While waiting in a small corner room to go in for ultrasound at a Cairo hospital at the weekend, I chanced upon a social media story, of one Nigerian [pseudo] economist advocating that the name of our currency, the naira, should be changed. This he said, should be part of an alleged Central Bank of Nigeria [CBN] plan to redenominate our currency by early next year.
Quite alright, I had earlier read a social media story saying that CBN will undertake what then CBN Governor Professor Charles Soludo wanted to do in 2008, i.e., remove two zeroes from the value of every naira note.
Soludo’s plan collapsed because he went at the time to “notify” President Umaru Yar’adua and the Federal Executive Council of his plan, claiming that he had the power to do so. But Attorney General Michael Aondoakaa discovered a provision in the law which reserved for the President the power to approve any currency change. We never heard of the plan after that fiasco.
The story saying CBN will undertake currency redenomination did not quote any authority, so I thought our pseudo-economist was putting, not just the cart, but several wagons before the horse when he advocated for a change of naira’s name along with the alleged reform plans. I had wanted to ignore it, but then, there is the danger that some CBN people may be flying a kite ahead of naira’s renaming. Well, they can rename the naira if they like but let me remind them here what serial change of names of institutions has done to Nigeria since 1960.
It reminds me of an episode that took place in the Kenyan Parliament in 1978. President Daniel arap Moi’s cantankerous Attorney General, Charles Mugane Njonjo, was delivering a long speech in parliament but in the middle of it, he suddenly veered off into the University of Kenya, where the Head of the Literature Department, James Ngugi, had just changed his name to Ngugi wa Thiong’o out of sheer African nationalism.
Njonjo said, “Concerning the Department of English [sic], I will like the Assistant Minister who is present here today to ensure that only people with the right qualification are appointed to teach in it. Some people who are teaching in this Faculty think if you call yourself Kamau wa Njoroge, you are a very important person, or you are a lecturer with a lot of know-how. You no longer call yourself James Kamau. You call yourself Kamau wa Njoroge…”
Concerning our national currency, the naira, I will like the new Governor of the Central Bank Mr. Cardoso to ensure that only economists with the right qualifications are allowed to post their opinions on social media. Some people who are commenting on the currency’s free fall in relation to the US dollar think if you change its name to pound, it is a very important currency, or a currency with a lot of exchange power. You no longer call if naira. You call if pound…
Look here, concerning Nigeria’s power sector, I would like the Minister of Power who could right now be touring a burnt TCN station to ensure that only engineers with the right qualification are appointed to work in it. Some engineers who are working in this sector think if you change your name from PHCN to Genco or Disco, you are a very important corporation, or a company with a lot of know-how. You no longer call yourself NEPA or PHCN. You call yourself Disco…
This is how these engineers deceive our leaders. Our power sector was doing fine until 1972, with ECN [Electricity Corporation of Nigeria] having its thermal power stations in every major town in the country while NDA [Niger Dams Authority] was doing well with its Kainji and Jebba dams. Some people went and whispered into the ears of General Yakubu Gowon and he merged ECN with NDA to form NEPA. That was how our problems in that sector began. Primary school pupils in Nigeria were soon saying that the acronym NEPA stood for No Electricity Power Available.
Even NEPA, up until the 1990s, we used to see its ubiquitous Volkswagen Kombi maintenance vans, with its maintenance men fiddling with transformers, climbing poles and often seen hanging precariously on high-tension cables.
Every now and then in the 1970s and 1980s, there were reports in the newspapers of NEPA electricians getting electrocuted while working on high-tension cables. It is a sign of Discos’ growing inefficiency these days that none of their staff was electrocuted in the last decade.
Sometime in 1977, a huge bomb-like device was seen lying in the bush at Kaduna city’s Kawo area. The entire city panicked as news spread that there was a huge bomb waiting to explode.
The Army One Division’s spokesman compounded people’s fears when he told reporters after inspecting it that “we have no such bomb in the armoury of the Nigeria Army.”
