Babatunde Fashola: Governance, Protocols, Frills And Cost – My Takeaways

Babatunde Fashola: Governance, Protocols, Frills And Cost – My
As we grapple with the challenges of participatory governance
and the cost implication of keeping the wheels of government
turning, it seems to me that there are little things that can be
done that may lead us to big things. I like little things because
they are simple to understand. They are also useful for
preparing to do big things. One of the little things is the
protocols of governance. Is it a frill or a necessity? If it is a
necessity, does it apply at all times or at some times? If it
applies at some times, have we defined those times, and if we
have not, should we not? As I will show later, they have cost
consequences, but for now let me get to the specific protocols.
The National Anthem
I know that Section 24 (a) of the Constitution impose an
obligation of respect on citizens for the National Anthem
whenever it is rendered. The constitution provides, and I
paraphrase: “It shall be the duty of every citizen to…respect…
the National Anthem…” What the constitution does not provide
for, is when the National Anthem should be rendered. Should it
happen at every event attended by our president and
governors, such as social parties, political party rallies, book
launches, conferences, seminars and all types of events to
which our public officers are invited? Should the National
Anthem be rendered at the beginning or at the end or at both
times, or indeed at any time these public officers arrive even
if the event is halfway through and has to be interrupted for
the National Anthem, as is sometimes the case? Indeed, there
is the wider question about the appropriateness or otherwise of
inviting public officers to these events and the infringement
on executive time on the one hand, and their own response or
refusal to respond on the other hand, and the political costs of
their decisions. How many times are presidents, governors,
ministers and commissioners in other parts of the world invited
to these functions as ‘chief host’, ‘chief guest of honour’ etc,
and what is the impact on national productivity? But this is a
matter for another discourse. For now, I will return to the
subject of protocols. I must confess that the limited research
that I have had the opportunity to conduct has not revealed
the existence of any laws or regulations on this matter. But I
can assert that these are matters where the federal
government, whether through the National Assembly or the
Presidency, can help to establish clear guidelines by legislative
action or executive orders. In case you are wondering how this
affects the cost of governance, it might interest you to know
that people are hired and paid to provide electronic equipment,
speakers and amplifiers; and in some cases full bands such as
the police, navy, army or prison bands to render the anthem at
some of these events. Rental costs, transport costs, honoraria
all go into the costs of government where the contract is at
the instance of government. The issue therefore is not about
rendering of the anthem. It is about direction as to when it is
necessary to do so and, consequently, when it is necessary to
spend public funds. In Lagos, I have issued an executive order
since October 2010 to direct that the rendering of the National
Anthem be done by singing rather than by electronic recording
of the instrumentation, so that we can at least internalise the
words which are rich and inspiring; and in some way hope to act
and live those words.
Receiving Visiting Dignitaries at the Airport or Border Post
This is perhaps a more difficult protocol to understand. My
attention has not been brought to any clear directive or
regulation about what type of dignitary is deserving of an
airport reception party or delegation, and if we have identified
the dignitary that is deserving, what type of ‘visit’ deserves an
airport reception? Is it every visiting head of state who is on a
personal visit to our country or a state within it, that should be
received by the governor or his designated representative? Is
it every time the president visits a state (whether or not on a
state visit) that he must be received at the airport by the
governor or his delegate, irrespective of the commitments of
the state on that date? Put differently, does every visit, even
for a political rally, qualify as a state visit? In other words, if
a governor and a president are of opposing parties, should the
governor go to receive the president when he comes to that
state to campaign to defeat the party of the governor? What
is the appropriate protocol when governors of opposing parties
visit each other’s states for campaign rallies? What kind of
reception should they get at the airport? It might surprise
members of the public that a serving governor is raising these
issues. The truth is they are simple, as I have said. But I am not
aware that there are clear or set rules on the matter. When
you factor the number of vehicles that are deployed from one
end of town to the other, the cost of fuel, the man hours lost,
the work not done, the gridlock that characterises VIP
movements and the cost of governance in actual terms and in
lost opportunities, you are likely to see the point that small
things are simple, but very important, because they accumulate
to big things. Personally, speaking for myself, the only
reception I expect at the airport is the vehicle that will take me
to my destination. But my personal disposition cannot be the
Salutations, Public Speaking and VIPS
“All protocols observed.” That must be a familiar phrase. To my
mind, this is uniquely Nigerian, as I do not know any other
country where this is done. Why is this important? It consumes
time, it diminishes the real message, confuses people, and it is
Time Consumption
I think the accepted practice from where these protocols
originated is to acknowledge the most senior public office
holder, your host, if you are a guest at the event, to end by
saying “distinguished ladies and gentlemen”. The truth is that
if you are at any event worthy of the name and you do not
find yourself able to fit into the class of those addressed as
“distinguished ladies and gentlemen” then you are probably
undeserving of being at the event. I once attended an event in
“you know where”, and it took all of one hour and seven or so
minutes to recognise all the guests and address protocols
before the event started. Our country is behind on many
developmental fronts, and we must be seen to seek to gain
time, optimize its value and avoid waste of time, because the
world will not slow down or wait for us. Time is the REAL
Message Diminishes
It is now customary for aides of public officers to go ahead of
them and write down a list of VIPs to be recognised by their
principal before he gives his speech. Because we are all VIPs
with brittle ego that have become bigger than ourselves, we
take offence when our names are not mentioned. My stomach
turns when I see aides of public officers, getting on the podium
after their principal has commenced his address to pass notes
of names of persons he did not acknowledge or even walking
behind him on stage back and forth. Only in Nigeria. Somebody
(not one of my staff) once walked on to the stage while I was
speaking, to pass me a note that I did not mention a particular
public servant’s name. I believe he now knows better not to do
it again. It is nothing but bad behaviour. What you then see is
a protocol list that is two pages long which the speaker must go
through before his message. In the event he first gets a huge
applause for reading people’s names, and it may be either the
speaker’s biggest applause for the day: because there may
really be no message thereafter or “it is lost”. Try to see if
you can connect this with idea of “Talk Shops”. When you
evaluate what has come out in terms of development or
quotable quotes that are indigenous, from the many
conferences, summits and seminars that we hold. Put the best
of these seminars together, and see if you can find the value
that they have delivered in terms of speeches and contents.
Confuses People
Everybody now apologises for messing up the protocol or mixing
it up simply because we have not stayed with the simple one of
“Distinguished ladies and gentlemen”. Instead, after going
through a two-page long list of names, we then say “All
protocols observed”. This in itself is contradictory in my humble
view. If you choose to observe all protocols, it should
automatically dispense with the need or desire to mention
anybody by name.
I take this opportunity to suggest for our consideration a
draft like the one below as a full version: “Mr President/
Governor (if he is the most senior public officer present or
represented), Your Excellencies (to cover vice-president/
deputy governors, and other governors, diplomats present),
Your royal majesties/highness (to cover traditional institutions
where present) Distinguished ladies and gentlemen.”
It seems to me that in this its longest format (which may be
shorter, where some classes of people are not present), we can
dispense with salutation protocols in under one minute and save
a lot of time and money. These uncertainties about protocols of
governance make it difficult to totally disagree with those who
contend that our democracy is nascent. That said, it must be
beyond contention that their resolution is one of the challenges
that we must overcome in our democratic journey. As we seek to
rebuild our union and renew our nation, we must find consensus
on these little issues because they have larger consequences on
time management, productivity and national development.
Article written By Babatunde Fashola, the Governor of Lagos
State and Culled from Thisday Newspaper via omojuwa


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