As a student at Lagos Business School (LBS), prior to its transformation into Pan African University later renamed Pan Atlantic University, I encountered a great Nigerian, a role model, and a teacher who once served Nigeria as its High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. One thing about him was that he was always one of the first two instructors to arrive at the school compound every morning smartly dressed. He made sure to be at his desk before even the scholars. Added to that, he was always available to take his classes. His respect for time reminded me of the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant. I am talking about Dr. Christopher Kolade.
Dr. Kolade left a lasting impression on me, and I guess, on so many others as far as respect for time and schedules were concerned. At one of his lecture sessions, we engaged with him on his habit of punctuality and always being at his desk despite his age. He then told a story of how he was beckoned by his staff in London to mellow down on his dogmatic adherence to time, schedules, and appointments. They asked him to slow down because his style was becoming a challenge to them. They were struggling to catch up. The implication was that the staff lacked respect for time and did not pay attention to punctuality and schedules. What they did not know was that it was too late to undo a habit that had become part of one’s identity. No one could stop Kant from being a stickler for time. The fact was that the man they were looking at was a disciplined man. It was in his nature to be disciplined. He taught them, with his style, that it takes discipline to sustain a habit. And for a public servant, elected or appointed, punctuality and strict adherence to schedules, is a hallmark of service discipline.
This was the summary of what irked Senate President, Godswill Akpabio when he voiced out his disgust over the fact that heads of MDAs invited to an open session of the Senate, where they were to discuss and dissect the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) 2024-2026 proposal, were largely absent. Hear Akpabio: “The Chairman of the lead committee (Finance) should give me the list of all the Heads of Agencies that you invited who have failed to show up in this session. This is the beginning of their failure in their various offices. Any head of agency that sends representation here is not a serious person and therefore, the President must take a second look at such a person’s appointment… It is not a threat but the truth. I shelved even my appointment to appear in Owerri today for the final rally of my party and all other schedules that I have to make sure that I appear so that we can strategise on how we can succeed”.
Short of directly accusing the absentee Heads of MDAs of sabotaging President Bola Tinubu’s government, Akpabio further said: “I, therefore, remind our committee that any serious appointee or any head of any agency that is interested in the success of President Bola Tinubu’s administration ought to be here”. But they were not! What this indicates, to the rational observer and analysts, is that these Heads of MDAs actually did not care to know how the fiscal policies that they are employed to execute for the regeneration of the Nigerian economy, are developed or formulated. It also means that they pay the least attention to the philosophical underpinnings of those national policies. This is why the issue goes beyond mere absenteeism.
The Senate President further said: “The 2024-2026 MTEF/FSP is being considered at a time that events at the global scene and locally, are putting massive negative financial and socio-economic pressure on Nigeria from most development indices. Internationally, the intractable Russian-Ukraine war and the sudden Israeli-Palestine war are having international economic repercussions that have consequences for our economic outlook. In addition, we are in the throes of the immediate effects of needed reform in our foreign exchange system and the equally needed removal of subsidies on petroleum products. Coupled with the security challenges confronting the nation, there is no doubt that we must be painstaking and bold in economic projections and policies to stimulate employment and economic growth. While we acknowledge that the majority of our people are going through very difficult times in their daily lives at present, we are very hopeful that in the medium term and in the long run, the Nigerian economy is bound to rebound for relief to the majority of our people. In pursuant to this goal, I want to encourage a frank and honest discussion of all the parameters and indices contained in the 2024-2026 MTEF/FSP. We must not shy away from confronting the economic challenges facing the nation and the 2024- 2026 MTEF/FSP should be a platform to guide our subsequent actions.”
The issue goes beyond mere absenteeism. It is a development that strikes at the base of the seriousness that heads of MDAs attach to the issues of economic planning and management of the Nigerian situation. MTEF is at the core of government’s economic policy development, management, and implementation. So, the question is this: how would heads of MDAs implement policy decisions that they made no input in their development and adoption? How would they measure the impact of the policy on the economy if they are not equipped with the thinking that went into their conceptualization? Being involved in the conception, development, and adoption of a development policy empowers those implementing it with the knowledge of the logic and mindset that led to their adoption. Being aware of the intendments of a policy empowers the drivers with the logical arguments that make implementation seamless. But, here we are with heads of MDAs registering absent at a major policy development hearing at the Senate.
This is where the action of the MDA heads has its most significant interpretation. If, as Akpabio stated, the MTEF was to be a guide towards leading Nigeria out of the economic woods, shouldn’t the heads of MDAs invited to the open session of the Senate to dissect relevant issues attached to it, have considered the senate invitation as a matter of urgent national importance? Shouldn’t the absenteeism also be seen as a boycott and open disregard to the call of duty for which appropriate sanction ought to be enforced? Sanctions would be appropriate because bad behaviour ought no longer to be tolerated as a signature of leadership in Nigeria, especially, for a government that has a lot to prove.
Akpabio had complained against what is now a national habit. Many heads of MDAs had formed, and, adopted absenteeism as a national lifestyle. The sad end of it is that people lobby, and possibly pay bribes, to be appointed to the headship of MDAs, only to sleep on their jobs and somehow, expect miracles to happen. Perhaps, this is one reason Nigeria is recorded as a most-praying nation. This is an issue of indiscipline that has gone on, over the years, unpunished. Can Akpabio fight it alone? I pity his plight. He will shout himself hoarse and nothing will change unless he is able to cause those involved to be sanctioned by the presidency. While they absent themselves from such national assignments, I imagine what would happen if the invitation was for them to attend the same hearing outside Nigeria’s shores. Registration to attend would be concluded months ahead with requests for special provisions for ‘extras’. Get me right, besides what politicians do as brand eroders the indiscipline of the public servant hurts Nigeria even more.