The editorial in italics below and which has the above caption, was first published in June 2016. Though the focus at that time was on the Peace Corps but the argument was essentially on the need to trim the bogus public service which every year gulps the nation’s resources through recurrent expenditure.
At that time, this newspaper was conscientiously committed to the urgent implementation of the Steve Oronsaye report which recommended that the Public service had become a behemoth which must be slashed to size in the interest of the nation. The current down turn in the oil industry which is the country’s mainstay as well as the Coronavirus (Covid-19) scourge make the argument even more compelling.
Notwithstanding, we are disappointed that more than four years after that report was submitted, it is still gathering dust on the shelf of an office at the federal secretariat or wherever the office is. We are also aware that there has been recent moves to reactivate the process of its implementation. However, we make bold to say that what is being done in that direction is agonisingly slow. That explains why we are repeating this editorial to urge the government to expedite action on the steps being taken to give life to that report.
The Buhari administration must realise that the report in question will hurt public servants. To that extent, the President ought not to expect any willing cooperation from them. Regardless, we demand that he brings the weight of his office to bear on the mechanisms to be adopted in the course of ensuring that the report is implemented and the public service right- sized. In our considered opinion, it is for the good of the nation.
The cost of governance in Nigeria has been ranked among the highest in the world. The bloated bureaucracies created by the various arms of government, as if in competition, have unwittingly underdeveloped the country for many years. It is no surprise then that President Muhammadu Buhari, a man famous for his positive frugality, is not comfortable with this situation and had made “lean government” a cardinal principle of his electioneering campaign as well as the policy thrust of his administration. He has made good this pledge with the right-sizing of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and also scaled down the extant excesses of that category of public officers.
The President’s stand on the issue is hinged on the worrisome contradiction in which Nigeria, reputed to be the sixth largest exporter of crude oil in the world, has over 70 per cent of its estimated 200 million population tagged as poor and living below the United Nations poverty threshold.
This disturbing development is traceable to the fact that a huge chunk of the nation’s resources is channelled into running government bureaucracies at all levels that are unduly large and cumbersome to manage. The fallout of this is that a smaller percentage of the national resources is allocated to wealth-creating capital projects and the real sector of the economy.
As part of effort to rectify this obvious anomaly, the previous administration instituted a Presidential Committee on reform of government agencies which recommended the reduction of statutory agencies of government from 263 to 161.The proposal was contained in an 800-page report by the former Head of Service and Chairman of the Committee, Steve Oronsaye.
It is in this regard that the ongoing legislative process intended to create a new paramilitary agency, the Peace Corps of Nigeria is, in our view, a contravention of President Buhari’s policy thrust and what the Oronsaye report set out to achieve. The Nigeria Police Force (NPF), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) are equipped to do the job for which the corps is to be created.
In our opinion, instead of creating a new agency, what the government should consider doing at this time is to further empower existing security agencies in the country through adequate funding and provision of modern security and communication gadgets.
We believe that the current economic downturn that the nation is experiencing makes the implementation of the Oransanye report very urgent. This becomes even more pertinent as we recall that the 2016 fiscal budget of N6.08 trillion is premised on an oil benchmark of $38 per barrel, N1.84 trillion borrowing, revenue projection of N3.86 trillion, deficit of N2.22 trillion and a debt-to-Gross Domestic Product ratio of 2.16 per cent. This precarious economic position the nation finds herself makes the setting up of an additional agency ill-advised when the focus ought to be on cost-cutting measures to preserve funds needed for infrastructure as well as other employment generating, economy-boosting ventures. The Peace Corps may continue to exist as a self-financing voluntary agency without the government converting it to a money-guzzling organisation that will end up duplicating functions performed by existing agencies of government.