The most popular tool of governance (or indeed mis-governance) in Nigeria is ‘The Committee.’ As is common around here, there is always one committee for this and another committee for that. When anything goes wrong, even that whose cause is starring everyone in the face, we set up a committee to determine the ‘remote’ and ‘immediate’ causes and after weeks or months of jamboree, the committee comes back with a bulky, bound report – which we make a big show of with clicking cameras and elaborate speeches, before leaving it to gather dust in some obscure corner.
Second to the committee and a concept that is fast gaining notoriety as an utter waste of tax payers’ money is ‘The public hearing.’
Public hearings are open gathering of officials and citizens, in which citizens are permitted to offer comments about a particular policy of government (or an organization), an intended law or any other topic that affects them. The main purpose of a public hearing is to allow citizens the chance to voice opinions and concerns and to make inputs as they deem fit, towards a particular goal.
With freedom of expression and the opinion of the people a fundamental tenet of democracy, it is no surprise that public hearings are a common feature of democracies; from Nigeria to the United States. In Nigeria however, the exercise is fast becoming a joke, a way to squander government money and a complete waste of time.
Our overpaid and underproductive national assembly is always hosting these hearings – ideally, an important part of the process of law making or carrying out investigations. If the number and quality of the laws that come out of those chambers is anything to go by, there is enough reason to wonder if it is a case of the barber not being good enough or the clipper not being sharp enough.
Admittedly, I have never made submissions to nor attended a public hearing organized by the National Assembly, but I have been part of two others organized by two government regulatory agencies that have left me with the foregoing conclusion. My first experience was a few years ago. The nation’s telecoms regulator, the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) planned to auction vacant slots on the 2.3Ghz band, a frequency used for commercial wireless broadband. The Commission called for a Public hearing, for industry stakeholders to make inputs to its proposed plan. Meanwhile, the advertisement for this forum had already revealed that the commission planned to auction 1×30 MHz to one new operator.
I happen to have attended this session where the plan of the NCC was overwhelmingly rejected by operators. While there were different ideas on what should be done, the more popular one was that instead of auctioning 30Mhz to another operator, the NCC should allot 10MHz each to the three existing operators who held 20Mhz on that band with 5Mhz left for guard band. This allotment which was to be paid for at the prevailing international rate by the three operators was to ensure equity and also allow them expand their networks in line with the latest broadband technologies.
One would have thought the NCC (who encouraged submission of hard copies of each presentation) was taking in all the ideas being offered and was going to review theirs in line with the opinions shared. A few months later, they invited stakeholders once again to another forum where they presented exactly the same ideas which received the same response from the gathering. It was not lost on anyone there that the commission’s mind was made up on what it intended to do. Indeed it was being whispered that they actually already had a certain big operator in mind to hand the frequency to. A few months after, the announcement inviting bids for the band was made.
If they knew they would still go ahead, why waste everybody’s time? It might be important to point out here that for each session, there were full page adverts in national dailies, the event held in rented hotel halls, there was lunch for participants, and a full retinue of NCC staff flew down to Lagos from Abuja incurring both flight and hotel costs.
My second experience is more recent. The Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRCN) sometime last year came up with a draft national code of corporate governance which was supposed to supersede all other existing codes by various regulators such as the SEC & CBN. This would have been a non-issue were the poorly edited FRCN’s code not riddled with provisions that were impracticable, confusing, extreme and even laughable in some instance. Simply put, it read like a set of rules not a code.
Expectedly stakeholders besieged the venue of the public hearing and submission after submission tore the draft code into shreds, leaving the FRCN looking like inexperienced school boys. A few months later another hearing was held. To everyone’s utter chagrin, besides reworded lines and better editing, the fundamental issues of contention remained unchanged. It became like a repeat of the first session. Last week, the Council called for what it termed the ‘Final’ public hearing on the codes and believe it or not, all gathered spent an entire day discussing these very same issues, making the very same suggestions as the very first day.
One wonders, what is the worth of stakeholders input if it would not even be considered? Why waste both time and money organizing these charades? Clearly, these sessions are just to fulfill all righteousness such that the organiser can claim that ‘stakeholders’ were engaged and thus give credence to whatever rubbish they churn out at the end, and justification for the huge sums they squander organizing them.
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