Prior to 19th November, the kilometer-long stretch of road, from Vom Junction to the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, near Jos, Plateau State, became the focus of the men of the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA). FERMA men went along the road, locating and healing its sores. It was how I came to know that a parsonage was visiting NIPSS. The only such persons are usually one of two most powerful men in the country: the President of Nigeria or his sidekick. For a very long time now, it has always been the later, and so it was on the 19th November.
NIPSS was founded in 1979 to, among other things, help in designing policies that would help in mitigating some of the challenges of the nation and, even, the West African sub-region.
Over time, a question has developed in the minds of Nigerians. It is the question of whether or not the institute is effectively performing the role behind its creation. The question comes partly from the reality that a lot of public institutions in Nigeria, after years running, often become meager relics of their glowing pasts. Secondly, if people think that NIPPS is not fully living up to the logic behind its creation, it is partly due to the long absence of the President from the event; he has always been represented by the Vice President, unlike the situation in the first decade of NIPSS’s life. This is seen by many as a dent in the glamour of the institution. It is felt that if NIPSS has such a crucial role to play in the life of the nation, it should be the reason why the institute should be foremost in the schedule of the President.
So, I went to NIPSS with the hypothesis that, “NIPSS is not living up to the objective of its birth.” My host was the spokesperson of NIPSS, Mrs. Sekyen Dogari. Mrs. Dogari explained that NIPSS has not derailed, and it is fully living up to its mandate. Furthermore, she said, there was nothing wrong with the absence of the President, as long as he was represented by his deputy. She explained that it is necessary for people to understand that NIPSS is, after all, under the supervision of the office of the Vice President.
Regarding the criteria for choosing participants, which has also come under strong suspicion of abuse, Dogari explained that even though NIPSS is not responsible for choosing participants for the training, she believes the process has never been abused. Her conviction stems from the water-tight screening process that likely participants undergo, prior to participation. Participants for the ten months’ course are rationed to public ministries, parastatals, and the private sector, and, since participants at NIPSS should not exceed a certain number within a year, the opportunity is usually rotated within its catchments to ensure their men and women are given a fair chance of participation. These participants must be of levels not lover than Directors, should have had a number of publications in reputable journals and should be at least forty years of age, among other hurdles. These names are sent to the office of the VP, which screens them to ensure they meet the participation criteria. Where a nominee is deemed unqualified, he is rejected and the agency involved is requested to forward another name.
I asked Dogari if the impact of NIPSS is been felt in Nigeria. I was astonished to find out that NIPSS has influenced the decisions of the Federal Government of Nigeria, continuously, ever since its establishment. Some of the policy proposals from NIPSS’s participants are awaiting passage in the National Assembly, while others have long been passed into laws and have become operational. Some of these policy suggestions that have affected the Nigerian state include: the defunct Directorate for Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructures (DFRRI), the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), the Ministry for Women Affairs, and, most recently, the Niger Delta Amnesty program, among others.
If there are challenges at NIPSS, Dogari said, it is largely that of funding. To take care of this, the office of the Vice President has suggested that NIPSS be creative. It is the reason the institute now has NIPSS Consult. NIPSS Consult, created in 2007, undertakes paid consultancy and short-term training on a spectrum of areas. Through this, it raises funds to prop up regular funding from Abuja.
Recently, people within and around NIPSS’s niche believe that it is high time the office of the Vice President looked into the age limit of course participants: the high age limit ensures that participants are mostly civil servants, at the sunset of their careers and barely last more than two years in the service after graduation from NIPSS. The implication is that the knowledge gained is rolled into retirement, making it a near waste.