Transcending the lean times, By Dakuku Peterside

Criticism makes leaders wake up, and it puts them on their toes. It is a natural component of leadership. We all acknowledge that it is always easier to criticise than to appreciate; hence Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s founding fathers and a political philosopher, has this to say,”any fool can criticise, condemn and complain and most fools do “. However, when we see flashes of creative, courageous,and competent leadership, let us celebrate and encourage them. Amid challenges of acute insecurity, rising poverty levels and gloom and doom that have enveloped the country’s current climate and threaten the current administration’s legacy, some ministries, departments, and agencies have defied the odds to show that there is indeed hope for Nigeria. These MDAs’ and dedicated Nigerians have demonstrated innovation, courage, and hard work to meet leadership challenges.

There are pockets of sweet tales here and there under this government that the man on the street feels is insensitive to his yearnings and aspirations. These tales of sweetness from a handful of Ministries, departments, and agencies prove that visionary and transformational leadership can deliver giant strides and dividends even in chaotic and beleaguered environments. It is also an affirmation that within the context of public service with bureaucratic challenges, it is possible to achieve a credible outcome that will significantly impact the socio-economic lives of the people. An X-ray of three of these MDAs, amongst others, will show that honest, focused, and visionary leadership is all we need to change our growth trajectory as a nation.

The Federal Ministry of Transportation, through various rail projects, has been making immense strides in impacting the lives of Nigerians. Under the able leadership of  Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi (a driver of change and a man who chose to do things differently), the ministry identified rail transport as a catalyst for economic development. Since the inception of the present administration, it has built 3,505km of Narrow Gauge (NG) rails lines; 186 km network of Standard Gauge (SG) lines, linking Abuja to Rigasa in Kaduna State; 302 km network of Standard Gauge (SG) rail lines from Itakpe, Kogi State to Warri, Delta State; and additional 185.5km Double SG Lagos to Ibadan Rail lines with extension to Apapa Sea Port nearing completion. 

These rail lines connect different parts of the country to prosperity. New rail lines have had a small but significant impact on the lives of ordinary people who have come to see new possibilities in our county instead of just gloom that pervades the land. Testimonials abound about how rail crisscrossing different parts of the country have affected many ordinary people’s economic fortune.

The ministry also plans to build other Standard Gauge (SG) Routes from Ibadan to Kano, Kano – Kazaure – Daura – Katsina – Jibiya to link Maradi in Niger Republic, Port Harcourt-Aba-Enugu- Makurdi-Jos-Bauchi-Gombe-Maiduguri and Lagos-Ijebu Ode-Benin-Yenagoa-Port Harcourt-Aba-Uyo-Calabar (Coastal Rail Corridor). Even when some of these projects have not commenced, most citizens believe the Minister because he has demonstrated a track record of openness, dedication, and honesty in the discharge of his assignment. 

The ministry procured and received seven new SG Coaches commissioned in October 2019 for train service on the Itakpe-Warri line; received six new standard gauge Locomotives, nine freight Locomotives, two Diesel Shunters, two DMUs and 44 Coaches to ensure that the rail lines function effectively.

The ministry also embarked on the modification and upgrade of Microwave Communication Equipment with 72 Repeater Sites to provide a backbone for the Automated Train Warranty (ATW) Signalling System; Intercom communication within the railway network; Passenger information, CCTV, and Internet services; deployed Walkthrough scanners at Idu, Kubwa, Jere and Rigasa Stations for improved security.

There is also the Lagos Mass Transit Train, in which there are 12 Trains per day, moving about 13,000 passengers daily, and the Aba- Port Harcourt –Aba  mass transit service.There is a Lagos – Kano –Lagos Train with the Intercity Passenger Service that runs once a week, moving about 2,500 passengers per week. The Offa – Kano – Offa Train, which plies once a week, carries about 2,000 passengers weekly. The combined effect of this rail revolution is the pursuit of the dream of a 21st century Nigeria that is logistically ready to compete in a continent-wide market. 

Another agency that has been quietly making an impressive impact is the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) under the leadership of Engr. Simbi Kasiye Wabote. The creation of NCDMB, as a regulator and facilitator of deepening Nigeria content, in 2010 marked a critical turning point in the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry landscape. 

Engr. Wabote became the Executive Secretary in 2015, coming on board with clarity on the potential of Nigerian content to create jobs in a dimension never imagined by stakeholders. Since then, we have seen the Board  embark  on many ground-breaking transformative projects and interventions. These include constructing a 17-storey headquarters building in Yenagoa within an unprecedented record time of five years. The edifice, named Nigerian Content Tower, is now in full use by staff of NCDMB.

His defining and intelligent leadership has also seen the construction and commissioning of a 10MW gas-fired Power Plant at Elebele, near Yenagoa, in partnership with Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC), which provides 24/7days uninterrupted power supply to the edifice. Most importantly , the current management team of NCDMB has created over 50,000 jobs in the last six years through various interventions and projects in different parts of Nigeria. In many ways, Wabote’s  leadership has challenged the old held belief that the oil and gas industry is too technical to absorb Nigerians in employment. He could do this because he dared to think outside the box and brought innovation to bear on a primarily regulatory assignment. 

