A few days before Christmas, the Federal Operations Unit, Ikeja of the Nigerian Customs Service announced the seizure of a shipment of rice, which upon testing, turned out to be plastic pellets shaped in the form of rice. Expectedly, this seizure dominated the news headlines with Christmas festivities approaching and demand for rice, Nigeria’s staple food soaring.
However, the Minister of Health, Dr. Isaac Adewole a day later released a statement that the National Agency for Food and Drug Control and Administration (NAFDAC) which is under his ministry had conducted its own tests on the seized rice and deemed it fit for consumption. But it was too late as shoppers were already wary of rice in the market and the plasticity of the rice or otherwise is still the subject of many debates.
This scenario was to repeat itself early into the New Year when the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun announced new import duties for a list of items. Among the items that had their import duties raised were medicaments such as anti-malarials and antibiotics. Again, Dr. Adewole tweeted that these medicaments were not affected by the hike in import duties despite their being listed on the official document from the Federal Ministry of Finance announcing new import duties.
This sort of confusion where different agencies and officials of the Federal Government sing in discordant tunes on the same issue rather than singing from the same hymn sheet is only indicative of one thing: there is a lack of unison in the way the Federal Government acts.
This might arise from poor communication amongst the various ministries, departments and agencies; or the duties of an agency to perform its role are usurped by another agency. For example, NAFDAC as the food and drug regulator of the country ought to have been the right government agency to perform tests on the controversial plastic rice, and if found to be plastic, announced it to be. However, in a curious twist, it was the Customs that performed a role outside its purview and caused panic.
Although the Federal Government is made up of hundreds of MDAs, it is still as one, as it is like a machine made up of many moving parts. Thus, when different MDAs say different views on the same issue, it risks causing confusion and sending conflicting signals to Nigerians and the wider world, possibly with dire consequences.
Despite the bulky, sometimes unwieldy size of the Federal Government, it is not impossible to get it to act and communicate as one cohesive unit by either communicating within it on issues that cut across more than one ministry or agency, or by allowing the right agencies to act on the relevant issues.
It is necessary that these errors are pointed out in order to prevent future occurrences, especially as parliamentary debates on the 2017 Appropriation Bill comes up immediately the National Assembly resumes from its recess – a period where there is often an information overload due to the details of the bill forming budget proposals of MDAs.
Also, in this age where information and news spreads very fast, the costs of passing the wrong information is more than before, and rectifications of such errors hardly have the same spread as the original news.
We hope that moving forward, the Federal Government improves how it works within itself rather than cause confusion among the general public.
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