Over the last 25 years, Mr. Lanre Adesuyi, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Havilah Merchants Nigeria Ltd., has been in the forefront of moves to make public and private sector players embrace global best practices in record keeping.
However, he’s happy to say that his company has recorded modest successes, as Havilah has been retained by the best of blue-chip companies and MDAs, including oil and gas, financial services companies as well as the judiciary.
In this chat, Adesuyi narrates his experiences, challenges and reasons Nigeria must embrace proper records management.
What exactly is records management?
Records management is simply about how we keep files and information such that these can easily be retrieved for business or whatever other purpose they are needed. Usually and in broad terms, we sometimes classify records as live (to be used immediately) or dead (to be retrieved from the past). To make the concept of records management clearer, let us start from the home where families keep records of every member, especially of children from birth through school, through employment and so on. These are basically personal and useful records that would be needed by individuals from time to time. In financial institutions, for example, record keeping begins from the first day a customer is registered as an account holder through all basic transactions and the submission of collaterals for loan facilities and other big-ticket transactions. In Ministries, Departments and Agencies, there are all sorts of records including personnel records and vital policy formulation and implementation documents that are necessary to keep the apparatus of government running. Some of these records have statutory life span of about 50 years and could be called up at any point in time. Failure to produce them could spell trouble for responsibility officers and could cost the institution, the government and the nation a lot of damage. For example, a financial institution could find itself in a big problem if it loses a customer’s Certificate of Occupancy that had been deposited as collateral to secure a transaction.
What’s the state of records management in Nigeria?
We really do not seem to appreciate the importance of records management. In the private sector, only a few organisations in oil and gas and financial services sector embrace records management. Sad to say that records in most organisations in the public sector are embarrassingly in tatters. Officially, records are kept in open or confidential registries, but these records are generally not secure and are usually not safe from the elements. Put simply, these records are in bad shape. Worse is that a lot of individuals really do not care about managing their records. In the end, they often pay avoidable heavy price for such carelessness, particularly when they have official transactions or when they retire from work.
Only recently, the Federal Government directed all MDAs to digitise their records. What’s your view on this?
It is a good initiative because government has realised that not keeping records is dangerous. The directive is an indication that government has begun to overcome the problem of nonchalance or inadequate understanding of the importance of records management, which was a major obstacle in the beginning. Look at the cases of the fire incidents that gutted parts of the offices of the Accountant General of the Federation or the Corporate Affairs Commission, both in Abuja during the COVID-19 lockdown. The extent of loss may never be known but what is certain is that records would have been lost. Even, the monuments and artefacts in our museums are being degraded due to inadequate management of records that are progressively being eaten up by ants and termites. The story is different with our stolen artefacts in foreign museums. It is sad that these foreign institutions represent about the best quality access that we have to our nation’s history. Similarly, it is regrettable that much of the records of Nigeria’s films and entertainment sector are lost. Where are you likely to get quality footage of such blockbuster productions like ‘Things Fall Apart’, ‘Cockcrow at Dawn’, ‘The Village Headmaster’ and many more? Why then would our culture not die? If records are kept properly, they are much safer.
Why is it that difficult to embrace records management in Nigeria?
The absence of holistic planning is largely to blame. This is typical of Nigerians not caring about so many things and not planning for most things. Let us take the issue of terrorism, for example. For over a decade, this has been a major problem in Nigeria. Even so, who is keeping the records? Who is truly planning for anything? We only get to hear news of sporadic attacks here and there but there are no proper records of the dead and the injured or even the time and place of attacks. If tomorrow we are to ask questions about last week’s attacks, we are hardly ever likely to get accurate records from government sources. This is usually the reason for conflicting information in the public sphere. It is also the reason that planning for counterterrorism is so difficult. In the circumstance, how can the country ever hope to defeat insurgency? But the places of worship are a bit different because churches and mosques keep their eyes regularly on their membership so they could grow the numbers and the revenue. This is the kind of attitude Nigerians should have towards records management. Government must be aware that bad record keeping is a major reason that national development has been quite slow.
What are the solutions?
The first way out of the problem is to create awareness of the need for proper records management. With awareness, people and institutions will better appreciate the need to keep their records and the best way to do so.
Another is to ensure the availability of funds to undertake records management projects without which the process of proper keeping of records cannot be activated. Funds are required to provide the right infrastructure, the shelving systems, the space and other necessary facilities.
Over the last 25 years, our company, Havilah Merchants Nigeria Ltd has been in the forefront of moves to make public and private sector players embrace global best practice in record keeping. We have recorded modest successes, I am happy to report. We have been retained by the best of blue-chip companies and MDAs. We have also worked for oil and gas companies; financial services companies as well as the judiciary. Our international partners like Bruynzeel manufacture ISO-certified products so we are well placed to offer best in class services.