By Tonnie Iredia
One of the stories which made the round last week was the call for Nigeria to sell off some of its assets which the caller said ‘no longer make sense’. The argument is that such ‘stunted assets’ were eating deep into the nation’s fragile finances. There is no doubt that if we critically introspect, we are likely to find certain entities that are better sold than left hanging. Consequently, we cannot fault Senator Ben Murray Bruce who made the statement. To start with, he didn’t say anything new. Nigeria has had such proponents of sell off government bodies in the past. Many years ago, the Nigeria Airways was sold on account of such reasoning. Interestingly, government has not relented in the last few years into search to bring back a national airline. It was perhaps the same reasoning that influenced the scrapping of the toll gates at a point in our history. The present government we hear is about to conclude arrangements for bringing back the toll gates. What this suggests is that we sold off some of our assets in the past because “our common sense too much.”
The reason why it is not difficult convincing Nigerians that a public organization should be sold or scrapped is because government bodies are generally believed to be inefficient; the only things that work in the sub-consciousness of Nigerians are privately run bodies. Again, it is hard to fault the argument in view of the legion of examples that support it. What remains baffling however is that rational comparative analyses of commonly held opinions are never done. Nigeria Airways for instance was said to be a bad product because it always had delayed and sometimes cancelled flights. Painfully, a host of airlines that have come on board since the demise of the Nigeria Airways and which are all privately run have not done better. So, to whom do we sell the current airlines in the country in order to find a working air transportation system? Put differently, now that private airlines have also proven to be defective like our moribund public outfit, does it not show that the problem lies with the Nigerian star?
In today’s article, our comment is limited to one or two proposed for sale so we can save some money. The first is the Voice of Nigeria VON. It was first established in 1961 as the external service of Radio Nigeria. As the name implies, its mandate was to publicise to the rest of the world, activities of Nigeria that became an independent nation the year before. It was converted to its present status in 1990 with better facilities to change the narrative whereby imperialist media dish out only negative stories about Nigeria. The station is structured to transmit to the outside world and is not to be received in Nigeria. This makes it hard for one to understand how any person living in the country could have assessed its performance to justify the call for its sale.
The National Orientation Agency NOA found itself among those to be sold it was thought that a democratic Nigeria with political parties no longer needed any orientation. It is true that during the military era, the need to actively mobilize Nigerians to participate in the transition to civil rule political programme informed the setting up of MAMSER, the precursor of NOA. In later years, experience showed that there was more than political mobilization to be done; hence MAMSER which was a task force was converted in 1993 to the National Orientation Agency to publicise government activities and bridge the gap between the people and government. Till date anything that goes wrong in Nigeria is often attributed to attitude which people call the Nigerian factor thereby suggesting that if the nation needs anything now, it is first and foremost value reorientation. Indeed, to leave even political mobilization to Nigerian politicians who believe that an election is a game for the buying and selling of votes clearly shows that NOA is still needed. The only thing that is wrong with NOA is underfunding.
As for the call to sell off the public media, that is a topic for another day. For now, it is instructive that at last, government has returned to the starting point in the fight against insurgency with its recent determination to use communication as its weapon. Painfully, the huge budget for it, from where what we heard, has been awarded to a firm. What percentage of it would get to NOA and the public media that already have facilities on ground for the assignment? If such a major government policy is contracted to non-policy actors when shall our government begin to toe the line of its own wisdom espoused in 2015 to build strong institutions? There are professional mobilizers in government that can in the twinkle of an eye saturate the North-East with anti-insurgency propaganda. Not using them is a grave error of judgment.
This article must not be misunderstood to be in defence of our obviously weak public institutions. The point being made is that the standpoint that people in government are inherently incompetent is faulty. Of course, there are bad eggs n the public sector just as there are in the private sector but the bane of the nation is not the posture of public officials but the lethargy of government in the management of public affairs. Surprisingly, big government which has been our bane is yet to change. Some few years back, an authoritative medium in Nigeria reported the findings of a government probe panel which alleged that the Nigerian Airspace Management Authority had 253 Assistant General Managers and that the Board of Directors of the National Film and Video Censors Board alone had 54 members! So, is it sale we need or the political will to maintain viable institutions?
If it is sale, what in reality is begging to be sold in Nigeria toady? Murray Bruce thinks it is media organs but Senator Olusola Adeyeye representing Osun Central Senatorial District thinks a reduction in allowances of all politicians including senators is a good junction to start from. There are many Nigerians, who would move one step forward to say, let’s sell the senate. Would that defy common sense?