By Bolanle Bolawole
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More often than not, government business in Nigeria is akin to monkey business.
“The more you look is the less you see”; like the reggae artiste, Max Romeo, once crooned. What appears legit elsewhere is patently taboo here. Governance here looks more like voodoo practice. What works elsewhere worsens our plight here.
And the fault, like Cassius told Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Our leaders have ceaselessly been our headache. They play games with not just the destiny of the people but also with the good health and survival of the nation as a whole.Or else, we would long ago have put the Oronsaye Report, now making the rounds, behind us! Instead, Oronsaye is grabbing the limelight in the twilight of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, which is being forced to exhume it from its grave by circumstances conscripting it to do so; specifically the bankrupt state of the Nigerian State, a self-inflicted catastrophe that the Buhari administration will eternally be held responsible for.
Generations after generations of Nigerians will not forgive Buhari for what he has put this country and its people through. History will not be kind to those who, with single-mindedness of purpose, ran the country aground.
The signs of trouble were already there for everyone to see during the tenure of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Dwindling income, ballooning cost of governance, unbridled and unchecked corruption, and a hostile, unfriendly, and unfavourable international trading system had suggested, if nothing else, the need to sew our dress according to our cloth and stop living a life of pretence and profligacy as the so-called “Giant of Africa” – giant with the feet of clay! Jonathan acted on August 18, 2011 by setting up a panel, otherwise known as the Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies, headed by Mr. Steve Oronsaye, former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, to take a hard look at the Federal bureaucracy with a view to pruning it for greater efficiency and effectiveness. Saving costs and constructing a leaner and more functional bureaucracy was the goal.
Oronsaye set at work and, in April 2012, submitted an 800-page report which recommended the abolition and or merger of 102 government agencies and parastatals, among others, to drastically reduce the cost of governance.
The panel identified a whopping 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 were recommended for abolition, 52 for merger, and 14 to revert to departments in existing ministries.
In tandem with Nigeria’s abracadabra that goes for governance, one committee is followed by another committee to review the findings of the first committee, after which another committee is set up to study the reports and draft a White Paper, which the government can accept in full, grudgingly accept partially or gleefully reject in full, after which a new cycle of investigations may start in earnest!
In the case of the Oronsaye report, the Government White Paper reportedly rejected almost 80% of Oronsaye’s recommendations! Even at that, no step was taken by the Jonathan administration to implement the limited recommendations that it accepted.
The Oronsaye committee was set up in August 2011; eight months after, in April 2012, it submitted its report.
The Government White Paper was ready in March 2014, one clear year before the terminal date of the Jonathan administration; yet, Jonathan, described by many as effeminate and fickle-minded, did nothing to implement the recommendations of the committee it had set up. Some said political considerations unhinged him. Jonathan did not want to step on toes because elections were close by; he lost the election all the same!
Oronsaye was not the only occasion when Jonathan reportedly placed political considerations over and above the national interest. What of the Political confab that he set up on October 1, 2013 and which made a lot of recommendations that would have arrested the agitation for restructuring, which has now become a din threatening the very survival of the country?
The committee, headed by Senator Femi Okunrounmu, submitted its report on August 21, 2014, many months before Jonathan’s exit date from office; yet, the former president did not find the time to even start the implementation of the confab recommendations because, according to him, himself and the other leaders were busy preparing for the 2015 elections! He lost the election!
In 2019, however, the same Jonathan was quoted as appealing to Buhari to implement the recommendations of the Political conference because, according to him, “the solutions to most of the problems we face today lie in our honest assessment of the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference…
A diligent implementation of the conference report will lead the nation out of the woods” Yet, he wasted the golden opportunity he had to start the implementation of the confab report!
In July 2011, Jonathan set up an eight-man committee to probe the Niger Delta Development Commission; what came out of the probe? Till date, the NDDC is not only steeped in allegations of corruption; it is also mired in all manner of maladministrative controversies.
Had Jonathan gone the whole hog on the three critical issues of the Oronsaye report, the National confab, and the NDDC probe, he would have bequeathed a better country to Nigerians. But, then, he would have acted out of line! Here, corruption and maladministration issues are swept under the carpets, especially where government hands are in the pie and the powerful and well connected fat-cats are the culprits.
One of the seemingly intractable issues fueling the seven-month old ASUU strike is the resolve of the union to force the hands of the government to grapple with the cankerworm of corruption that has eaten deep into the university system.
The government has to be forced to set up visitation panels; when it grudgingly does this, it has to be compelled again to release its report. Issuing a white paper on, and implementing the report is another mountain to climb!Where public outrage forces the government to act by setting up one probe panel after another, it is either the probe panel themselves are soon enmeshed in their own corruption saga, in what Nigerians have come to aptly describe as “hunting the hunter” or what the late Comrade Yinka Odumakin so beautifully chronicled in his “Watch the Watcher” as the hypocrisy of the pot calling the kettle black. Despite the revelations that have come from respectable and responsible agencies of the Federal Government that the oil subsidy regime killing the country inexorably is a scam, Buhari has failed to act.
The NNPC leadership, from top to bottom, to quote Buhari himself, is filled with Buhari himself and his tribesmen and fellow religious bigots. They are the ones responsible for the subsidy scam killing the country, inflictng untold hardship on Nigerians and condemning generations of unborn Nigerians to mind-blowing indebtedness with nothing tangible to show for it.
