From Uche Usim, Abuja
Penultimate week, soothing news came the way of Nigeria, as the country, through the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), was elected chairman of the Global Contract Transparency Network.
That feat saddles the NEITI executive secretary and chief executive officer, Dr. Orji Ogbonnaya Orji, with the responsibility to develop a framework and tools of engagement on contract transparency for 20 countries around the world.
Orji, at a recent interface with Daily Sun in Abuja, on the sidelines of a knowledge-sharing retreat, said he was well equipped for the task ahead, having been in the sector for a long time.
He said Nigeria was elected chairman judging by the track record of NEITI in boosting transparency and accountability in the nation’s extractive industries.
President Muhammadu Buhari appointed him the NEITI boss in February this year. Prior to that, Orji was the agency’s director of communications and advocacy.
He began his career at the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) and also worked with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), where he managed several donor-funded projects.
He holds a master’s degree and doctorate in Political Economy and International Development from the University of Abuja.
He spoke on NEITI and EITI in general.
Following my appointment, I feel there is a wide knowledge gap that needs to be filled in terms of where NEITI is today. Where does NEITI want to be? How does NEITI get there? I have clear knowledge and ideas of what I want to do for NEITI in the next couple of months. The President of Nigeria has given me an opportunity but I don’t think I should go it alone. I needed to validate those ideas with the staff to be able to have a buy-in of staff and I was amazed at the quality of input, quality of suggestions, interrogations of my own views of how things could be done that came out of the knowledge-sharing session. It was a very robust one week that we locked ourselves up in one room. And the whole idea was, how will NEITI link its objectives, mandates and implementation of its programmes to impact the lives of Nigerians and in the quality of governance in our country and those things that came out?
One unique thing that came out of the whole process was that all the resource persons were in-house.
We needed to talk to ourselves. You would be shocked that it was most encouraging for me that the quality of resource persons that we had were all in-house from NEITI, because whoever wears the shoes knows exactly where it pinches. We didn’t want to depend on people who could begin to make recommendations to us without diagnoses. So, these people were involved in the day-to- day running of NEITI, the day-to-day operation of NEITI over the last five years, and they know exactly where the lapses are and we were able to talk to ourselves. We came out strongly with opinions, ideas, suggestions and implementation strategies that can take effect for a short, medium and long term. It was a very robust one-week deliberation, and we are good to go.
What is the strategy in place and how do you plan to get there?
We have not formulated the strategies at all. Knowledge-sharing session has now generated a staff-based knowledge of what needs to be done. We have set up a 10-man team that is now going to articulate these ideas into a strategy and that 10-man team will be inaugurated on Monday. So, those are the kinds of decisions that we have made. It’s not concluded yet. We have generated the knowledge that we need, the ideas that we require, but we need to shape the ideas into a strategy. I have put in place a 10-man team made up of all staff and consultants working with NEITI, 10 bright young men and women within NEITI that will go to work on Monday to put them into shape but, before then, there are already ideas that are like low-hanging fruits that can be plucked, which we need to work with. So, we will run with those ones while the strategies are being developed.
I have only five years to make impact. I don’t have option of a second term and I don’t want those five years not to be accounted for. Every minute of my tenure should be accounted for. So, I am in a hurry. I am in a hurry to get the job done because I am ready for this job. I am trained for this job. I am equipped for this job. So, God being on our side, we want to make sure that, by the time I look back in five years, there will be credible impact. I didn’t come here to learn. I have been part of this organisation before the President gave me this opportunity. So, the time other people will use to learn, I am already on the job. I am in a hurry to deliver impact, God being on our side, because the job is there, the challenges are clear. When I say I am in a hurry, I mean we will deliver quality service based on knowledge and strategies. It is not to hurry anything but I do not think we have time to waste, because the job the organisation has to do in the extractive industry is huge and except and until we get the extractive industry, mining (solid minerals in particular) to get activities going to generate revenue for the government, we can’t say the job is done. I don’t like the government asking for money when we are sitting on natural resources that, if properly managed, we could generate a lot. We need to help government. NEITI is ready to help the government generate revenue and any idea that comes this direction, we are in a hurry to harvest them and put them to practice.
Progress in execution
Yes, I have been moving round, like I told you. We are an agency that is built on a multi-stakeholder coalition, government, companies, civil societies. You can’t get one without the other. We met with civil societies, the media, we met with the companies. Last week, I was in Lagos to meet with the regulator in the industry (DPR) and, like you rightly said, we also needed to meet with the Accountant-General because the Office of the Accountant-General is one of our covered entities and they have a role to play. They are the treasury house that will house the revenue accrued to government. So, we need them to understand what the EITI principles are and what these tenets of accountability and transparency are. And it is the Office of the Accountant-General that will appoint a chair for the inter-ministerial task team that will oversee the implementation of our recommendations in all the agencies. That is the leadership the Office of the Accountant-General has offered us to lead and Ahmed Idris, the Accountant-General of the Federation, we are grateful to him. The ball is in our court. He has asked us to make those appointments. We will be reaching out to him in the next couple of weeks and, when that is done, he would help us put that in check. That is why we met him. We also met him to help look at our budget to help us; that money that has been appropriated, it is important it is released to us. If people don’t know your problem, they won’t know how to solve it for you. So, we have been moving round so that people will know NEITI. Some don’t know what our job is all about, by the time they understand our job, they will now find a space to help us.
Well, on contract transparency, I, Orji Ogbonaya Orji, the executive secretary, has just been elected as the international chair of the Global Contract Transparency Network, covering 20 countries around the world. The counties include Armenia, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Guyana, Indonesia, Malaysia, Malawi, Mexico, Mongolia, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nigeria (which I am representing), Philippines, Senegal, Sao Tome and Principe, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia. These are countries that will be depending on what we are doing to develop their own framework and tools of engagement on contract transparency and the NEITI executive secretary representing Nigeria in the global network has been elected globally to chair that. The announcement was conveyed to us here in this forum. The country manager of the EITI has now said that, while I wait for a formal letter conveying that appointment to come in from Oslo, Norway, were the global network headquarters is located, I am expecting that letter of appointment to define the global approach to contract transparency Nigeria will be leading.
The appointment of Nigeria in that network, not only to be a member but to chair it, is believed by me to be a recognition of the extensive work we have put in place in developing a framework on gauging companies on contract transparency.
Yesterday, I had a one-hour meeting with the GMD of NNPC on how the NNPC and NEITI can develop a framework of engagement, beginning with NNPC’s disclosure of certain contracts that they are currently pursuing. We need to develope that framework and the framework will specify what we disclose, how we disclose, and at what time, who will consume the information that will be disclosed and how that information will be used in a way and manner not to jeopardize the operations of the covered entities in a manner that is open, transparent and information accessible.
I cannot make further comments on this because the GMD NNPC and I and also the director and executive CEO of the DPR have agreed to form a nucleus committee to develop a framework that will guide our organisations, protect the interest of our country, protect he sovereignty of our country, and then still provide information that will be useful to investors, citizens, civil societies and the media. That framework will be developed. In the next couple of days, that joint committee between NEITI, NNPC and DPR will be set up and we will take it up from there.
On the global level, you could see the larger platform on which NEITI has been elected, which I will be chairing, to play in the global arena. And it is the job we have done at home that will be exported outside. That is why the whole idea is incubating.