While presenting the book titled, ‘Reforming the Unreformable: Lessons from Nigeria’ written by then Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyioku raised the alarm that the high recurrent expenditure in Nigeria was detrimental to the country’s economic growth. That was on November 1, 2012. That warning signal came on the heels of a similar one by the International Monetary Fund(IMF). It had cautioned the country against expansionist fiscal policies.
Even before these calls for the reduction in government’s recurrent expenditure, a Report submitted by the Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalization of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies had recommended the scaling down of the burgeoning cost of governance. It specifically advised that functions that were duplicated by several Ministries, Departments and Agencies(MDAs) should be eliminated. That submission, popularly called the Oronsaye Report was submitted to the then President Goodluck Jonathan in April 2012 after its inauguration on August 18, 2011. The Committee was headed by Stephen Oronsaye, a former civil servant who rose to the post of Head of Service of the Federation before leaving office.
Viewed against this backdrop, it is interesting to note that President Muhammadu Buhari has approved further deliberations on the Report and forwarded it to both the Head of Service and the Secretary to the Federal Government. That was done through the Minister of Finance and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed. The government is being asked by concerned Nigerians to revalidate the recommendations which a March 2014 White Paper had invalidated. It could not have been otherwise.
The compelling economic quagmire visited on the world by the Coronavirus pandemic tagged COVID-19 which has exacerbated an already serious situation all inform that. Oil prices are crashing on daily basis. The country itself is enmeshed in a debilitating debt trap. Manufacturing is at its lowest ebb. Inflation rate keeps spiralling upwards. As expected, the telling effects fall squarely on the hapless citizens, who unfortunately still remain in the world’s poverty capital. With a consumer nation such as we have in place, spending (or rather, wasting) huge sums on running the government machinery is economically unwise.
Truth be told, the undue delay in taking a critical look at the Report and even implementing its recommendations, long before now leaves much to be desired. And it raises some salient questions. How can we have 50 out of the 541parastatals functioning without enabling laws? How have some of the MDAs been operating without the proper streamlining and supervision of their mandates?
If the Jonathan administration could not provide credible answers to the afore-listed questions, what about the current Buhari-led administration? Why, for instance, was no implementation committee set up with regards to the White Paper before its invalidation? Why has there been no buy-in from the National Assembly? It must be noted that a form of legislation is required to consummate the harmonization of all the inputs? The answers to these questions would go a long way towards ensuring that after all said and done, we are not taken back to square one. Or worse still, that the Report is not thrown into the dustbins of history.
Perhaps, those that fingers have been pointing at, accused of complicity in the long-widening delay are in the best position to absolve themselves of any of such misdemeanour. For instance, some top-notch career civil servants who would be affected by the merging of MDAs are said to have constituted themselves into cogs in the wheels of its implementation. So also are some power-seeking politicians who would want one juicy appointment or the other as heads of some parastatals. Not left out of course, are some lawmakers who would want to influence some appointments to key political positions, not necessarily in the national interest but to feather their own nests.
It would be recalled that after a thorough thinking-through process, the Oronsaye Report recommended the scrapping and merging of 220 out of the 541 federal government agencies. Worthy of note too was that the Federal Executive Council met to deliberate on the Report. Subsequently, the Adamu-Fika-led committee had a review of it. The aim was to ensure that the government did the needful. Unfortunately, it has not! But why?
The reasons given for the deliberate foot-dragging on the Report are that the money to be saved from the exercise is infinitesimal and not worth all the efforts. The lack of legal backing to give teeth to the bite is another. Amongst Agencies to be affected by the rationalization, if implemented are the Fiscal Responsibility Commission(FRC), the National Poverty Eradication Programme(NAPAEP), Utilities Charges Commission(UCC) and National Intelligence Committee. Others include Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission(NCPC), National Hajj Commission(NAHCON), the ICPC, EFCC and the Federal Roads Safety Corps(FRSC).
Although strong and salient reasons have been advanced for the independence of an agency such as FRSC by the respected Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka as others see the wisdom in merging the EFCC and ICPC, the fear of job losses should be mitigated by the federal government. The likely scenario is the movement of civil servants from one parastatal to another but with greater efficiency in public service delivery.
Looked at dispassionately, the discovery of some ghost staff numbering 23,000 in the federal civil service and duplication of functions by MDAs are not in tandem with the prevailing harsh, economic realities. The Integrated Personnel and Payroll System (IPPS) made the discovery of the ghost workers. For a government that claims to be fighting the monster of corruption headlong, this should be seen as a plus, to be capitalized on.
So also are the Report’s recommendations on free and compulsory education for all school-aged children in the country up to the Junior Secondary School level. The current Almajiri conundrum vis-à-vis the poor implementation of UNESCO recommendations in Nigeria’s education landscape should be motivating forces for Oransaye Report’s adoption.
It is therefore, disheartening that as at May 2020 the federal government is reported as having adopted only 10 % of the 268 recommendations and jettisoned the others! Why waste our scarce resources on setting up committees at the end of which the visionary, patriotic and development-engineering recommendations are laid to waste?
The earlier our political leaders are driven by the national rather than self-serving and sectional interests, the better for us all.
– Baje is a public commentator and analyst