Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Vice President Prof Yemi Osinbajo has called for a national debate to address the many issues around the size and cost of Nigeria’s governance.
The vice president spoke on Friday during a webinar entitled “Economic Sustainability Beyond COVID-19”, organised by Emmanuel Chapel, according to a statement released on Saturday by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Laolu Akande.
Osinbajo, during the meeting, expressed his optimism that the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic evidenced in the upgrade of healthcare facilities would be sustained.
However, according to him, cutting the cost of governance, though a difficult undertaking, must be done.
The VP was answering questions by the former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria and the previous Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi, during the webinar.
Sanusi, who recently raised concerns that the governance structure of the country is at the risk of bankruptcy, asked Osinbajo what the Buhari administration would do differently to address the problem.
‘The greater Atlanta (in the United States) has a Gross Domestic Product that is higher than that of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and Atlanta is not the richest city in the United States,’ Sanusi noted.
‘I don’t want to be disrespectful, but the annual sales of Tesla exceed the budget size of our country, so should we not begin to cut our coat according to our cloth? Should we not begin to look at all these costs and the constitution itself? Maybe turn the legislators to part-time lawmakers, have a unicameral legislature instead of bicameral, have the local governments run by employees of the Ministry of Local Government Affairs? We just need to think out of the box to reduce structural cost and make government sustainable over the long term.’
Responding to the former Emir, the vice president said: ‘There is no question that we are dealing with a large and expensive government but, as you know, given the current constitutional structure, those who would have to vote to reduce (the size of) government, especially to become part-time legislators, are the very legislators themselves. So, you can imagine that we may not get very much traction if they are asked to vote themselves, as it were, out of their current relatively decent circumstances.
‘So, I think there is a need for a national debate on this question and there is a need for us to ensure that we are not wasting the kind of resources that we ought to use for development on overheads. At the moment, our overheads are almost 70 per cent of revenues, so there is no question at all that we must reduce the size of government.
‘Part of what you would see in the Economic Sustainability Plan also and several of the other initiatives is trying to go, to some extent, to what was recommended in the (Steve) Oransaye Report, to collapse a few of the agencies to become a bit more efficient and make government much more efficient with whatever it has.’
Speaking on government’s plans for the country’s healthcare infrastructure and economy, Osinbajo assured that more jobs would be created for millions of Nigerians in different sectors, supporting small businesses, local production, and manufacturing, as well as extending the social safety net for the most vulnerable in society.
‘Out of the N500 billion initial stimulus fund that is factored into the current budget, N126 billion of it is going into healthcare.
‘We have all noted how states have risen up to the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic and how resuscitated healthcare facilities, new isolation centres, new ICUs are coming up.
‘The number of testing centres has also increased. We are hopeful that we will be able to sustain that momentum,’ the vice president state.