A nation’s love for committees

Nigerian leaders’ love for committees is boundless. The first thing that crosses their minds when there is an issue in a sector is to raise a committee, regardless of the fact that there may be an existing body with the statutory responsibility to handle such matter.

In 2010, the Federal Government set up two different committees in the power sector; presidential action committee on power and presidential task force on power. For the maritime industry in the same year, there was at least one presidential, ministerial or special committee for virtually every sub-sector of the industry. There was a task force on customs reform, a national task force on importation of small arms as well as a ministerial committee on review of port concession.

Recently, the Federal Government set up an inter-agency committee on recovery of loans granted to commercial banks and corporate organisations by Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON). Meanwhile, AMCON was set up for the purpose of recovering loans granted by banks to corporate organisations. Imagine, a committee was set up to recover loans granted to commercial entities by an organisation set up to recover loans granted by banks. According to the AMCON Act, it was set up “for the purpose of efficiently resolving the non-performing loans assets of banks in Nigeria.” So, what is the essence of the new committee?

The Federal Government has just set up two committees to resolve crisis in the health sector. The committees are headed by ministers. When Aero Contractors Airlines ran into troubled water, the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, set up an inter-ministerial committee to save the company. There is an inter-ministerial committee on aviation security. There is also an inter-ministerial committee on the ease of doing business in the country. There is another committee on reducing tax burden on SMEs. In August, the government set up a committee to devise strategies to drive direct foreign investments.

I am aware that the university system, as well as the legislature, are run on committee basis, but to subject governance to committees is to deploy an Aristotelian strategy in the 21st century.

The love for committees is borne out of our quest for quick fixes. As a people, we abhor process because we are more reflexive than reflective. First, we allow problems to accumulate until they become unmanageable. When they get to the climax and there is a snap, rather than take time to think through them to get a permanent solution, we want a magic wand that will solve in a month a problem that had amassed over the years and we quickly resort to committees.

When rather than regularly maintaining our roads, as is the practice in other climes, we allowed the roads to go bad and there were cries from every corner about the deplorable state of the roads, a presidential committee on roads was set up.

When as a result of years of neglect of the aviation sector, the management of the sector became problematic, a presidential committee on airports was the response.

When as a consequence of our inability to invest regularly in the power sector, electricity generation ebbed and supply became unbearably epileptic, committees were set up.

Pray, what can a road committee do that a properly funded and managed Federal Ministry of Works can’t? What can the committee on airports achieve that the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) cannot accomplish with the right management? What can the committees on power pull off that will be beyond the reach of the Nigerian Electricity Regulation Commission and the supervisory ministry?

Committees operate on ad hoc basis but a country should have long term plans. So, no country can go far by being committee-dependent. Methinks instead of waiting for a calamity to land before raising a committee to clear the mess, the ministries and the agencies should be empowered to discharge their basic duties. Our much desired development will remain a mirage until we learn to do the right things at the right time. Doing the right things involves properly and adequately equipping the civil service to deliver to expectations. Doing things right entails those having oversight functions carrying out their duties as expected of them. When fund is voted to ministries or projects, it should be released. Not just that, the National Assembly and others with supervisory and monitoring functions should see to it that the fund is utilised as expected.

That way we will continue to make progress in every sector and we are not likely to get stuck. If we do not get stuck, there will not be an emergency. And if there is no emergency, there will be no need for any presidential committee.