Published On: Fri, Apr 13th, 2018

Of NEPC conundrum and our public institutions

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By Khadijat Abaji

Most times, Nigerians display their innate penchant to act in strange ways. What appears even more degrading to our national dignity and collective pride is the wanton advertisement of tendencies antithetical to progress and the propagation of parochial sentiments and interests even in national service.
Promoters of this malfeasance often arm themselves with sermons of marginalization, unfair treatment and abuse of federal character principle, religious affiliation or some other hype about nepotism. They seldom question themselves about their personal competence, commitment or contribution to national productivity. The only and single preoccupation of these antagonists is how to contrive and perfect antics of ruining or heating the polity in any organization they find themselves.
Currently, there is palpable tension and so much inexplicable heat at the headquarters of the Nigeria Export Promotion Council (NEPC), Abuja. It takes a stranger less than 30 minutes of loafing within the premises to acquaint with everything about some kind of drummed crisis in the establishment. In offices, staffers speak about it in hushed tones; in nearby food joints and relaxation spots, the gist is relived with glee. It’s about nothing, but everything to do with the next day’s possible sack of NEPC’s Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer (ED/CEO), Mr. Olusegun Awolowo.
Disappointingly, listening to some of the comments or narratives of the pool of discussants or gossipers on the matter at every point exposes the real national dilemma staring Nigeria in the face. A discerning mind immediately decodes and understands a clear lack of grasp of the issues eliciting the excitement of the idlers.
But what constantly excites them is the vague possibility that Awolowo might possibly get sacked. They speak glowingly with thumped balls of Amala and Ewedu soup in the mouth or Jollof rice or any delicacy of their choice, about a petition some staff of the NEPC have written to the Ministry that is causing ripples. Some even shamelessly refer to the recipient of the petition as the Federal Government. They might be right, but not in the strict sense of it.
A little digression is necessary here. The Nigerian Public Service is governed (or should be governed) by the Public Service Rules (PSR), 2009 (as amended). The document which is widely circulated and readily available both online and even at various newsstands is very clear on the causes and remedies as well as procedures for any public (civil) servant to redress grievances as well as protect rights and privileges as at when necessary. Most of the time, public (civil) servants have issues in matters of recruitment, promotion, emoluments and increments, discipline, Annual Performance Evaluation Reports (APER) and Certificate of Service, etc. Chapter 9 – Petitions and Appeals – of the PSR, provisions No 090204, 090201, 090203, 090204, 090206, 090208, inter alia clearly states the following,
“A petition must be submitted through the proper departmental channels, namely through the petitioner’s immediate superior officer and the Permanent Secretary/Head of Extra-Ministerial Office, who will forward the petition with his/her comments and recommendations to the Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission or the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation in accordance with administrative instructions in force at the time. It is in the petitioner’s interest that the above-mentioned rule concerning the routing of a petition should be strictly observed in order that the petition will be duly verified and reported on before it reaches the final destination.”
Yet, in total and flagrant contravention of the above rules, aggrieved staffers of various MDAs have both drafted and sent out petitions against their supervisors and superior officers to external government departments. Also, at numerous occasions, confidential documents against public institutions have been leaked to outsiders to the detriment of the public interest and against the rules of the PSR. Petitions have been sent directly to Directorate of State Services (DSS), Federal Character Commission (FCC), supervising Ministries, National Assembly (both Chambers), Public Complaints Commission (PCC), Secretary to the Government of the Federation etc. and most bizarrely, to the media.
That these other agencies of Government, which should be the umpires for the implementation of the provisions of the PSR, could even entertain the uncharted allegations from the petitioners gives any well-meaning Nigerian a cause to ponder. Secondly, if the petitioners have confidence in any of these Government institutions, why would they also, as we have often seen, leak the content of the same petition to the media? Without more, these could have qualifiedly attracted some express sanctions on the erring petitioning staffers in accordance with Rule 030402 (b), (c), (f), (r), and (w) of the PSR which provides sanctions for – ‘Acts unbecoming of a Public Officer’. This should have been the proper response from the agencies of Government that receive these brazen reports and often anonymous petitions to punish and serve as a deterrence for those that take the laws of the land despicably.
Interactions with the NEPC matter sadly reveals that the aggrieved staffers understand quite well that the system will condone their lawlessness. They made conjectures, claims, accusations and blatant calumnies against their principal officer whose single wrongdoing was making a concerted effort to boost staff morale and motivation through merit-based promotion and merit increment exercises as provided by the PSR.
I was compelled to write this piece because I listened to such unfounded tales at three different intervals I visited the NEPC for my export-oriented business, and got dazzled with such unsolicited tales. I was particularly amazed at the level of debauchery and propagation of hate gospel against probably an innocent person. But the manner the tales were recounted could make any sane soul to vomit.
I have never related with Chief Olusegun Awolowo in person since his officers in the departments I relate are well able to carter to my needs, but the manner I heard him debased by people he is supposedly leading and the substance of the “quarrel” with him made me quiver and pity Nigeria. The mood about his case within the confines of NEPC is applicable to most federal agencies in Nigeria. In the recent past, I have read about similar petitions and media blackmail on, Nigeria Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), Nigerian Export-Import Bank (NEXIM Bank), The Office of the Vice President (on the India Conclave Summit), Central Bank of Nigeria etc.
What worries me is that if the agencies of Government that are supposed to be enforcing the strict observance of the PS and other applicable rules for governance keep faltering on it, sooner than later, every Government agency would become game for sleaze media. My fear is that most of the publications are always online and published to the world and makes mockery of our efforts to present Nigeria as a business destination and a country serious with fighting corruption and indiscipline. The consequences for our development efforts and initiatives would no doubt be dire.
Awolowo’s initiatives in NEPC has impacted on the growth of the non- oil contribution to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) based on improved trade volumes, export of non-traditional goods and opening up of new market frontiers abroad.
Under his watch, the NEPC has also intensified interactions and engagements with the private sector, relevant government institutions and foreign missions as seen in Mr Awolowo’s avowed commitment to make a difference in the management of the agency. His prompt response to issues of operational logistics and staff motivation have ensured smooth running of the agency. These are some of incentives that have endeared majority of the staff to him.
Mr. Awolowo’s main target at the moment is to actualize the shift in focus from export of raw produce to value added products to increase revenue, add value for the products, create jobs and improve lives of Nigerians. He is also championing the ‘Zero Oil’ plan which targets quantum increments to production outputs for 11 products cutting across solid minerals, agriculture and hydrocarbon resources.
In effect, with crashing prices of crude oil in the international market, NEPC remains a veritable platform to shore-up Nigeria’s revenue base from non-oil sources. The plan of the federal government in 2016 and beyond is to diversify the economy, achieved mainly through agriculture and cash and exportable crops are the driving force. The NEPC is poised to work with other Government agencies to actualize this vision.
Most heads of Federal Government parastatals are committed to working to achieve the change agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari administration. Therefore, it is disheartening that rather than focus on how to collectively work towards attaining the lofty goals of the agency, at this critical time of Nigeria’s transformation dreams, some Nigerians have preferred to busy themselves with acts of sabotage that are detrimental to our purpose as a nation through wanton and unwarranted petitions and other acts unbecoming of the public service as enshrined in the extant law.
This attitude is discouraging and it must change, except those who still cherish and adore it, as a favourite past time, plots to tether Nigeria down in perpetuity.

Abaji is a staff of the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment.

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