Tardiness as govt parastatals’ brand name

Tardiness as govt parastatals’ brand name

Monday, June 30, 2014 1:32 pm

By Akin Owolabi

The National Identity Management Commission, NIMC, a Federal parastatal charged with crafting biometric capture of all Nigerians from age 18, is yet to get off the starting blocks some two years into commencing the test-run of the new national identity scheme both in Lagos and Abuja. That means not a single valid identity card has been issued out of a project that has guzzled billions of naira despite some two years of well-throttled operation. NIMC is disturbingly still crawling at the speed of snail. This slow motion of the commission aligns with a Yoruba adage about a sloven person who spent several years incubating a malady – insanity – leaving a big poser as to how many more years left for such one to manifest raving madness.

Akin Owolabi

Akin Owolabi

NIMC’s inability to issue a single ID card hangs precariously on its grand illusion that the ever-busy President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, must not only launch the project but be the first recipient of its product at a gratuitously auspicious ceremony. What a sheer delusion!

I got wind of the scheme by accident on 26 March last year – 2013. I was en route to Lagos Island via Alausa, Ikeja when a resident in my area, who was heading for the Lagos annex of NIMC at Alausa, persuaded me to take advantage of the low-key exercise. The new scheme was designed to update the products of the 2003 similar national ID exercise that was largely bungled. Many have not received their personal copies of the card till now.

I was further persuaded on the belief that taking part in the test-run would consume less than one hour, an assurance that fell grossly short of prediction as I spent an excess of two hours, shifting from one queue to another in the large hall assigned to NIMC in a premises shared with the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, a stone’s throw from the Lagos State Secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja.

Experience garnered during the first nation-wide ID exercise in 2003 offered the best persuasion. Expectedly, that exercise was shoddy, messy and a nightmare. No rational being would pray to be enmeshed again, so the less jampacked test-run would definitely be an opportunity for a future escape – the stitch in time.

I pulled through at the test-run that 26 March 2013 but was told that I could not obtain the slip that would serve as temporary identity card that would be replaced with the authentic one within four weeks. The inability to issue the slip was blamed on poor internet network.

I returned 4 April 2013, only to receive a paper that was in all respect similar to the first – both on A-4 70-gram sheets. A couple of visits to the Ikeja annex drew the well rehashed response that all prospectors would be contacted on their mobile phone numbers. When such was not forthcoming, I pulled through calls to the commission’s Abuja head office. The response to the last of such efforts volunteered that NIMC would remain shackled until President Goodluck Jonathan flagged off the scheme and that the launch would be pulled through before 2013 ran its course. The management is playing to the gallery, simple. We behold a strategic national project that needed not delay for one day lingering and flip-flopping long enough to earn its fair share of national tardiness. If test-running could be this long and even much longer, what should be expected of the main, country-wide exercise? It needs be mentioned that Nigeria’s financial industry, the entire gamut of the security system, the electoral body, and the business community are all waiting to leverage on unified national identity system to attain a reasonable level of efficiency. It is a national disgrace that the body assigned to facilitate this is itself entrapped in a self-woven cocoon and crippling inertia.

If this strategic parastatal is sloppy in the extreme, the older ones, existing or defunct, have all trodden or are still treading the path of dishonour. It has always been a case of the same six and sixpence.

The Nigerian Postal Services, NIPOST, is another reference point in tardiness. I – please pardon a persistent reference to personal experience – sent a mail through the SPEEDPOST facility of NIPOST from Ikeja, Lagos to Port Harcourt, Rivers State late in 2012 and was assured the mail would journey two working days to its destination. It turned out a bogus lie. The mail took more than two odd weeks to arrive safely at its destination. Can that compare with other courier services in the private sector – DHL and the like? Never.

Workers of NIPOST will, ipso facto, continue to draw fat salaries for the worst possible job delivery. They can afford to embark on indefinite industrial action to press for improved working condition and in the end retire to reap the juicy fruits of inefficiency, while their clinically efficient private sector colleagues are denied such luxury. What a paradox! Thankfully, the era of mail dumping is gone for good. There are no more such precious mails to trash with reckless abandon and impunity.

The relevance of NIPOST in the face of ICT solutions that prompt immediate mails delivery online is questionable. The major area of relevance – hard copy mail delivery – is already in more efficient, private hands. NIPOST has lapsed into the refuse heap of irrelevance.

Nigerian Telecommunications, NITEL, is dead, and deservedly too. Its tyrannical reign ended in 2001 with the safe berth of global system for mobile – GSM. Its services, while they lasted, were a nightmare – lessons in how not to do business. Telephone booths and call centres were mere decorations. David Mark, then as Communications Minister in Army uniform, though now Senate President, was dead right to say telephone was not for the poor. That was however obviated 13 years ago with a death blow on NITEL. Three companies bidded and were licensed for the GSM business, with NITEL flying the green-white-green flag. MTN came all the way from South Africa while Econet distilled local and international enterpreneurs. Of the three, the truly national concern had all it would have taken – masts and other telecommunication facilities all over Nigeria – to first breast the roll-out tape. It could not. And when it finally and slovenly rolled-out far behind the rest two, it was the worst and within a short while, took an inglorious permanent exit.

The power sector has been comatose since 1977, when a huge python that allegedly glided into one of the turbines at the Kainji Hydro Electric Plant refused to creep out. From ECN, NEPA to PHCN and now unbundling and privatisation, the electricity bogeyman sticks out like a sore thumb. The Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, is a huge extortion machine while the corps’ two mandates – national driver’s licence and the unified vehicle number plates – have been compromised. Where else can we find probity and efficiency? I love to be educated.

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