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The cosmetic changes

Published by Guardian on Tue, 03 Jul 2012

COMING after months of apparent dormancy in the Presidency, the change of personnel in two key areas of government signposts a waking up to the reality that there is danger in the land. Arguably, the security sector and the oil sector, represented by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), are Nigeria's most challenging departments at the moment. While one illustrates a sorry state of law and order in the country, epitomised by regular destruction of lives and property; the other epitomises the corruption cankerworm that has feasted deeply on the country's fabric.But the changes, desired as they might be ' if only to impress that someone is in charge of the ship of state ' are, on their own, inadequate to reverse the ugly development in the two sectors and the looming danger threatening to consume all. They must be backed by other concrete measures if government desires real, not cosmetic, change. For a start, government should be forthright to state clearly its objective, and how the removed personnel failed to achieve it, if indeed they failed. That will guide the new personnel from threading the same part of failure.What is clear to Nigerians now is that the nation's resources are being pilfered on a regular basis with a discernable lack of will on the part of the authorities to apprehend the culprits.There is much talk and little action on corruption.Security has been catapulted to the foremost problem of this country. Nigerians feel insecure in their own country with weekly bombings and deaths.Following the general strike and one-week protest that erupted in January over the removal of the so-called fuel subsidy, the nonchalant establishment was gripped in a life and death struggle with civil society groups. As a means of assuaging popular anger, the Federal Government assured the nation that the benefits accruing from the removal of the fuel subsidy would be ploughed back to make life better for the poorer classes. It introduced a raft of palliatives, including mass transportation programmes. Six months into the promises, there is nothing on ground to show for the subsidy removal. Indeed, President Jonathan has said that the palliatives were no longer feasible because he could not achieve what he called zero subsidy.The Christopher Kolade commission, Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment (SURE) he appointed to oversee the disbursement of subsidy funds, although not disbanded, has practically gone into hibernation. Nigerians feel betrayed.They had reluctantly accepted a N97 per litre for petrol instead of N65. The 49 per cent increase has not translated into any benefit to Nigerians.To add insult to injury, the House of Representatives has found that N2.6 trillion was expended by the NNPC on scammers whose fictitious imports were subsidised by the Nigerian state.In the light of the corruption and failed promises, the recent sackings in the NNPC are mere ritual. In the most recent changes, Austen Olusegun Oniwon, Group Managing Director, along with three of his group executive directors: Michael Arokodare, in charge of finance and accounts; Phillip Chukwu, refineries and petrochemicals; and Billy Agha, engineering and technology, have been asked to go home. Andrew Yakubu, former managing director of Warri Refinery and Petrochemicals has been announced as replacement for Oniwon.These personnel changes are not impressive. Several reports on the NNPC have called for a thorough overhaul of the corporation. The National Assembly, in addition to discovering the monumental fraud within the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and the NNPC, has called for the Minister of Petroleum Resources' resignation. The seeming rejection of this call has the potential of entrenching corruption within NNPC. The changes already announced by the president simply do not go far enough. Relieving people of their appointments without reason; and then praising them for job well done send a confusing signal. Besides, having five NNPC managing directors in five years says a lot about the instability of the office and the potential for graft.About the same period the NNPC changes were announced, President Jonathan decided to sack Dr. Haliru Bello, his Minister of Defence. Again no reason was given, and so far, no successor has been named. Of great significance however is the sacking of the National Security Adviser (NSA), retired General Andrew Owoye Azazi, on the assumption that he has not lived up to expectations in his job. Although he was the National Security Adviser, the security situation under his watch deteriorated to an all-time low. Anything and everything have become targets of terrorist bombings, including churches and mosques. Nigerians are just about tired of these bombings and are anxiously awaiting a solution. Azazi has been replaced by Sambo Dasuki, a relative new comer to national security. Can he do better'Blandly making personnel changes in one or two places is not a cure for the nation's problems; neither is it a strategy. There ought to be a policy thrust to these changes. The new man must know what he is expected to do. The issue of security deserves rigorousexamination and novel thinking. The NSA is not an operational adviser. There ought to be a central coordinator and commander to whom all the security officers are answerable. This officer should be the one responsible for fighting terrorism.Additionally, it will behis responsibility to establish necessary linkages and networks with neighbouring countries. What has been done so far is substantial only in cosmetic. Nigeria deserves better. The president should do better.
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