Protocol and bureaucracy is part and parcel of modern governance and without it, systematic administration will grind to a halt. But the practice of protocol and the workings of bureaucracy in African countries leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
Our leaders are surrounded with multiple layers of protocol and governance is tardy and untidy due to bureaucratic machineries. The way some of our leaders carry on with this protocol thing, one will wonder whether that is all there is to governance.
Political leaders in Nigeria don’t derive their importance and satisfaction from executing people-focused projects. They derive such satisfaction from being driven in long siren-blaring convoys and being addressed in a paragraph of titles. Some governors are being addressed as His Excellency, Senator, Professor, Dr, Barrister, Chief John…
It is sickening how you see these leaders surrounded by hundreds of aides, perfectly shielding them from the people they are supposed to be leading. The leaders don’t move with the people anymore and so can’t understand what the people suffer.
How can they fix roads they don’t travel on? How can they fix hospitals they don’t get treated in? How can they understand our internet problems and network wahala when they have got special phones and Sims customized for them by these cut throat telecommunication companies?
Even some of the leaders with good intentions will end up failing because they have smoked protocol like marijuana. They are high on protocols but low on the needs of the people. They are buried in protocol and bureaucracy, surrounded by ass-licking aides who are only concerned in singing the leaders praises for their own selfish ends.
A former Vice President of Nigeria once described Aso Rock Villa as a prison. During the Goodluck Jonathan administration there was a saga with a supposed phone call to the King of Morocco and President Goodluck didn’t even know about it weeks after the mass media was awashed with the story.
It’s like these aides usually convince our leaders that they are too important to read the papers; they shut them out from the real world and convince them that anyone that says anything contrary to their policies is an enemy.
Government officials cannot even detect the rot in the system; rot happening right in their ministries because they don’t pay unscheduled visits to parastatals, agencies and project sites in the name of protocol. How can a Minister or Commissioner of Education find out the rot in a secondary school when he can’t pay unscheduled visit to such a school?
They will have to announce weeks before such a visit, allowing the corrupt school administrators to give the school a cosmetic facelift. When the government official arrives, he is usually more interested in the red carpet reception, the rendition of his everlasting titles and the yams they will give him to take back than in engaging the administrators, looking at the books and asking probing questions.
Children whose parents have not been paid for months will line up to wave at the government official and sing welcome songs on empty stomachs. This is governance for our leaders. In 1991, I was in primary 2 in Government Primary School, Abakpa, Ogoja, CRS, when Ibrahim Babangida visited Ogoja. We were asked to line up the road to wave him welcome.
Imagine 7-year olds standing under the sun for hours, famished and dog-tired, just to wave to our President for a few seconds while he drove by in a tinted, air-conditioned bullet proof car. He didn’t even have the courtesy to wind down and wave back to the leaders of tomorrow. For years all I dreamt about was to drive in that kind of car and punish other children to wave at me just as I was punished.
Yes it was a punishment. My dad who was a police sergeant had died 2 years before the President’s visit. No one paid us any death benefits. We were plunged into abject penury. My widowed mother had just toiled to get me a new uniform and that was my sin for being punished for hours under the sun. I was selected because my uniform was new and clean. As I stood under that blistering Ogoja sun waiting to wave at IBB, I wished I wore the ragged uniform I had worn for months before Mama bought me the new one.
Who knows maybe this set of leaders are also taking their pound of flesh? Somewhere and somehow they have picked up the idea that governance is about long titles, red carpets, siren blaring convoys, endless trips abroad, doing nothing, feeling important and gathering a choir of aides to sing their Responsorial Psalm of praises.
In Nigeria if it is not slow it is not governance. Government officials behave as if they come to office without their brains. You will give someone a 2 paragraph letter or 1 page proposal to read and 6 months later he will tell you he is still looking into it. Abeg you no fit read? You don’t look into letters and proposals, you read them and take action.
I believe this is what President Buhari is trying to stop by the recent directive that ministers must take permission from the presidency before travelling out of Abuja. This seems laudable but it will create more problems than it will solve. This will increase the problem of shutting the leaders away from the people. And it will also increase the ceremony in their visits. This will not be good for us.
Ministers should be encouraged to pay regular unscheduled, convoy-less visits to agencies, institutions and projects sites under their ministries. This will enable them gather firsthand knowledge and improve service delivery to the people. This should be exemplified by the President. If administrators realize that the President, Governors and Ministers can visit anytime, unannounced and ask questions they will sit up.
And don’t tell me that is not how governance works here; I know, but I think that is how it should work.
First Baba Isa (FBI) writes from Abuja