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From PTF to PSC: Nigeria’s COVID-19 coordinating policy response revisited (2), By Isaac N. Obasi

Boss Mustapha

 Since the announcement of the transformation of Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 (PTF on COVID-19) to Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 (PSC on COVID-19), analysts have raised the question as to whether there is any substantial difference between the two coordinating institutional frameworks in the fight against COVID-19. Put differently, in what ways would the PSC on COVID-19 operate differently from its predecessor PTF? Is the change of nomenclature from PTF to PSC merely cosmetic in nature? Again, is there really a good reason for the change of name?  These are questions that are being examined in this second part of the article today.

We will begin with the last question on whether there is really a good reason for the change of name from PTF to PSC. Theoretically speaking, the change of name is justified for the simple reason that a task force by its very nature is not meant to exist for a long time. In actual fact, the PTF had long over-stayed its short-term nature which characterises a task force. It was on the basis of this that it was granted an extension twice. As a close observer of the PTF since its establishment, I was already wondering (towards the end of March 2021) what would happen to the body against the backdrop that its tenure had already been extended twice. Candidly speaking, I was pleasantly surprised by the smart move of changing its name to PSC. 

On the second to the last question above which is whether the nomenclatural change was merely cosmetic in nature or not? The answer is that the change was simply cosmetic and not substantial as some people may think. And this answer addresses the first and second questions altogether. The truth is that there is actually no substantial difference (in both theory and practice) between the functions of a task force and those of a steering committee. The simple difference is that a task force is ad hoc in nature, while a steering committee can last as long as an assigned project which it is ‘steering’ still exists. The PTF itself admitted the fact that the PSC would ‘maintain the present constitution, functions and strategies of the PTF’, as we documented in the first installment. This statement itself also is an admission that there is no substantive change in both name and in its operation. 

But more importantly, the functions of a steering committee in theoretical terms are also not substantially different from those of the PTF on COVID-19 in its operation. For example, the first elaborate mandate of PTF as we documented in the first installment is to:

Provide overall policy direction, guidance, and continuous support to the National Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the NCDC, and other Ministries and Government Agencies involved in response activities, and ensure their coordination towards a single set of national strategic objectives.

If therefore we compare this mandate side by side with that of a steering committee, the similarity becomes obvious. For example, according to MyManagementGuide.com a steering committee ‘provides support, guidance and oversight of progress’. This Guide further defines a project steering committee as ‘a decision-making body within the project governance structure that consists of top managers and decision makers who provide, review and monitor strategic direction and policy guidance to the project team and other stakeholders. If we recall the role of PTF during the long lockdown period last year (2020) where it had to be issuing guidelines from time to time, then what is said about a steering committee here applies fully without much difference. 

We can provide further details by saying that whether it is a task force or a steering committee, the essential role is to ‘provide advice, ensure delivery of the project outputs and the achievement of project outcomes’. Some other functions of a steering committee that relate also to a task force include:

• Providing input to the development of a project, including the evaluation strategy;

• Providing advice on the budget; 

• Defining and helping to achieve project outcomes; 

• Identifying the priorities in a project; 

• Identifying potential risks; 

• Monitoring risks; 

• Monitoring timelines; 

• Monitoring the quality of a project as it develops;

• Providing advice (and sometimes making decisions) about changes to a project as it

   develops (See https://mymanagementguide.com/project-governance-structure-the-project-steering-committee/). 

All the enumerated functions were in one way or the other listed in the mandate of PTF as we documented in the first installment. As we can see clearly, the PTF represented what MyManagementGuide.com describes as ‘a framework for governing a project’ within the overall “project governance structure”. Generally, a project governance structure is defined as a ‘project management framework that includes a number of committees and their roles with agreed responsibilities and decision-making rules’ (MyManagementGuide.com). From this, we can rightly deduce that the PTF was at the top of COVID-19 project governance structure which had other bodies such as the National Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the NCDC, and other Ministries and Government Agencies involved in response activities on COVID-19. 

Consequently, the cosmetic (but appropriate) change of name guarantees the relevance of a coordinating institutional framework (PSC in this case) in continuing the fight against COVID-19 pandemic until the virus no longer poses a serious threat to Nigerians. The appropriate choice of a new name was imperative to take care of the continuing menace caused by COVID-19. So the relevance of the same body (though with an appropriate new name) is a smart way to keep the fight against COVID-19 going without major disruption to its functional and operational modalities, as well as the rich experience gathered so far. 

The final question is: how long should a steering committee last? By its very nature, a steering committee exists to oversee a project from its beginning to its completion. This simply means that a steering committee ceases to exist after the completion of a project. However, President Muhammadu Buhari has given 31st December, 2021 as the lifespan of the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC). This means that the PSC is given 9 months lifetime of existence. Again, this is perhaps in anticipation that by this end-date (December 31), COVID-19 would have ceased to pose a serious threat in Nigeria. But it is important to restate that what determines the lifespan of a steering committee is the completion of a project it is overseeing, (and in this case the end of COVID-19) in Nigeria (or more appropriately the considerable reduction of the risks it poses). 

However, if by 31 December 2021, the ravaging effects of COVID-19 are still on, then the relevance of the bodies fighting the virus would still be there. But again, if by that date the virus is considered no longer a serious threat, perhaps and more logically too, the PSC would naturally no longer be relevant. And in that case therefore, the remaining fight against the virus would be left for the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to handle as a routine task just as it is doing with the outbreak of other diseases in the country.  

Prof. Isaac N. Obasi of the University of Abuja, is a Visiting (Adjunct) Research Professor at the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria, (ACAN), ICPC, Email: [email protected]com.  

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