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Nigeria: A country of zero consequences

The media space is currently inundated with stories of how China donated tons of rice worth a few million dollars to Nigeria for Internally Displaced Persons and food-insecure people in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states of about  4.4 million people. With our usual reactionary nature, different stakeholders are calling for the investigation of what went wrong concerning the non-delivery of the food items because a report by the House Committee indicated that about 800 million naira was incurred as demurrage costs at the port.

Procedurally, before another country engages in any form of transaction of such nature, the normal process would, probably, involve the Nigerian Ambassador to China who would inform Nigeria about the gesture to be received or the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria would notify the Nigeria government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the matter. Coupled with the culture of unproductive bureaucracy, egos and palms would have to be massaged on official matters, and most likely, tribal, political and religious considerations would still affect the decision-making process. With the paperwork done in nothing less than six months, the actual activity may begin to take place.

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From the report of the House Committee, about  6,779 metric tons of rice was donated by the Chinese government and shipped to Nigeria by June  2017. That translates to about 271 trailers or approximately 162,696 bags of rice. The Ministry of Agriculture, Finance,  Budget & National Planning and National Emergency Management Authority were charged with different responsibilities of receiving, clearing, storage, transportation and distribution of the consignments to the IDP’s in the North East. However, to date, the report stated, that there is no evidence that a single bag has been delivered.

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) was saddled with the responsibility of delivering the consignments to different designated silos and to distribute all the tons of the Chinese rice to the IDPs within states in the North-East that have been affected by insurgent activities. With time elapsing, the Chinese made an effort in notifying the Ministry of Budget and National Planning that the rice could not be evacuated for over a year at the seaport despite an import waiver.

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The monetary value of producing a bag of rice in China is at least 10 US dollars. Multiplying that with 162,696 may have cost the Chinese at least  $1,626,960, which is about N591 million. This excludes bagging, logistics, and other payments incurred. Our government paid N800 million as demurrage to APM terminal and Maersk Line for the consignment due to delay arising from inability and negligence to clear goods of less or about the same amount! Apart from the decadence of the whole activity, there is, as usual, the corruption angle. APM Terminal provided invoices on the demurrage showing payment by Ministry of Agriculture, but NEMA testified it made the payment. NEMA could not, however, provide before the committee evidence of payment to APM terminal but the amount reflected in their books.

By Nigerian standards of decadence, this is not surprising. It’s nothing new. What is appalling is that nothing is likely going to come out of it. Now that is something to worry about.  We have, over several decades developed a culture of setting the bar so low for governance. In saner climes, someone would answer. What performance reports do Ministers and Heads of Agencies send to the President and what does the President do when they have not met their targets? This is, of course, is assuming that set goals and objectives are set in the first place! For the States, which are mostly run like fiefdoms, with no consequences from citizens, what do commissioners send at the end of the year to evaluate their performance?

Which law enforcement agency has been held responsible or someone take responsibility for the level of insecurity that has made most roads un-passable due to fear of kidnappers and robberies? Who is going to lose his job for all the rape and human trafficking cases that have bedeviled the country? The usual slang is “the perpetrators will be brought to book”. What about the officers that allowed the perpetration in the first place? Who was responsible for allowing the rice to remain un-cleared for over a year?

Since we love to throw money at every problem, maybe it’s time to form a ‘high-powered committee’, comprised of spoon-fed civil servants that would look at the possibility of establishing an ‘Efficiency Agency ‘. For now, not a single staff will miss his salary or travel allowance in all the four ministries involved in the rice saga. No-one will pay for the inefficiencies of the past, and then we act surprised when things don’t seem to work. Zero consequences indeed!

Umar Yakubu wrote in from Abuja.

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