By Peter Ibie
The ongoing travails of Integrated Logistics Services (INTELS) Nigeria Limited dramatizes the fact that the league of mediocre enjoys fighting top-notch achievers for unjustifiable reasons. The newest actuator of these growth-retarding travails is the Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority (OGFZA). OGFZA for hollow excuses has decided to wage a war of attrition against INTELS.
To be candid, it is not surprising that in an environment governed by “pull-him-down syndrome”, INTELS is now a serial victim of fiendish policy attacks. The surprising element is the eagerness of public institutions to play the ignoble role of architects of economic misfortunes. OGFZA is aware that if INTELS prestigious niche in logistics service is dislocated, the lofty aspirations of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act, 2010 will be jeopardized. This spells economic woes for a nation in the throes of change.
By this action, the economic fortunes of INTELS are in jeopardy. Also, over 15,000 Nigerians and their families are likely to experience the dehumanizing wretchedness of income volatility occasioned by joblessness. Sadly, this might happen when Nigeria is still recovering from economic crunch, and lacks social securities for her teeming citizenry. The financial sector is not immune to the overshadowing grimness, because INTELS secured loan from many banks to develop critical infrastructure in some ports.
This refusal of license renewal is mainly informed by INTELS chivalrous protestation of unjustifiable charges. INTELS perceives the land lease/sublease registration charge by the free zone regulator as an extortionist feint. According to INTELS, it is ethically and legally senseless to pay the lease/sublease registration charge to OGFZA, since; the land it occupies was leased from the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).
In the prevailing global economic order, experts in legitimation and de-legitimation of companies rank the connect-and-collaborate model of leadership above command and control tactics. Said differently, sapient regulators do not operate without viable consensus-formation mechanism and smart conflict resolution protocols.
The aspiration of OGFZA to be a specimen of bureaucratic excellence is undermined by its inept handling of INTELS’ complaints. It suggests a patent lack of collaborative mechanism. Hence, when it noticed the crisis of command educed by INTELS noncompliance, it resorted to coercive power. The soft power of dialogue could have ended this impasse, if bureaucratic autocracy and arrogance of power did not cause a failure of common sense.
It is an expression of civility for power to listen to truth, to dissent, to complaint, to grievance, when key economic actors contest the legitimacy of policy-prescribed actions. The credibility of any regulator is endangered when it resorts to intimidation and negative representation of the organizational character of companies. OGFZA’s characterization of INTELS as an institutional free rider that evades charges and flouts prescribed norms smacks of ethical deficit. For reasons like this, it is clear why when many Nigerians consider the operational ethics of public agencies; they do not see enthralling panoply of civility to draw inspiration from.
OGFZA’s magisterial conclusion about “unauthorized” disposal of INTELS assets even before the commencement of the proposed audit is premature and redolent of bad faith. If the audit is eventually conducted, and INTELS is found wanting, it will be easier to contest its credibility, and tough to execute its recommended sanctions. Already INTELS has disclosed its readiness to sue OGFZA for allegedly destroying its image. It is unclear what strategic national interest OGFZA seeks to achieve by stimulating this vortex of scandal.
Evidently, laudable ideas for sustainable development cannot be translated to reality if the ethical foundation of corporate governance is not solidified and a culture of zero tolerance for contraventions entrenched. This implies that the consequences of infringements should be nondiscriminatory. If INTELS has erred, it should suffer the consequences without undue media trial and toxic diatribes.
To promote sustainable and inclusive economic growth, government must make the business environment friendlier; reduce risk of business failures and enhance bureaucratic competences. Competent bureaucracies do not allow political sentiments to dictate their actions. In fact, they are immune to partisan politics.
Desperate political agents feel vulnerable without annexing bureaucratic institutions. So, they employ mercurially dictatorial antics and inducement to turn public institutions to outposts of their political groups. When they succeed, ethics is the first victim. Arbitrariness becomes a rule of conduct. Transitions to doom begin with arbitrariness. The converse is also true. Adherence to law opens amazing chapters of economic bloom.
Before the 2015 elections, Nigerians observed with utter dismay how the then ruling or ruining elite through its bureaucratic allies made frantic efforts to emasculate President Buhari. They almost made him unelectable, claiming he lacked the requisite educational credentials to vie for the presidency. Mysteriously his certificate disappeared from military archives. The point to note is bureaucratic malfeasance is becoming a defining element of pre-election conspiratorial gambits.
Public institutions should be mindful of the season we are in. The 2019 election is about 14 months away. Nigerians tend to view issues like this through political prisms. Particularly, since Atiku Abubakar (GCON), a co-founder of INTELS is a visible, viable, and vocal political actor gunning for the presidency.
Some commentators claim that certain political agents are fearful of Atiku Abubakar. They nurse the fear that his political structure may have significant influence on the outcomes of 2019 elections. This fear is perennial; it is a galvanizer of negative political and economic actions. Some of the actions are simplistic rehash of Obasanjo’s crafty moves in 2007 to confine Atiku to a political black hole.
Tensions and disputes are inevitable in terrains where heterogeneity of interests abounds. They have the potential to generate innovative ideas for the good of all. Regrettably, simple issues that could be addressed by healthy institutional interactions were allowed to snowball, acquire anti-progress tendencies, and drive a wedge between the two organizations. The diminution of institutional resources caused by this politically motivated firework does not in any way open new frontiers of economic development for Nigeria. Rather, it may narrow the spectrum for 15,000 Nigerian families to savor the bliss of unmitigated economic prosperity.
Assumedly, the management of OGFZA is aware that draconian measures are often counter-productive in resolving stalemates. Assumedly, OGFZA would desist from unwittingly presenting itself to the discerning public as a weakling amenable to political manipulation. Assumedly, the management is now aware that creating the impression that this impasse has degenerated to an insoluble conundrum smacks of institutional incompetence.
–Ibie is a Lagos-based public commentator