The Buhari administration indicated the other day that it would embark on the implementation of the recommendations in the report of the Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies. The committee headed by Mr. Steve Oronsaye, former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (HCSF), was set up by Buhari’s predecessor, President Goodluck Jonathan.
Indeed, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, who revealed the new deal in an interview noted that, “The President has approved the implementation of the Oronsaye report and that the president’s approval had been forwarded to the Head of Service and Secretary to the Government of the Federation.”
This is a significant development because for too long many public-spirited Nigerians have expressed the concern over the expansive cost of governance in the country in the context of the fading glory of hydrocarbon receipts and the overriding need to store for the future. Besides, there has been the absence of political will to do the needful given that the only business in town has become politics and its ancillary benefits – without concomitant reform of the public service.
Perhaps, the log in the eyes of the state elite has been prised off due to the stark reality of our dwindling oil receipts in the wake of COVID-19 emergency, which has pushed the price of crude oil to an all-time low. Additional rationale is the fact that the country’s debt burden is already heading into the overhang zone with nearly 25 per cent spent on debt servicing. We can only express cautious optimism that the said approval does not fade into redundancy. To be sure, cutting the cost of governance is long overdue. It is no longer a case of a stitch in time saves nine but by far too late. But again, better late than never.
The Oronsaye Committee set on August 18, 2011, with a mandate “to study and review all previous reports and records on the restructuring of Federal Parastatals and advise on whether they were still relevant; examine the enabling Acts of all the federal agencies, parastatals and commissions and classify them into various sectors; examine critically, the mandate of the existing federal agencies, parastatals and commissions and determine areas of overlap or duplication of functions and make appropriate recommendations to either restructure, merge or scrap some to eliminate such overlaps, duplications or redundancies; and advise on any other matter incidental to the foregoing, which might be relevant to the desire of the government to prune down the cost of governance.”
However, in April 2012, it submitted its 800-page report, which recommended the abolition and merger of 102 government agencies and parastatals, among others, to drastically cut the cost of governance. The committee identified 541 government parastatals, commissions and agencies, both statutory and non-statutory, and recommended a reduction in the number of statutory agencies from 263 to 161; 38 agencies should be abolished; 52 agencies should be merged and 14 should revert to departments in ministries.
Government White Paper on the report turns out an anti-climax with its acceptance of a few of the recommendations while rejecting what appeared to the public as compelling for pruning. Almost 80% of the recommendations were rejected. For example, it rejected the recommendation of the merger of NTA, FRCN and VON into one body to be known as Federal Broadcasting Corporation of Nigeria (FBCN); rejected that the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria and the Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission be abolished and their functions transferred to a department under Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and rejected that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the regulatory functions of Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST) be brought together under a unified management structure to be known as the Communications Regulatory Authority of Nigeria.
However, the government accepted a recommendation to scrap National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP); accepted that the trio of Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and the Nigerian Meteorological Agency be merged into a new body to be known as the Federal Civil Aviation Authority (FCAA); and accepted that National Council of Arts and Culture be merged with the National Troupe and the National Theatre into one agency called National Council of Arts and Culture (NCAC).
In spite of the gross limitation of the White Paper, the recommendations are consequential for cutting the cost of governance. It is not an exercise that requires half-measures but a total overhaul of the entire governance structure in the country and also deals with what observers have called “macro-institutional dimensions to the entire governance conundrum” outside the term of reference of the Oronsaye report as well as embedded wastages in the Ministries, Departments and Agencies.
The era of big government is gone and to avoid the instability that comes with ungovernability, the government must right-size itself at this historical moment. It is said that federal agencies have increased since the Oronsaye Panel Report was first made public to about 1,000; maintaining a wrong-headed trend that began in the 1970s with institutional duplication in governmental tasks.
We note that what is required is political will. It arises from the conviction to do the right thing by the government to the people. It abhors the suasion of political jobbers and it is guided by the common good of all. There is critical mass support for the government to tread this path at a time that the country is in dire financial trouble.
Fittingly, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and other civil society organisations have expressed support for government intention while expressing apprehension for job losses. Therefore, in going about implementing the white paper, due diligence is required to avoid a mismatch and more important the mistake of the (military government) 1975 administrative purge in which people were laid off arbitrarily. That fiat has consequently induced corruption in the public service. And some have suggested that to mean “post-retirement package that will place public servants within five years of retirement or less within a framework of social security scheme.” Meanwhile, the government should not use the Oronsaye Panel’s Report to promote and implement a fallacy that the federal public service is over-bloated. It is not in real terms as the federal civil service has long been suffering from ‘‘succession crisis’’ a consequence of more than a decade of freezing recruitment into the mainstream civil service. President Buhari, the time to take the bull by the horn is now. Be courageous!