By Ifeatu Agbu
When an American author, Chris Fussell, wrote that “in any bureaucracy, there’s a natural tendency to let the system become an excuse for inaction,” he was not being sarcastic.
He wrote with the conviction that stiff bureaucracy, like the Nigerian variant, is stultifying.
The recent disclosure by the Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Dr. Samuel Ogbuku, during an interactive session between the Commission and the House of Representatives Committee on NDDC, gives an inkling to what bureaucracy means in the Nigerian milieu.
The NDDC Chief Executive Officer told the law makers that the Commission’s budgets for 2021, 2022 and 2023 passed by the National Assembly in April this year were still trapped in the web of bureaucracy.
He lamented: “Since the budget was passed, it has not been handed over to us up till now. We would pray and plead with you to ensure that as quickly as possible, you facilitate the process for us to have the budget because the year is already coming to an end.”
The NDDC is meant to respond to the developmental challenges in the Niger Delta and fast-track development in the region. The question is, will bureaucracy allow this to happen? Living up to the mandate of driving the development process for the transformation of the Nigeria’s oil-rich region requires regular and adequate funding. No one should be throwing spanners in the wheels in the name of bureaucracy.
Issues of bureaucratic governance are seen as crucial determinants of the degree to which a country makes social and economic progress or fails to do so. These issues have been of concern since the advent of centralised administration, but they have taken on particular significance since the work of Max Weber some hundred years ago. In recent years, there has been increasing evidence that bureaucratic performance is important for development performance.
Osborne David and Gaebler Ted wrote on ‘Reinventing Government’ thus: “It is hard to imagine today, but a hundred years ago, bureaucracy meant something positive. It connoted a rational, efficient method of organisation – something to take the place of the arbitrary exercise of power by authoritarian regimes. Bureaucracy brought the same logic to government work that the assembly line brought to the factory. With the hierarchical authority and functional specialisation, they made possible the efficient undertaking of large complex tasks.”
Even now, one can still point at some countries where bureaucracy has been put to good use. Here, the good fortunes of some East Asian countries, where bureaucracy played a positive role in the rapid growth of their economy, stand out. Indeed, it could be said that bureaucracy was a key ingredient of their economic miracle.
Many economic experts agree that the Asian Tigers – Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan, Korea and Malaysia- owe their successes not only to good visioning but to efficient and well-oiled bureaucracy.
Sadly though, this dramatic turnaround in Asia could not be replicated in many African countries, including Nigeria. Unlike the situation in East Asia, what takes centre-stage in our country is the negative aspect, which highlights the weakness of bureaucracy and this explains the poor development performance of many countries on the continent.
These days, there have been massive pressures across the world for governments to become leaner, more efficient and bring services closer to the people. Lack of economic and social progress in most African countries has also led to calls for improvement in the managerial efficiency of bureaucracies.To make substantial progress, there is need to rearrange the governance structure that runs the bureaucracy.
For us in this country, this is very urgent because bureaucracy in our clime is more of a drawback than a facilitator as envisaged by Max Weber and other great thinkers.It is rather unfortunate that, like most other aspects of Nigeria’s national life, bureaucracy has degenerated over the years. During the first Republic, the civil service bequeathed to the country by the colonial masters was a veritable engine of socio-economic transformation. That is no longer the case.
The notorious Nigerian factor has diluted the bureaucracy to a miserable point of being a burden rather than an asset to this country.It is not for nothing that bureaucracies are criticised and blamed for a variety of failings. Critics remind us that bureaucracies are too focused on conforming to rules rather than achieving an organisation’s core mission.
Bureaucracies are more inclined to hierarchical control and are unable to deal effectively with problems that span multiple administrative jurisdictions.You can follow due process and get things done without unnecessary bureaucracy that ensures that before a file moves from one point to another it takes months.
No country in the world can develop with that kind of bureaucracy. Perhaps, that explains why the NDDC was established as an interventionist agency. It has to work like a task force with minimal bureaucracy.
For the NDDC to fulfill its mandate of rapidly developing the Niger Delta region, it needs to break loose from the bureaucratic manacles which hinder progress and development. It must wean itself of excessive bureaucracy to be able to deliver sustainable development to the long-neglected people of Nigeria’s oil basin.
Unfortunately, the challenge is not just to fix the system in NDDC because it feeds from the larger governance structure of the country. How do you explain a situation where an appropriation Act passed in April is still stuck in the web of some inexplicable bottleneck. Thankfully, despite the drawbacks, the NDDC has continued to refine its processes, especially in the area of budgeting.
It recognised the need for an all-inclusive budget for the Commission and thus set out to engage stakeholders in restructuring the Commission’s budgeting process in order to achieve realistic and implementable budget. In August, the Commission hosted a two-day Partners for Sustainable Development (PSD) Forum-NDDC 2024 Budget of Reconstruction Conference at Ibom Icon Hotels and Golf Resort in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.
The conference attracted representatives from the nine states of the Niger Delta region, International Oil Companies (IOCs), Ministry of Niger Delta Development, Traditional Rulers of Oil Mineral Producing Communities (TROMPCON), Civil Society Organisations, youth groups and Non-Governmental Organisations, NGOs.
At the end of the conference, the participants noted the strategic importance of the PSD Forum in the NDDC budgetary process, observing that it would eliminate duplications and institutional suspicions in the development process; reduce the incidence of working at cross purposes as well as check wastage of scarce resources allocated for regional development initiatives by all stakeholders. The stakeholders proposed regular town hall meetings and engagements of the several ethnic nationalities of the region before the yearly budget sessions to ensure that the document receives inputs from the people directly.
One can only hope that the efforts of the NDDC in laying out plans for a comprehensive and all-inclusive budget process will be complemented by a governance system that provides the building blocks for the implementation of development plans. Obviously, there is an urgent need to instill the positive aspects of bureaucracy in our system. This is necessary for organisations such as NDDC to be able to achieve the goals for which they were established.
Our bureaucracy should be transformed into a reliable vehicle for ending the depressing era of lamentations in Nigeria.