By Peter Ibie
The ongoing travails of Integrated Logistics Services (INTELS) Nigeria Limited dramatise the way the mediocre enjoy fighting top-notch achievers for unjustifiable reasons. The latest initiator of these travails is the Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority (OGFZA), which has decided to wage a war of attrition against INTELS for hollow reasons. To be candid, it is not surprising that in an environment governed by “pull-him-down syndrome”, INTELS is now a serial victim of fiendish policy attacks. The surprising element is the eagerness of public institutions to play the ignoble role of architects of economic misfortune. OGFZA is aware that if INTELS’ prestigious niche in logistics service is dislocated, the lofty aspirations of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act, 2010 will be jeopardized. This will spell economic woes for a nation in the throes of change.
By this action, the economic fortunes of INTELS are in jeopardy. Also, over 15,000 Nigerians and their families are likely to experience the dehumanizing wretchedness of income volatility occasioned by joblessness. Sadly, this might happen when Nigeria is still recovering from economic crunch, and lacks social security for her teeming citizens. The financial sector will not be immune to the problem, because INTELS secured loans from many banks to develop critical infrastructure in some ports.
This refusal to renew INTELS’ licence is mainly informed by the company’s chivalrous protestation of unjustifiable charges. INTELS perceives the land lease/sublease registration charge by the free zone regulator as extortionist. According to INTELS, it is ethically and legally senseless to pay the lease/sublease registration charge to OGFZA, since the land it occupies was leased from the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).
In the prevailing global economic order, experts in legitimization and de-legitimization of companies rank the connect-and-collaborate model of leadership above command-and-control tactics. Said differently, sapient regulators do not operate without viable consensus-formation mechanism and smart conflict resolution protocols.
The aspiration of OGFZA to be a specimen of bureaucratic excellence is undermined by its poor handling of INTELS’ complaints. It suggests a patent lack of collaborative mechanism. Hence, when it noticed the crisis of command caused by INTELS’ noncompliance, it resorted to the use of coercive power. The soft power of dialogue could have ended this impasse, if bureaucratic autocracy and arrogance of power did not come in.
It is an expression of civility for power to listen to truth, to dissent, to complaints, to grievances, when key economic actors contest the legitimacy of policy-prescribed actions. The credibility of any regulator is endangered when it resorts to intimidation and negative representation of the organisational character of companies. OGFZA’s characterization of INTELS as an institutional free rider which evades charges and flouts prescribed rules smacks of an ethical deficit. For reasons like this, it is clear why many Nigerians do not consider public agencies to have any ethical values from which they can draw inspiration.
OGFZA’s magisterial conclusion about the “unauthorised” disposal of INTELS’ assets even before the commencement of the proposed audit is premature, and redolent of bad faith. If the audit is eventually conducted, and INTELS is found wanting, it will be easier to contest its credibility, and tough to execute its recommended sanctions. Already, INTELS has disclosed its readiness to sue OGFZA for allegedly destroying its image. It is unclear what strategic national interest OGFZA seeks to achieve by stimulating this scandal. If INTELS has erred, it should suffer the consequences without undue media trial and toxic diatribes. To promote sustainable and inclusive economic growth, government must make the business environment friendlier, reduce risk of business failures and enhance bureaucratic competence. Competent bureaucracies do not allow political sentiments to dictate their actions. In fact, they are immune to partisan politics. Desperate political agents feel vulnerable without annexing bureaucratic institutions. So, they employ mercurially dictatorial antics and inducement to turn public institutions to outposts of their political groups. When they succeed, ethics is the first victim. Arbitrariness becomes a rule of conduct. Transitions to doom begin with arbitrariness. The converse is also true. Adherence to law opens amazing chapters of economic bloom.
Public institutions should be mindful of the season we are in. The 2019 election is about 14 months away. Nigerians tend to view issues like this through political prisms. Particularly, since Atiku Abubakar (GCON), a co-founder of INTELS, is a visible, viable and vocal political actor gunning for the presidency.
Some commentators claim that certain political agents are fearful of Atiku Abubakar. They nurse the fear that his political structure may have significant influence on the outcomes of the 2019 election. This fear is perennial; it is a galvanizer of negative political and economic actions. Some of the actions are a simplistic rehash of Obasanjo’s crafty moves in 2007 to confine Atiku to a political black hole.
In fact, Obasajo’s actions had historical antecedents. The credit for political emasculation by inflicting economic hemorrhage goes to General Sani Abacha. During his lacklustre autocratic rule, he seized Nigeria Container Services (NICOTES), the progenitor of INTELS. The seizure of NICOTES was occasioned by the pro-democratic agitations of arrowheads of Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), notably, Shehu Yar’Adua and Atiku Abubakar.
In a way, Nigeria’s dismal practice of democracy could be attributed to the hangovers of totalistic military politics, which have attenuated society’s conscience.
Oladele Osunbote posits that: “In Nigeria’s political system, one is a master player when one has first killed his own conscience.” Although, its factuality is relative, it engenders a question: When one kills his conscience, would it not spur the insatiate desire to kill the conscience of others? Hence, ethical malaise defines today’s political, bureaucratic and economic systems. It is worrisome when policymakers and implementers act as if they do not know that ethical collapse sets the stage for apocalyptic economic episodes.
The popularization of subjective ethics by agencies of government must be seen as a prelude to social instability and economic doom. Subjectivism lacks merit outside the ambits of private endeavours. Therefore, it should not dictate the trajectory of public policies. At the cusps of transformation, Nigeria gets overwhelmed by anaemia, because, she is a seeming alien to objective ethics.
Statements credited to the Managing Director of OGFZA, Mr. Umana Okon Umana, tacitly suggest pendulous swings. It is puzzling why OGFZA swings from the moral high ground of providing policy solutions legitimized by participation, flexibility, horizontality and inclusiveness to the pedestrian plane of a brewer of controversies. Attempts to rationalise why it has held INTELS by the jugular are unhelpful to its reputation.
It is needful to remind Mr. Umana Okon Umana that the single overriding communication objective (SOCO) of executive interventions in crisis situations is to offer clarity. Indisputably, enforcing compliance is critical to national development. However, motor park methods of compliance enforcement and crisis resolution must be eschewed in the twenty-first century. Regrettably, simple issues that could be addressed by healthy institutional interactions were allowed to snowball, acquire anti-progress tendencies and drive a wedge between the two organisations. The diminution of institutional resources caused by this politically motivated firework does not in any way open new frontiers of economic development for Nigeria. Rather, it may narrow the spectrum for 15,000 Nigerian families to savor the bliss of unmitigated economic prosperity.
Assumedly, the management of OGFZA is aware that draconian measures are often counterproductive in resolving stalemates. Assumedly, OGFZA would desist from unwittingly presenting itself to the discerning public as a weakling amenable to political manipulation.
Ibie writes from Lagos