Will NPHCDA ever experience change?
In Nigeria, development efforts and government policies have always been threatened by the performance of the civil service.
Successive governments have embarked on several reforms aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness in the civil service. But, the service remains inefficient and incapable of reforming itself and bedevilled by weak governance structure, weak accountability, waste and corruption, poor productivity and lack of control.
NPHCDA, is the Nigerian Primary Health Care Development Agency in Abuja. This past week, its two offices, the head office and the annex in Abuja, were literally overrun by thousands of contractors and services providers who all along had been sucked-in by the economic recession ravaging the nation.
And when NPHCDA opened what seemed like a window of opportunity for them to reflate their economic fortunes, they all had jumped in headlong hoping to reap from this uncommon opportunity.
A few weeks earlier, NPHCDA had placed advertisements in the print media to request qualified contractors and services providers to bid for diverse jobs as the supply of various healthcare equipment, printing of various items as well as the construction of various projects. Given the mood of the time, it is not hard to imagine the response from Nigerians who were determined to explore all legal routes to get out of the present economic quagmire.
As it is, this year’s exercise was not the first time that NPHCDA will put out tenders; it is something of an annual ritual, which has assumed the dimension of ‘the more you look, the less you see.’ Business people who have participated in previous exercises are quick to testify that ‘Requests for the Expression of Interest’ put out by the agency are basically intended to ‘fulfill all righteousness’ in the attempt to accommodate, as it were, the letters but not the spirit, of due process.
Only the chosen few looked forward to the exercise; the ones who did not have ‘Abraham as their father’ often kept their distance with the hope that things will change for the better somewhere along the way. The ascendancy of this government that promised ‘Change’ revived that hope.
So, it is a new season for NPHCDA and due process must be observed in words and in spirit, with or without a grudge. The first foot put forward by NPHCDA for this year’s exercise was a wrong one and the regulatory authorities duly pulled them by the ears. This led to the complete cancellation of the first public tender it issued out, this was subsequently reissued.
Learning how to walk afresh could be really painful, and NPHCDA showed how hurting they were with the unpreparedness, disinterestedness and complete lack of organisational abilities they put up for the exercise as events unfolded. And so against all logics, NPHCDA decided to collect replies to all the tenders it issued out on the same day, same time and same venue. This was in spite of its management knowing that a battalion of vendors had responded to their solicitation. NPHCDA even collected monies for lots they advertised and were strangely withdrawn from being tendered for, and that was without any explanations or refunds for the unfortunate payee.
NPHCDA outing on the said day showed that there is still a long way to go to get the Nigerian public service to toe the line of transparency and probity in their activities. What they put forward could at best be described as ‘malicious obedience.’
NPHCDA simply could not be bothered with making requisite arrangements for those who turned up for the exercise. Quite a sizeable number of vendors came from outside Abuja and many, indeed, travelled down to the Federal Capital Territory by road. The senior officers in the Procurement Unit, the department in charge of the exercise, who were the chief hosts unfortunately, did not have time for their numerous guests who turned up in thousands. They typically left the exercise to just a few lower level officers of the department who, by their body language, comportment and conduct, showed clearly that the exercise was just another sham. At best a scam.
The charade would have been quite funny were it not so serious. The officers opened each tender, reeled out the names of the bidding companies and the bid amount. Thereafter, all responses to that particular lot are batched together for what they described as ‘further analysis.’ As the exercise continued, another set of staff were busy still bringing in more tender documents well after 8:00pm from the office annex, which was about one kilometre away, in a manner that neither showed any iota of concern nor respect for the sanctity and faithfulness of these very important documents. The indifference and tardiness with which these staff carried out an otherwise serious exercise increased the already high probability of losing or substituting any or entire tender in transit either by accident or by design. It was a complete bedlam.
Hundreds of famished and emotionally drained contractors who remained behind gratefully acquiesced to the suspension of the huge joke by the weary, overwhelmed and completely worn-out NPHCDA officers about 11:00p.m. By that time of the day, it had become clear that the exercise was a completely wild goose chase. Nothing had changed in the era of Change.
And when the exercise resumed at 10:00a.m. the following morning, the few diehard contractors that bothered to turn up did so just to enjoy the comedy and have stories to tell when they return to their base. It remains to be seen what the result of the mega tender exercise put together by NPHCDA will be. And before you begin to think that this is an isolated case, stories abound that the shenanigan at NPHCDA is the norm as the Nigerian public service struggles with its inglorious past in public procurement.
Here is how it plays out a lot of the time in various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). Some MDAs will place tender advertisements in one publication but intentionally include incomplete requirements. A few weeks later, a new tender announcement that incorporates just the addenda would be made in a different publication. Those who responded faithfully to the first advertisement would discover to their chagrin that the goal post had shifted behind them and the second group would be at sea about what the advert was all about. Only the beloved of the gods would ever have the full picture.
But there is hope because we choose not to lose hope. The road might be long, but we should be optimistic that one day, and very soon too, all these shall become tales told by moonlight and enjoyed by the fireside. Nigeria will sure be great.
• Umar is a business executive based in Lagos