The NCDMB has also partnered with Waltersmith and effectively catalysed the construction of the 5,000bpd Modular Refinery at Ibigwe, Imo State. This intervention has helped realise government policy on in-country hydrocarbon refining and utilisation, generating hundreds of jobs for teeming unemployed youths in the catchment area and other parts of the country. Indeed, the successful development of NCDMB/Waltersmith Modular Refinery has triggered a flurry of applications from other private investors for partnership with NCDMB to develop other modular refineries. 

Currently, the board is actively collaborating with three (3) other modular refineries investors under its Commercial Ventures Programme to streamline them before 2023. When it is evident to citizens that a leader is a man of his/her words, is effective and efficient, cooperation and collaboration will naturally follow. In different ways, the private sector and citizens have expressed explicit confidence in the quality of leadership Wabote provides.

Engr. Wabote’s leadership of the NCDMB has also catalysed federal government policy on gas development and utilisation under Mr President’s Decade of Gas program. For instance, in furtherance of the 2020-year-of-gas and Decade of the Gas initiative of the government, NCDMB has formalised several partnerships with private investors to deepen gas penetration and utilisation. 

The NCDMB has also engineered the launching of the $350 million (USD) Nigerian Content Intervention Fund managed by the Bank of Industry (BoI). The initial value of the Fund when NCDMB created it in 2017 was $200million. The objective is to support vendor development through easy access to a single interest rate credit facility to enhance the efficiency and competitiveness of Nigerian Oil and Gas Service Providers. Following the huge interest generated amongst service providers and in furtherance of the Federal Government Economic Sustainability Plan, NCDMB increased the size of the NCI Fund by adding $150million (USD), which brought the total Fund value to $350Million (USD) in 2020. This is complemented by a USD50m Nigerian Content research and development fund to drive development of home-grown solutions and innovation and foster collaboration between Academia and the oil and gas industry.

Another shining light of the current administration is the Standards Organisation of Nigeria( SON),under the leadership of the incumbent Director-General/Chief Executive, Mallam Farouk A. Salim. One area of impressive achievements is in standards enforcement. In recent times, SON has confiscated over N600 million worth of substandard tyres in Ogun State and seized two containers of stuffed imported used tyres in Port Harcourt. They have also embarked on the prosecution of standards infractions relating to substandard lubricants, electric cables, forgery of SON clearing documents, mop-up of substandard LPG cylinders in Suleija and seizure of adulterated engine oils in Kano/Lagos. This enforcement of standards has resulted in citizens’ confidence in the quality of products available in the market. They now know that standard-setting and enforcement is no longer business as usual.

Other achievements of SON under the Salim leadership include: the destruction of substandard products in Katsina State, LPG cylinders mopped up from different parts of Anambra State destroyed in Enugu in February 2021, six containers of stuffed imported tyres and substandard LPG cylinders intercepted from multiple sources got obliterated in Lagos in February 2021, and two containers of imported used, stuffed tyres seized in Port Harcourt, which were destroyed in Enugu in March 2021. Currently, the SON Legal Department is prosecuting about six standards infractions in courts across the country. 

As an expression of confidence in the Salim-led SON, Nigeria was elected to the standards management committee of the African Organisation for Standardisation (ARSO). To raise awareness of the importance of product standards and encourage excellence in the Nigerian educational system, saw to the completion of 2019/20 ARSO Essay Competition For undergraduates in Nigerian Tertiary Institutions and kick-starting the 8TH ARSO Essay Competition for undergraduates in Nigerian Tertiary Institutions 2020/21.

For a more professional SON, the current leadership of SON set up an independent 5-man committee to review and strengthen management practices in SON. They also convened a strategic leadership/management retreat where all the participants collectively resolved to strive towards making SON a high performing organisation capable of delivering high-quality services to citizens through renewed commitment and automation of their services, amongst others.

In physical activities and structures to impact the Nigerian body polity, SON has embarked on re-equipping the National Metrology Institute, Enugu. Several state offices and laboratory are being upgraded or relocated . The agency has laid the foundation stone for constructing SON permanent office/laboratory and storage complex in Sokoto.

These Nigerians in the three MDAs under review are making giant strides and lasting impact. They are employing dynamism and innovation to achieve measurable results. In a nation where we celebrate ineptitude, mediocrity and crass opportunism, any genuine ray of light making an impactful difference deserves to be noted and encouraged. It is a great motivator and a way of reinforcing our desire for excellence. These public servants are committed and resourceful leaders who care deeply about their impact on citizens’ lives, hopes, and dreams. These are success stories worth celebrating, from standard-setting and enforcement to Nigerian content enforcement and transportation services re-engineering. These leaders  and their likes are the reasons why we still have hope in our country.