. Nwaoguwgwu alleges - with palpable dismay? - as having been "driven by" Mr. Eze's "ego and a debilitating turf war." From her above quote, the impression arises that Mr. Adoke's role in the saga can be attributed to his having looked at the related issues through "the narrow prism" of his "legal opinion," implying a charge of professional parochialism and a call for the same issues to be viewed through the prism of liberality.

On the positive side, Ms. Nwaogwugwu identifies a number of lessons in the whorls of intriguing manoeuvres she depicts in the column. Thus: "The lesson to be learnt from the entire saga is that the president and his deputy, who have laudably pushed through the power reform programme, must remain steadfast. There are several interested parties, especially in this administration, not keen on the success of the programme. They should be told in no uncertain terms to fall in line or shown the way out. More important, the president should personally, and as a matter of urgency, appoint a supervisory board, compromising individuals of impeccable character for the TCN."

Pointing out these lessons confers patriotic redemption on the piece; and that government has proceeded to constitute "a supervisory board" for the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), is to me an index of the seriousness with which Ms. Nwaogwugwu's opinions on national issues should be taken, though "individuals of impeccable character" is to me a non-existent category among homo sapiens, since I believe the character of every individual is inherently flawed.

Then, urging a situation in which public servants must be compelled to "fall in line" or "shown the way out" hints at a subtle prescription of coercion or blackmail as a means of enforcing or carrying through with government policies. And other issues arise from such prescription. For though it is proper to require public servants to support the policies of any administration in which they are serving, whether that should be a necessity depends on whether such policies incontrovertibly represents the best interest of the nation, since public servants actually serve the nation through the administration. Should they "fall in line" even if they are convinced that acquiescing to such zombification could cost the nation dearly?

The policies of government are not sacrosanct; neither is its will. And this is where President Jonathan has exhibited superior statecraft compared to some of his predecessors, that he is capable of listening to his appointees and conceding to their advice when he believes it is in the national interest, and of reversing himself or modifying his decision, as in the Manitoba case, when, faced with superior evidence or argument, he becomes convinced that his previous decision was not the best he could have taken in the circumstance. Insisting that his appointees must "fall in line" or be "shown the way out" will cast his administration in the unrealistic mould of an omniscient entity, unrealistic because the knowledge of governments and their capacities are limited as the human beings who comprise them are fallible.

So the president was right to have listened to Messrs Eze and Adoke, two key functionaries in his administration; and both men were not wrong to have given him advice on the Manitoba issue if they sincerely believed that his taking the advice would strengthen the integrity of the power reform in which the Manitoba contract operates. What can vitiate the integrity of their action is proof that it had immoral underpinnings, like being motivated by selfish or corrupt interests.

Even if bringing the Manitoba team to this realisation were the only fallout from the intervention of Messrs Eze and Adoke, then it could pass for an intervention in the national interest. But there is another fallout that makes it doubly so, namely, that, even as Ms. Nwaogwugwu suggests in her column, certain creases in the award of the Manitoba contract have now been smoothened, such that it can now be executed without the moral burden of procedural irregularity to its origin, and the peace of mind that should attend that for all stakeholders.

No people should ever accept that a transaction freely entered into by their government can be procedurally flawed and yet in the national interest; for that could undermine the ethical health of their country in a way that could seriously endanger its existence.

-Oke, a public affairs analyst, sent in this piece from Abuja

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