[Documents menu] Documents menu

Wanted: Referendum On De-regulation And Privatisation

By Ben Lawrence, Vanguard Daily, 28 September 2000

Lagos—The only language that has been pleasant to the ear of Nigerian elites for the past 30 years is contract award. Little wonder that senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria regard it as a priority higher than that of the public weal.

It is lip service to say seriously that any Nigerian is loyal to its flag. Loyal citizens obey the laws according to the constitution.

If this holds true, it would be surprising that senators brazenly broke the laws by violating the Insurance Act (No.2) of 1997 as the recent National Assembly probe has proved conclusively. The report of the inquiry into award of contracts at the National Assembly revealed that government vehicles were insured with the Royal Exchange Assurance by the Senate.

On whose orders was the law on insuring government properties flouted?

The Insurance Act (No.2) of 1997, section 3, sub-sections (1) and (2) state:

The responsibility for insuring all properties of government as defined in the National Insurance Corporation of Nigeria.

Notwithstanding the provisions of sub-section (1) of this section and sub-section (2) of the National Insurance Corporation Act, any such properties of government may, with the approval of the Head of State, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, be insure with any other insurer. That does not even allow for the delegation of such powers.

What it looks like now is that those in the executive arm and the legislators violate the law and the constitution always with reckless abandon to satisfy expediency and lust for money.

Only an administrative novice would ascribe the function of awarding contracts to legislators. If they must buy stationery, repair their vehicles or refurbish their houses, these functions are within the scope of responsibility of the executive which is charged with preparing budgets yearly and collecting taxes upon which government is generally run. Only an absurd constitution would dwell on the irrelevant issue of award of contracts. Generally, it is assume that projects are executed by relevant ministries of government, except farmed out. Those who served in military administrations with clear-cut ideals of how public affairs are managed misunderstand the illegalities of soldiers for the norms of good governance.

The National Assembly prepares its estimates. But it does not exist outside the national budget which is disbursed by the executive as the collector of taxes. Since employees of the National Assembly are civil servants, paid and guided by the rules of the Civil Service Commission, they execute all projects. It is not part of legislation work to execute projects but to make laws.

The law on NICON, for example, had not been abrogated by the National Assembly. So it stands valid. A federal agent that insures government properties with any other company aside from NICON, breaks the law. This was what the Senate did.

And what is wrong with NICON, the richest and largest insurance company in black African, retaining monopoly of government business? It should be a pride to General Yakubu Gowon and the Nigerians government that NICON is a legacy worth commending as a successful government enterprise.

When we worked in Her majesty's Government of Western Nigeria in the colonial days, all purchasing for government and insurance were undertaken by the Crown Agents. Crown Agents arrange British companies.

Even here in Nigeria, all UAC interests are insured with UNIC, all British interests insured with Royal Exchange Assurance. All-American companies patronizes American International Insurance and the same applies to French interests using their country's insurers.

Of all the so-called bid to privatize government enterprises, the one that beats one's imagination most is the proposed privatization of NEPA. We did not vote for President Olusegun Obasanjo to sell our properties for a song. If he made de-regulation and privatization a campaign matter he would have lost the election. If he told us he was the new recruit of the IMF and World Bank we would have ensured his defeat as we did to Chief Olu Falae.

It was Falae who pledge to sell our properties to pay our debts; the debts we knew we really did not owe. Surprisingly, Obasanjo is acting on Falae's election promise to sell our properties to repay our debts.

I challenged Obasanjo to call a referendum on de-regulation, privatization and globalization. He will lose. The people knew the evils of SAP before Ibrahim B. Babangida introduced it through the backdoor. And they cannot be fooled. Bill Clinton has not privatized NASA. He is a sensible and patriotic American. Mr. Lawrence wrote in from Surulere.