There is no gainsaying that the bulk of Nigeria’s resources go into civil service overhead costs and the day-today running of government. At present, the federal personnel annual budget currently stands at N2.8 trillion. There is no way any country can make any meaningful progress running public service and the government the way it is done in Nigeria.
And with the current coronavirus pandemic, it is high time the government initiated ways of freeing up funds through some aggressive reforms, no matter how unpopular they may be.
It is against this backdrop that we welcome the decision by President Muhammadu Buhari to implement the report of the Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalization of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies. Popularly known as the Oronsaye committee, it was set up by former President Goodluck Jonathan, with Stephen Oronsaye, a former Head of Civil Service, as its chairman. The committee was inaugurated on August 18, 2011, with a view to identifying the lapses in the civil service and come up recommendations on the way forward.
It is, therefore, heartwarming that eight years, precisely on April 16, 2012, after the committee submitted its report, the Buhari administration has seen the need to implement the white paper on the report. This decision, no doubt, could best be described as a right step in a right direction.
A recent investigation has revealed that the federal government would be saving about N241billion through the implementation of the Oronsaye report. This is no small amount of money; it can be used for development projects that would have unquantifiable impact on the living standard and wellbeing of the people.
The 800-page report recommends the abolition of 38 federal agencies, the merger of 52 and the reversion of 14 agencies to departments in relevant ministries. The whole essence of these reforms is to ensure downsizing and cost-effective management of the nation’s over-bloated civil service structure.
Other major recommendations of the Oronsaye report include the merger of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission and Code of Conduct Bureau.
The Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, Voice of Nigeria and the Nigerian Television Authority are to merge under the umbrella of Federal Broadcasting Corporation of Nigeria. The report also recommends that the functions of the National Salaries and Wages Commission be taken over by the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Responsibility Commission.
The Bureau of Public Enterprise is to also take over the functions of the Infrastructure Concessionary and Regulatory Commission. National Emergency Management Agency and the National Refugees Commission are to be merged, while Highways Department of Federal Ministry of Works is to take over the functions of the Federal Road Safety Corps.
The Universal Basic Education Commission is to take over the functions of the National Council for Nomadic Education and the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education. The list is exhaustive.
As of time the white paper was submitted, there were 541 government parastatals, commissions and agencies, including statutory and non-statutory, in the country. The report prescribes a reduction in the number of statutory agencies from 263 to 161.
This number may likely have increased going by the way the National Assembly creates agencies and commissions without recourse to the cost of governance. Our lawmakers must begin to think out of the box, and stop looking for easy ways out of difficult situations. Creating more agencies, which we cannot obviously fund, can arguably not be the best and only solution to the myriad of challenges facing the country.
Experts have contended that the federal government may have suddenly decided to cut cost of governance to meet the current economic realities occasioned by the fall of oil price and the downturn occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic. The thinking is that over the years government at the centre had been contented with the centralisation and concentration of administrative power. This, probably, explains why the Jonathan administration rejected, in its entirety, the report of the Oronsaye committee, a committee it set up and commissioned. But whichever way it is viewed, it is never too late to implement the report. Government is a continuum.
As a newspaper, we urge the Buhari administration to garner the political will and courage to follow through its decision to implement the Oronsaye report. The target reform captures quality of public services, the quality of civil service and the credibility of government’s commitment to good governance and effective service delivery to the citizenry. We cannot continue to pretend that things are just okay the way they are. Not anymore!