How many reports of probes are yet to see the light of day? How many White Papers have turned brownish on the shelf where they have been left to gather dust?
Until recently, the Oronsaye report belonged in that category. However, circumstances beyond the control of this government have now compelled it to look in the direction of the Oronsaye report for succor. It is a hard decision, very unpalatable to bureaucrats and those feeding fat from the nation’s coffers. The country is broke and has no funds to continue to maintain its plethora of do-nothing agencies, parastatals, commissions, etc. The party is over! The bazaar is gradually grinding to a halt! The next stage of the battle is who goes and who stays!
The lobby will be intense – and I understand it has already started!Let me state that I am for the implementation of the Oronsaye report. It is long overdue. If this country is to have any chance of surviving the mindless and heartless bashing it has received at the hands of Buhari and his fellow wanton troopers, the cost of governance must be drastically whittled down. Not only the Ministries, agencies and parastatals should be affected, the Presidency itself and the National Assembly must take a serious cut.
The three arms of government – Executive, Legislature and Judiciary – as well as the three tiers of government – Federal, State and local Government – must be seriously whittled down Thirty-six states with its plethora of political appointees and the humongous severance packages they award themselves mercilessly drain the economy.
The 774 drain pipes called local governments is a waste of scarce resources. We should go back to six or not more than 8 or 10 regions with each of them as the federating units deciding on its own system of local administration. That is what federalism properly so called should be. Can we continue to maintain the Presidential villa clinic with billions of Naira when it serves neither the needs of the President nor of the Vice-President? Should we continue to waste billions of Naira on oil refineries that refine nothing under Buhari’s very nose? Should Nigeria’s scarce resources be wasted on Buhari’s cousins in Niger Republic while Nigerians themselves wallow in poverty? Petrol subsidy is a scam perpetrated in high places.
Buhari as the Petroleum Minister and the NNPC cannot wash themselves clean of the great disservice they have done, and continue to do, to Nigeria on this score; so also is the quantum of crude oil reportedly lost to oil thieves. The billion-Naira pipeline protection contract awarded to a Niger Delta militant is a bribe to shut those unthinking and selfish people up. It is best described as crumbs from the master’s table, designed to shut up the owners of the oil being ruthlessly siphoned by those who do not produce a pint of crude!
The bottomless pit that the so-called war on insurgency has become is another drain on the nation’s resources that the Buhari administration bears liability for. Tell me, what is the worth of a General who cannot master common bandits? The reports we hear now and again is that the insurgents are deliberately being treating with kid gloves so that the looting can continue! If you ask me, I will say these are more yawning and gaping holes that need to be plugged than the rationalization of the MDAs, good as that one is.
In other words, the rationalization alone, even if done 100 percent as recommended by Oronsaye, will not take Nigeria out of the woods. There are more fundamental issues left untouched that makes the implementation of the Oronsaye report to look like cutting the branches of a tree while leaving the tap roots firmly in the soil. How on earth did we come to over 500 MDAs? Doing what? The answer is not far to fetch: As the Federation becomes more unitary, the states or federating units lose more ground and power to the Centre whose Federal bureaucracy balloons to usurp State functions and powers.
As we move from a federation to a unitary system of government, the Centre becomes a Leviathan while the States are marginalized and reduced to what someone once aptly described as “begging bowls” making repeated visits to Abuja in search of dole outs, crumbs and peanuts from “Big Brother”.
A lasting solution to the problem is the return to the true federalism of the First Republic. The States or federating units should recover their free hand, lost power and prestige.
The jack-of-all-trade, master-of-none disposition of the Federal Government, which was started by the Gen. JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi military regime with its Unitary decree of 1966, must be brought to an end. A return to federalism will solve a lot of problems, including the agitation for self-determination by nationalities in the southern parts of the country protesting their marginalization by some elements in the North.
An avid reader of this column has asked me – since I voiced support for the full implementation of the Oronsaye report – whether I support the merger of the Nigerian Civil Security and Defence Corps (NCSDC) and the Federal Road Safety Corps with the Nigeria Police Force! Tufia! Eewo! K’a ma ri! The wisdom of our elders counsels against gathering pigeons with chickens. Keep strange bedfellows apart from each other as you implement Oronsaye. I am pained to say this but many Nigerians will attest to it that the reputation of the NPF as of today is such that if you merge any agency with it, you will just be sounding the death knell of that agency.
The Civil Defence and Federal Safety guys are definitely not saints, but they are still some notches above the Police. Should we in like manner merge the EFCC, ICPC, and the Code of Conduct Bureau with the Police? I do not think I!Ultimately, State policing is the right way to go. Gov. Rotimi Akeredolu hit the nail right on the hand when he lampooned the Buhari administration for resisting the demand by states to appropriately arm their security agencies while not only allowing but also engaging private individuals and security companies to do so! The States should begin to untie themselves from the apron strings of the federal government. They should have their own EFCC, ICPC, etc.
Why should it be Abuja leaving the log in its own eyes and chasing after the speck in the eyes of the States, like the federal government’s EFCC did recently in Ogun state?
If, truly, we desire a true federation, we cannot in one breath demand federalism and in another concentrate absolute power in the hands of the Federal Government. If we must have our cake, we cannot afford to eat it!