A few years ago those in the central government in Abuja will tell you that the fear of the due process mechanism is the beginning of wisdom. The policy was like the import license policy carried out by the then Ministry of Trade which began during the era of General Murtala Muhammed/General Olusegun Obasanjo. The due process mechanism was as crucial as the import license policy. While being implemented many were concluding at that time that the era of accountability in government has at last arrived. But now we hear less about the due process mechanism and its implementation.
Due Process is a mechanism for ensuring strict compliance with openness, competition and cost accuracy rules and procedures that should guide contract award within the Federal Government of Nigeria.
It has become the popularly adopted short term for the Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit (BMPIU) which is the unit tasked with implementing Nigeria’s Public Procurement Reform Programme. The BMPIU was established by President OlusegunObasanjo in 2001 in fulfilment of tenacious commitment to ensuring transparency and accountability in the management of Nigeria’s public resources.
The unit was then headed by Dr. Obiageli Katryn Ezekwesili (56) popularly known as ObyEzekwesili. Dr. Ezekwesili came into the government as special assistant projects under President Obasanjo. Unlike BodundeAdeyanju, Andy Uba, HandeiOkoli, TundeOlusule or Dr. DoyinOkupe, Dr. Ezekwesili was not a pioneer staff of President OlusegunObasanjo in 1999, she came in 2000. Unlike most pioneer staff in 1999, Dr. Ezekwesili from Anambra State has known General Obasanjo as far back as 1991 while she was working in the Centre for International Development, Harvard University.She used to attend many activities of the African Leadership Forum in Ota Ogun State as far back as 1991. Her contributions to lectures and seminars at the African Leadership Forumwere outstanding then. That was before General Obasanjo was sent to prison by General Sanni Abacha.
Before 1999 only few people had worked under General OlusegunObasanjo who later worked under President Obasanjo in the VILLA in Abuja. They are Major General Abdullahi Muhammed, the military Governor of Benue/Plateau state in 1975, who became Chief of Staff to President Obasanjo, Chief Phillip Asiodu, who served as Permanent Secretary under General Obasanjo and later became Chief Economic Adviser to President Obasanjo, Mr. BodundeAdeyanju from Ado-Ekiti who worked in the African Leadership Forum since 1994 and later became Personal Assistant (domestic) to President Obasanjo, Taiwo Ojo, who first joined the African leadership Forum right from high school in 1991 until he had his master’s degree in 1997 and later became a trusted Private Secretary under President Obasanjo and Dr. Ezekwesili. Ambassador A.O. Esan, GboladeOsinowo and Chief (Mrs) J.O. Ayo should be mentioned also.
Two other people who were prominent in the African Leadership Forum in Ota between 1993 and 1998 but who did not serve under President Obasanjo were Prince AdebiyiAdegboye Adesida (1950-2013), who later became the Deji of Akure and Ambassador Segun Apata from Oka in Akoko South Local Government in Ondo State, who is at present the Chairman of the Nigerian Bottling Company Limited. Ambassador Apata was to be the Chief of Staff to President Obasanjo in 1999 but at that time he was engaged in Nigeria’s Diplomatic Service as Nigeria’s Ambassador and deputy representative in the United Nations in New York.
When Dr. Ezekwesili came to government at 36 then, she had the backing and confidence of President Obasanjo and with that confidence and influence, she was able to put through most of her programmes. She was not just a special assistant to the President but a powerful special assistant who had the eyes and ears of the President. She was bold and assertive. No doubt the due process mechanism was her first project. She implemented the project along with Mr. Steve Osagiede Oronsaye (68) from Edo state. Etubon Anthony Ani (82) as Minister of Finance in 1995 brought Mr. Orosanye from Peat Marwick Cassleton Elliot, an accounting firm, to government as director special duties. He graduated as special assistant under President Obasanjo in 1999 to Principal Secretary and later became Permanent Secretary. The late President UmaruYar’adua appointed him Head of Service of the Federation in 2009.
A Diagnostic Study conducted in 2001 into the state of Federal Government public procurement process claimed that Nigeria may have lost several hundred billions of Naira because of flagrant abuse of procedures for award of public contracts costs, lack of transparency, competence-based competition and merit as the fundamental criteria for award of public contracts.
The findings of the Study made it imperative that the country urgently needed to reform the procurement system if it was to reduce the large scale corruption and waste that had reduced the efficiency of the Nigerian public sector. When the unit took off in 2001, it took over the function and powers of the Directors of finance and supplies of the various Ministries. Those Directors felt jittery and threatened. Several times they took their complaints to the then Head of Service, AlhajiYayale Ahmed.
The mission of the unit was to use the Due Process Mechanism to re-establish and sustain an open, transparent and competitive Federal Procurement System that is “integrity-driven, upholds spending within Budget and ensures speedy implementation of Projects in order to achieve value-for-money outcomes without sacrificing quality and standards”.
