Anticipatory to the planned restructuring and rationalization of federal ministries, departments and agencies, analysts as well as relevant stakeholders have expressed mixed feelings on the success chance of the new policy option in the post COVID-19 pandemic.
The renewed national conversation on the need to reduce the high cost of governance in the country followed the adoption of Orosanye report on restructuring and rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies (MDAs) by President Muhammadu Buhari. The committee headed by the former Head of Service was put together by the Goodluck Jonathan administration, but the implementation was stalled by bureaucratic bottleneck. The committee had recommended in the 800-page report, among other things, the abolishment and merging of 102 government agencies and parastatals.
In view of the dwindling oil revenue occasioned by Coronavirus, President Buhari recently approved the implementation of the report. According to the Minister of Finance, budget and national planning, Zainab Ahmed, the president’s approval has been forwarded to the head of civil service and secretary to the government of the federation for necessary action.
She said: “The president has approved that this administration should implement the Oransanye report. It has reviewed the whole of the size of government and has made very significant recommendations in terms of reducing the number of agencies and that would mean merging some agencies. And we have conveyed Mr President’s approval to the arms of government that are responsible for this and that will be the office of the secretary of government and the head of civil service of the federation.”
Data from the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies shows that Nigeria currently has 719 federal agencies. Out of that figure, 111 of them were created between 1999 and 2018. For an economy that heavily relies on oil revenue, there is obviously disequilibrium between government’s earning and the huge recurrent expenditure which has always been an issue of concern to Nigerians.
An erudite Professor of Economics and immediate past President of Chartered Institute of Banker of Nigeria (CIBN), who is now a lecturer in the Babcock University, Illisan, Ogun State, Segun Ajibola, speaking with Sunday Sun, expressed optimism that the exercise would eliminate wastages, unnecessary duplication and ultimately reduce the cost of governance.
He identified unwieldy political structure as well as the running cost of presidential system of government as some of the factors that account for prohibitive cost of governance in Nigeria. According to him, if Orosanye report is properly implemented, the country would be better for it.
His words: “As we are all aware that one of the major concerns of stakeholders in the Nigerian project over the years has been the high cost of governance. And the high cost of governance comes from so many angles. One is the cost of the political structure. Democratic rule is very expensive all over the world especially the presidential system of government. That cost of political structure is extremely high. Coupled with that is the cost of running day-to-day operation of a civil government, including civil service structure and all its apparatuses.
The argument which led to the setting up of Orosanye committee is the duplication and overlapping in the functions and responsibilities of some of these MDAs and that reducing them and consolidating their functions will make them more compact, more effective and cost effective.
“And I think there is merit in the argument. So, bringing them together by collapsing some, by eliminating some and reducing the size of some of them will make them to be more responsive, more accountable, and much easier to oversee and to manage. Otherwise, it will be difficult for lean resources to get across to all of them. That is the sense in looking at how some of them can be consolidated through merger, elimination and size redefinition so that at the end of the day we can have a number of departments and agencies that we can actually situate their responsibilities and police the goings on there and make them accountable and be in a position to measure what they are doing. At the end of the day, it will reduce the cost of governance in the country which has been so high and worrisome over the years in the midst of dwindling revenue.
On the flip side are those who believe that rationalization would inevitably lead to job losses. Senator Rufai Hanga who represents this school of thought told Sunday Sun in a telephone interview that merger could not be successfully done without downsizing. “What is rationalization without downsizing? What will be the impact of the merger of ministries and agencies without downsizing? At the end of it all, only one or two heads will go and the work force will still remain. Of what effect will that be? If rationalization is to have meaning, it must be accompanied by downsizing,” he posited.
Expectedly, the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria is already kicking, warning that moves by the Federal Government to merge some Ministries, Departments and Agencies, would trigger industrial and social unrest.
In a statement by its Secretary-General, Alade Lawal, the ASCSN queried the decision of the Federal Government to implement the report amidst COVID-19. It reads in part: “The reality is that if some MDAs are merged and others scrapped, thousands of civil servants will surely lose their jobs. We cannot understand the logic behind government’s decision at this material time when Nigerians are losing their loved ones while thousands of others are being afflicted by coronavirus.
“With billions of naira donated by some wealthy Nigerians and international donors, the least we expect the government to do is to use such funds to upgrade medical facilities and inject others into welfare packages for Nigerians. Instead of doing that the government is preoccupied with devising strategies to sack thousands of workers in the name of restructuring the MDAs. This is very unfortunate and unacceptable.
A former minister of transport and chieftain of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party Ebenezer Babatope, also lending credence to this position, said: “This may not be a good time to do it. If they do it now, it may bring confusion. When the coronavirus is finally defeated, they can do it. It is not a good option now. It’s going to cause confusion and complication. It is a good policy, no doubt, but is not done when you don’t have the benefit of doing a good job. This is not a good time at all to do it.”
However, Prof Ajibola in a quick response to the argument allayed the fear of job loss, stressing that consolidation could open opportunity somewhere else. “Downsizing may be inevitable is some cases, in some, it may not be that prevalent. One consolidation exercise can open up opportunity somewhere else. At certain level, rationalisation may be inevitable, but at some other level, they may not need to downsize. They will only need to assign responsibilities. They will only need to hold field officers more responsive and more accountable,” he explained.