“For every folly of their [leaders] the people feel the lash.”
Horace, 65-8 BC. (VAGUARD BOOK OF QUOTES, VBQ P 61)
Today is June 4, 2017 and a national newspaper announced that the Presidency does not intend to reject the 2017 Budget without telling the people of Nigeria when it will be signed. On the day the National Assembly, NASS, approved N7.441tn, the Deputy Senate President made a self-evident truth that passing the appropriation bill is one of the most important functions of the legislature. He might have added that it is also one of the most important jobs of the Executive branch.
At the moment, the Executive and legislative branches of the current period are under the same political party – the All Progressives Congress, APC. Together they have been responsible for creating the worst record in history for late passage of the budget. And, nobody in the party is apparently in charge of whipping everybody into line.
That was why on May 29, 2017 the Acting President had nothing to say to the people other than to claim victory over Boko Haram. There was nothing said about the budget which influences the economy and affects our lives more than Boko Haram. There was no mention of the increasing menace of herdsmen which is gradually tilting the country towards self-help and widespread violence.
Very few Ministries of the Federal Government have anything positive to report as we cross the half-way line – with the economy still in recession. The only glaring exception is Transportation. And, one of the agencies under the Ministry which had been making great strides is the Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority, OGFZA. The Managing Director of the OGFZA is Obong Umana Okon Umana, whose long tenure in the service, at top levels, of Akwa Ibom State, starting from former Governor Victor Attah to Godswill Akpabio, had equipped him adequately for service in complex organizations such as the OGFZA. It is quite possible that few people know him and are aware of his enormous abilities as a public servant.
He ran for Governor under the banner of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in 2015 and suffered a controversial loss to the incumbent Governor Emmanuel. Nothing would be said about the governor because this is not a partisan or state review. But, Akwa Ibom through Umana’s loss in 2015 had donated a valuable performer to the Federal Government of Nigeria. We should search for more.
When asked how to assess the performance of a public servant, my reply has always been the same. “Look at what the people served directly by that officer are doing in response to his leadership of the agency he heads.” This is especially important when investments are involved – that means people voting with their hard-earned money. Are they divesting and voting with their disappearing feet? Reducing involvement? Or increasing stake-holding?
Judged by that objective standard, OGFZA is an outstanding success. Arguably, the largest investor in the OGFZA at Onne, Rivers State is INTELS Nigeria Limited. INTELS was recently honoured by the State government for its enormous faith in Nigeria and its unmatched investment in the zone. Any government of Rivers State, irrespective of political party, cannot deny the leadership of the company in the Zone.
In March of this year, INTELS acquired a crane reportedly worth N1.8 billion – a 600 tonnes Liebherr – which is currently the largest in Africa and had been deployed to the OGFZA.
About the crane The Head of Administration and General Services of INTELS, Mr Chibuisi Onyebueke, informed me on my visit to Onne to see the behemoth that, it is sitting on 104 tyres, is capable of lifting cargoes as heavy as 208 tonnes, with a 17-metre boom reach. “With its extensive boom reach, the LHM 600 is the ideal cargo handling solution for the type of very large ships operating across the world today.” Mr Onyebueke forgot to mention that by this acquisition of the LHM 600, Onne has become the destination for a lot of ships bound for West Africa to offload very heavy cargo.
Large investors are not crazy. They invest in organizations whose leadership they trust. So, the acquisition of the LHM can be regarded as a vote of confidence in the current management of OGFZA.
In addition to building investor confidence, the OGFZA had also worked to reduce insecurity in the maritime areas under its jurisdiction. Piracy in the Gulf had been sharply reduced and more ships are now sailing into Nigeria than ever before. Again, this is an objective measure of improvement because ship and cargo owners are uniformly risk-averse. They have no stomach for insurance claims for ships looted or staff kidnapped. When a zone or port gets too hot, they go elsewhere.
What remains for the OGFZA to achieve excellent result is the resolution of the disagreements about the amendment of the OIL AND GAS EXPORT FREE ZONE AUTHORITY ACT, CAP 05, LAWS OF THE FEDERATION OF NIGERIA, 2011. The 2015 amendment has been stalled by certain provisions which seem to want to punish success based on hard work and previous commitment to Nigeria.
Once OGFZA resists the Pull Him Down, PHD, syndrome underlying the conflict it will lay solid foundation for sustainable development of the OGFZA and the Ministry of Transportation will continue to be the success story of a government with very few.