One of the main objectives of the unit was to harmonise and update all Federal Government policies and practices on Public Procurement, to ensure that project conceptualization and packaging match the defined priorities and target as set in annual Appropriations and to strictly enforce the Due principles of transparency, competition and efficiency and value-for-money in theprocurement of public goods, works and services.
Other Objectives of the unit are to ensure efficient and integrity-based monitoring of the implementation of all Federal Government Projects in line with Due Process principles, to prevent extra budgetary spending by Ministries, Departments and Agencies by ensuring that only projects with due appropriation by the National Assembly are certified and thus funded for execution and to prevent contract inflation by ensuring cost reasonableness, accuracy and comparability of all public contracts with national, regional and global costs.
According to the unit, there were three approval thresholds for the approval and award of Federal Government contracts. These were contracts below N1million, contracts above N1 million below N50 million and contracts of N50 million and above. As at December 2005, the unit claimed to have saved Nigeria over N152 Billion through reduced Contract Cost.
There are several instances where sums ranging from N10 million to N11 Billion Naira have been “saved” through Due Process from a single contract transaction. Till June 2005 when Dr. Ezekwesili was appointed as Minister of Solid Minerals by President Obasanjo, the nation was bombarded with such exaggerated claims of even up to 250 Billion naira saved. These claims were never verified by anyone or any group. If the unit could save so much from contracts awarded, the question is who awarded the contracts and what were the punishment meted out for the negligence.
Many claimed at that time that the figures released by the unit were designed to justify the establishment of the unit. Certainly no one is against due process in the award of contracts but if you look closely at theguidelines brought by the unit, they have been in existence for long. In government there have been two tender boards in each Ministry.We have the departmental tender’s board and the Ministerial tender’s board.
These two operates under what is called FINANCIAL REGULATIONS. Incidentally the preface for the new FINANCIAL REGULATIONS was written by President Obasanjo in January 1 2000. In the preface President Obasanjo declared “this revised edition of the Financial Regulations is issued on my instruction within weeks of the inception of the administration to underscore my concern for the restoration of rules and regulations and the need to adhere strictly to them in the conduct of Government business particularly in the control and management of public funds and resources of government.
Since 1976 when the Financial Regulations were last reviewed and published, the conduct of Government business has undergone many transformations. From the mid 1980s especially, anyone with the slightest idea about how the machinery of good government should work, would have noticed that the time-tested ways of conducting Government business have degenerated and fallen apart. Compliance with the Public Service Rules and Financial Regulations has been jettisoned and instead, regime of indiscipline, disorder and arbitrariness were established.
All the elements that enhance efficiency, reliability and continuity of the system have been tampered with, resulting in major and severe setbacks for the conduct of Government business. Government business was operated as if laws and rules no longer existed to govern the way and manner public funds were expended. Public funds were disbursed illegally without recourse to the Financial Regulations; facilities of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company (NSPM) were recklessly abused; and the Contingencies Funds was used without regard to the rules governing its operation.
The complexity which Government business is expected to assume under this administration has made it necessary to take a closer look, once again, at the Financial Regulations by which Government finance and accounting procedures are regulated. This review is necessary for any Administration but moreso for the Democratic Administration to usher in a great and dynamic economy, ensure a just and egalitarian society and above all to enhance transparency and public accountability.
As I have enunciated on May 29th May, 1999 in my inaugural address and repeated on several occasions, there would be changes in the philosophy of management of Government business under the present Democratic administration. Henceforth rules and regulations designed to promote honesty and transparency in dealings with government would be restored, strengthened and vigorously enforced.
Accordingly, it is mandatory for all public officials to ensure strict compliance with the rules and regulations as contained in this Handbook. Primary Responsibility in this regards falls on the shoulders of Permanent Secretaries in their double capacity as Accounting Officers of their Ministries and advisors to their respective Ministers. They are expected to ensure that all officers subordinate to them adhere strictly to these rules and regulations. They are also expected to guide their Ministers to operate strictly in accordance with rules and regulations. It is Mandatory for Ministers to ensure that any decision taken by them is correct, unexceptionable and in the public interest. In this regard they should insist that any recommendation put before them is supported by the relevant provision of an extant Act or Regulation.
Finally, I urge all public officers to acquaint themselves with these Regulations, the Finance (Control and Management) Act, Cap. 144 as well as the relevant sections of the Constitution dealing with public finance”.
The Due Process mechanism has not offered anything new judging by the contents of the existing FINANCIAL REGULATIONS. Except the non-creation of the Procurement Act which provides for the establishment of the National Procurement Council which all previous administrations including the present one has refused to set up, there is nothing new in guidelines of the due process mechanism. Even the Act itself is a new global phenomenon.
Non adherence to the FINANCIAL REGULATIONS should not have led to the establishment of the Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit (BMPIU) which is the Unit tasked with implementing Nigeria’s Public Procure Reform Programme.
In future such policies like the Due Process Mechanism will be viewed with much scepticism.
ERIC TENIOLA, A FORMER DIRECTOR AT THE PRESIDENCY WROTE FROM LAGOS.