At least he told the truth there. The following day, a NEPA maintenance van arrived at the scene, pushed through the cordon of soldiers guarding the “bomb” and carried it away, saying it was their forgotten fuse.
In the same way that people misled General Gowon, the same people misled General Muhammadu Buhari in 1984. We were doing well with our Post and Telegraph [P&T], which controlled both the Post Office and our telephones. The old Post Office was so good that its postal vans were to be seen plying all roads.
In our village in those days, we had no Post Office but there was a Postal Agency, manned by a clerk. Every afternoon when he closed from work, the Postal Agency Clerk rode his bicycle to our house and delivered my grandfather’s letters directly to him.
Up until the mid-1970s, telephones in most Nigerian towns were very few and they operated like the office intercoms. You must first dial for the Operator, and ask him to connect you to a number. Still, we were doing fine, until General Buhari appeared on television one night in 1984 and said he was merging P&T and its highly profitable external telecom arm NET [Nigeria External Communications], then split them into NITEL and NIPOST. Where did that name change take us? When MTN and ECONET arrived on the scene in 2001, NITEL suddenly looked like a dinosaur and soon disappeared. NIPOST is only just ambling along. When Buhari came back 30 years later, why didn’t he change their names again?
If P&T had not changed its name to NITEL, it would have held its own against MTN, Glo and Zain. Even Nigeria’s first mobile telecom operator Econet which changed its name to V-Mobile and then to Zain, did it become a greater telecom company?
It is these incessant changes of name that are responsible for this country’s potholed roads, broken bridges and bridges without railings. It was because the old Public Works Department, PWD, had its name changed to Ministry of Works.
In the days of PWD, whoever saw potholes on paved roads, even if the paved roads were few? In those days there were no contractors, because PWD’s men did everything by direct labour. Only the biggest projects such as bridges and secretariat buildings were done by Julius Berger, Costain, Taylor Woodrow, D’Alberto & Bogialla, G Cappa and Dharal Handsah.
When last did you hear of the Government Printer? Up until the 1980s, Federal Government Printer and its state counterparts dutifully printed and widely distributed the Constitution, maps, pamphlets, government information brochures, gazettes, decrees, budgets and development plans. Its decline started after independence when its name was changed from Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.
Even Nigeria Police Force, has it been doing better since when its name was changed from Royal West African Constabulary? In those days of the RWAC, were there highway robbers, 419ners, oil bunkerers, black marketers, drug adulterators or even any “bandits”? Last month a saw a Mobile Police patrol van drive by in Abuja when two men were fighting. During my primary school days, if two men were fighting and the bulky Native Authority policeman Danbaki saw them, he dropped everything, arrested them and took them straight to guard room.
Even the Nigeria Army, has it benefitted from serial changes in name? When it was called King’s African Rifles and still later Royal West African Frontier Force [WAFF], it serially crushed all the great armies of the Sokoto Caliphate. How come that an army that captured the Sokoto Caliphate’s capital in 90 minutes took several weeks to capture Tom Polo’s Camp 5?
This country’s civilian administrators all lost efficiency due to name changes. Our Native Authorities were very efficient in the way they run schools, markets, motor parks, forests, rivers, health centres, veterinary clinics and police forces but once their names were changed in 1976 to Local Governments, everything fell apart. The Local Government Chairmen of today, do they have 1% dedication of the old District Officers [DOs]? Even state governors should revert to their old names of Residents. They will then start going on rural tours on horseback, donkeys and on foot instead of running around in jeeps and blaring sirens as they do these days.
Even this country’s Oga Kpatakpata, the President, should revert to his old title of Governor General. He should resume wearing white uniforms, gloves and brass helmets. All the people who are threatening to go on “total and indefinite” strike in two days’ time, would they have done so if a Governor General emerges from under Aso Rock and speaks through a bullhorn?