On July 19, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company became a limited company. Of course, promises were made that this transition will bring about professionalism to the erstwhile corruption-ridden unprofitable public corporation. This seems like an attempt by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to redeem his image and bequeath to Nigerians something of a legacy as his regime expires.
NNPC is an enigma. Last year, the Senate Public Accounts Committee queried NNPC for failing to remit N4 trillion in revenue it reportedly generated between 2010 and 2015. For five months straight this year, NNPC also failed to remit any revenue to the federation account despite making N470.61 billion.
Though Nigeria is one of the largest oil producers in the world (a ranking that has admittedly been affected in recent years), NNPC has not consolidated on this in any meaningful way to boost the economy as Aramco has to the Saudi economy. NNPC morphing into a limited company is Buhari heeding years of advice from pundits that the company should be privatised. I guess time can only tell if this move would indeed change things around for the better or go the way of past futile attempts at rejigging underperforming public entities.
Nigeria has a culture of sloganeering and tinkering with nomenclature in hopes of changing the status quo. But time and time again, these attempts amounted to nought.
In 2009, the government of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua attempted to rebrand Nigeria with the Good People, Great Nation campaign which was spearheaded by then minister of information, Dora Akunyili. The purpose of the campaign was to launder Nigeria’s traduced image as a corrupt and poor country and also help attract foreign investors. Government-sponsored adverts and jingles infested TV and radio shows. The government also sent unsolicited text messages to citizens to get them on board with this delusion.
Simply sloganising Good People, Great Nation does not mean anything, unfortunately. It’s akin to Nigerian undergraduates prefixing Great to the name of their schools when displaying institutional jingoism. The whole campaign was not just ridiculous, it was misguided. I can only imagine the billions Yar’Adua spent on that campaign.
To make Nigeria an investable economy, certain things need to be in place. We need infrastructure and security for instance. There should be policies and regulations in place that guarantee the ease of doing business. The Yar’Adua government thought it could fix our many problems by simply rebranding Nigeria with the Good People, Great Nation delusion while conveniently shirking its responsibility.
The National Electric Power Authority’s rebranding to the Power Holding Company of Nigeria was supposed to be Obasanjo’s biggest legacy to Nigeria after decades of poor electricity generation, transmission and distribution. Since nothing run by the government works, privatising NEPA seemed like a reasonable solution. But despite this so-called privatisation, no difference has been noticed. We still exclaim UP NEPA in those rare moments of power supply, howbeit, fleeting. In fact, Nigerians jokingly rewrote the full meaning of PHCN to Please Hold your Candle Now.
Due to persistent structural problems, PHCN ceased operations in 2013 and was divided into separate entities. Despite all this fragmentation, the national grid has continuously collapsed. As of the last count, it has collapsed six different times in 2022 alone. Most households and businesses are still forced to run on generators which invariably increases their expenditure. We are still generating less than 5,000 megawatts to cater to 200 million people.
One of the first projects PHCN launched was rolling out prepaid meters to consumers. These meters were supposed to solve the problem of estimated billing and instil in consumers a culture of discipline. As great as that idea is, the collection of prepaid meters is heavily marred with corruption and bribery today. The reality still is citizens do things for themselves. Communities buy their transformers and pay for add-on installation and electrification.
For obvious reasons, the Nigeria Police Force is the most hated and corrupt institution in the country. Trumped-up charges, extra judicial killings, extortion and brutality are their modus operandi. The disbanded Special Anti-robbery Response Squad gained unmatched notoriety. For years, they targeted mostly good-looking young men based on mere suspicions of fraud. Having a laptop or expensive phone was probable cause for SARS officials to harass and extort you. If you did not cooperate with them, you stood a chance of being detained or killed. SARS exemplified the type of prehistoric policing we practice in Nigeria. Policing here is not intelligence driven. It is based on stereotypes and suspicions.
In 2018, after countless complaints of gross human rights violations members of the public levelled against the dreaded tactical squad, SARS was rebranded to Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad. The IGP banned them from patrol and search duties and he promised there was going to be an end to the extortions, killings and detentions. But other than the addition of the modifier, Federal, nothing changed. The atrocities did not stop. And then #EndSARS happened in 2020. That historic protest was a product of pent-up frustration from the injustices young people never stopped experiencing from the tactical squad. After days of massive protests, the Federal Government disbanded SARS and replaced it with SWAT. But we knew better than to fall for this faux born-againism. Two years after, the injustices never stopped.
In a podcast I did some months ago, I recounted an experience with a gun-wielding, bloodshot eyes police officer who frisked me and searched my phone thinking I was a Yahoo boy. It didn’t matter that the IGP had warned his men against searching civilians’ phones. It didn’t matter that I showed him my official ID. Because my appearance that day fitted the Yahoo boy stereotype he made up in his head, he had all the probable cause he needed to harass me and waste my time.
Despite all these many changes in nomenclature, policing in Nigeria remains fundamentally oppressive. The police officer sees himself as a god. He isn’t accountable to any code or authority. As long as this is the pervading ideology within the police force, no change will ever amount to anything.
In the late 1980s, Majek Fashek in his debut album, Prisoner of Conscience, sang Loot and Shoot to bemoan police brutality. In the mid-2000s, afrobeats duo, P-Square, released Oga Police, a musical anecdote on police brutality. These two songs span two generations. More than 17 years after Oga Police, nothing has changed.
NNPC may be Nigeria’s latest attempt at faux born-againism. If we don’t think beyond the delusion of nomenclature, we’ll only have to ourselves NNPC with the Ltd suffix. Change is different from rebranding. Change is not performative. Rebranding is. Change is precise, meticulous and painstaking. Rebranding, in the Nigerian context, is to tinker with nomenclature and invent highfalutin slogans to make the disgruntled public acquiesce. We need a change in governance, civil service, law enforcement and public institutions. We need change across the board. Until then, a million attempts at rebranding are nothing but faux born-againism.
Olayemi, the host of the Disaffected Nigerian YouTube channel, writes via [email protected]