(By Babtunde Fashola)
“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?“
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 rule.
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 expensive.
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 MONEY.
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.
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.
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