LAST Wednesday, the Federal Executive Council announced the change of name of the erstwhile Ministry of Communications to Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy. The ministry’s spokesperson, Philomena Oshodin, in a release, said that President Muhammadu Buhari’s approval of the name change was based on the request made by the minister, Isa Pantami, so that he could ”properly position and empower the ministry to fulfill his digital economy objectives.” He added that the vision of the renaming was to “expand its mandate to capture the goals of digitalisation of the Nigerian economy in line with the Economic Growth and Recovery Plan (EGRP), one of the key agenda of the present administration.” The previous name was limiting, said the ministry, as the minister “was not only limited in pursuing the objectives of a digital economy, but obsolete as it did not reflect the trends as emphasised by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).”
While we commend the minister for his vision of digitizing the ministry so that it could, in his words, “propel the ministry to reposition its strategic objectives as laid out in the priority areas of this administration while accelerating growth and social inclusion,” we do not think that the objective merits name change. We say with all sense of responsibility that this change is a reflection of one of the ills plaguing the Nigerian establishment which believes that there is a Midas touch in a name that can perform some magical turnaround when, in actual fact, the magic wand is in the persuasion of the drivers of the idea and the way they go about it. Only recently, the Federal Government announced the renaming of the Nigeria Prison Service (NIS) to the Nigerian Correctional Service. President Buhari signed the Nigerian Correctional Service Bill into law which, by so doing, repealed the Nigerian Prisons Service Act. With the current changes, the Nigerian government seems to be saying that it is persuaded that the retrogression in many of the institutions is basically a function of their names. This is blatant falsehood.
Pray, why is the Federal Government preoccupied with names rather than the modus operandi of these institutions which, over the years, have been worsted by bad governance and ancient attitudes to work which have conspired to mar their outputs? If names are changed a million times and there is no attempt made to positively affect the attitudes of the workforce and the perennial pillaging of the institutions by those posted there, the country will continue to nosedive and things will continue to get worse in the polity. More importantly, the renaming exercise will mean changing so many configurations that had been part and parcel of the ministry for ages, including logos, letterheads, brand copies and allied materials which, even though they may look little on the outward, may end up gulping billions of taxpayers’ funds. If you dig deep down into the base of the mindset that engineered this renaming, you would be astounded to realise that the love of country or change in the limiting status quo was never part of the considerations for the renaming. Rather, it was driven by mere whims and caprices.
The change of name does not make general sense, nor does it even make any economic sense at this time when Nigeria is facing herculean economic challenges. No matter how little it would gulp to transit from the erstwhile name to the new name, the ministry would do well to offload the funds into some more rewarding enterprise. The ministry’s new name is demonstrably subject to so many illogicalities. First, the digital economy that it now proclaims is what should drive every ministry, department and agency in this age of digitization and globalisation. So, should all federal ministries be renamed to capture what should be the core of their engagements? Even more instructive a question to ask the minister is how logically the former name could have prevented the ministry from going digital. What were the specific digital things that the former name made impossible?
The examples of “global and African economies” cited as reason for the renaming, including Scotland, Thailand, Tunisia, Benin Republic and Burkina Faso, among others, which “have adopted deliberate strategies and created Ministries of Digital Economy in line with global best practice” are germane. However, are those countries suffering from the same deficits as Nigeria? At what level of growth were they when they deemed it fit to change the names of ministries? We say, at the risk of repetition, that President Buhari’s purported letter containing his approval of the name change was not well thought out, and the claim that the request was granted “in line with global best practices” is mere sophistry.
Just how can a Nigeria which has fared very low in the drive to provide electricity be mouthing digitization when power is at the core of this 21st century societal quest? And how digital can an economy like Nigeria’s, which is largely without a productive or manufacturing base, be? How digital can a Nigeria that is marooned under the worst level of poverty globally be? We expect governance to benefit from intellectual rigour. That is not yet in evidence.