By Theophilus Ilevbare
President Goodluck Jonathan
In spite of repeated assurance from the government to appropriately down size its unwieldy workforce and cost of governance, most Nigerians doubt the commitment of the government to fully implement the recommendations of the Presidential Committee on Rationalisation and Restructuring of Federal Government parastatals, commissions and agencies headed by Steve Oronsaye.
The committee recommended the scrapping of 102 statutory agencies from the current 263, abolition of 38 agencies, merger of 52 and reversion of 14 to departments in the ministries. The 800-page report also recommended the discontinuation of government funding of professional bodies and councils.
The high cost of servicing the public sector is antithetical to economic growth. As the Governor of the Central Bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, rightly pointed out, the civil service is over-staffed. There is an alarming 45, 000 ghost workers in 251 MDAs. In no small measure, the civil service has contributed to the culture of corruption, cronyism and foot-dragging.
From time immemorial, recommendations and solutions to Nigeria’s myriad of problems have never been in short supply; it is the political will to implement that has been the bane. As far back as 1975, government restructured the Federal Civil Service with a massive purge. In 1984, under the then head of state, Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, another 3,000 civil servants were sacked for laziness, idleness, lack of initiative, lateness to office, absenteeism and inefficiency.
A Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) chaired by T.Y Danjuma, which had in January 2011, called for “a more effective and optimal use of national resources,” advised the government to restructure and rationalise to eliminate waste. Earlier, in 2000, there was the Ahmed Joda Panel White Paper on the Review, Harmonisation and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals which was not implemented until the Oronsaye committee was set up in 2012.
By summoning the political will to implement the Oronsaye report, the FG will spare successive governments the waste of resources and time in setting up similar committees. If the government of the day is serious about the planned restructuring, it knows exactly what to do to prune the cost of the civil service without constituting any committee.
Perhaps, government can start from its duplicity of committee functions when it constituted a committee led by the Minister for Justice and AGF, Mr Adoke, to review the work of another headed by Oronsaye. A third committee was set up by President Jonathan to review the public sector reform, headed by Ahmed Fika.
Maybe we now await the constitution of an implementation committee to fast track the execution of Oronsaye’s report. This is a duplicity that the committee itself was set up to ratify. After all, from the government’s antecedents, there is a probability, that the work of the three committees might be left in the cupboard to gather dust.
In the mean time, palpable fear has pervaded UTME, NECO, EFCC, ICPC and other agencies under the sledge hammer of rationalisation. But there are clandestine moves to stymie the implementation of the report by those who benefit from the bloated bureaucracy that allow about one percent of the population enjoy allowances estimated at N1.031 trillion representing 35% of the N4.926 trillion been the total budget of the federal government in the 2013 budget.
Expressing its displeasure with this data, the Fika committee report said, “It is certainly not morally defensible from the perspective of social justice or any known moral criterion, that such a huge sum of public funds is consumed by an infinitesimal fraction of the people.”
Mallam Nasir Elrufai, former Minister of FCT, in an essay “Why the cost of government is unsustainable in Nigeria”, said “It costs nearly 2.5 million naira on the average annually for the upkeep of each of the federal government’s nearly one million public sector workers – in the police, civil service, military and para-military services and teachers in government schools and institutions.
That is why we should ask questions when ministries are created and more ministers are screened by the Senate and sworn in! Each one costs billions!” The implication is that our entire oil earnings for the year cannot pay the salaries and allowances of politicians, public sector workers and their overheads.
Recently, the overlapping functions and battle for supremacy between government agencies was brought to the fore in the shooting of two Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, officials by men of the Police Force which ignited a war of words. It took the intervention of President Goodluck Jonathan to bring the situation under control.
This particular incident highlighted the conflict and acrimony that has always existed between agencies with overlapping functions. The two paramilitary outfits have been embroiled in an age-long mutual mistrust, over what the officers of the Nigeria Police often tout as the NSCDC’s intrusion into its statutory roles.
“It is a fundamental breach of good public sector governance to create a new agency or institution as a result of the failure or poor performance of an existing agency in order to suit political or individual interests. That such practices have been precipitating systemic conflicts, crises and collapse at a substantial but avoidably high cost to the government cannot be contested,” the Oronsaye reported said.
The scope of the Oronsaye committee should have been expanded to federal ministries. The duplicity extends to one office for ministers and another for ministers of state. Like deputy governors, it seems the constitution does not have clearly defined role for these ministers of state.
And how about their numerous Special Advisers? Ministries with overlapping functions such as the ministry of petroleum and that of solid mineral resources should be merged. The merged ministry can aptly be renamed ministry of petroleum and solid mineral resources.
There is no reason why there should be separate ministries for information and communication. Can we safely conclude that since we now have a Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs which birthed after amnesty was granted to Niger Delta militants that the federal government will create another for North affairs if amnesty is eventually granted to the dreaded Boko Haram terrorists?
How has the Ministry for Police Affairs since its inception improved the workings of the Nigeria Police Force? How does an inefficient and corrupt police force necessitate the formation of a ministry at the federal level? You would have observed too that we hardly hear of more than fifty percent of the ministers or ministers of state in cabinet for the better part of four years of an administration.
But a handful of agencies should be left to function separately. The EFCC and ICPC for instance. Both should be repositioned and made independent of government. Merging them with the Police Force will further weaken the fight against corruption.
After all said and done, it can never be over-emphasized that the Nigerian public sector needs to be re-engineered. The endemic corruption in the sector must be fought with renewed determination and vigour, which should start from the restructuring and rationalisation of agencies and parastatals.
Their proliferation, motivated by selfish interest, to near redundancy are concomitant effects of sleaze. Until the corruption in the system is tackled, we might just be moving in circles.