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Sunday, 03 March 2024 14:57

[OPINION] All Nigerians should support Oronsaye’s report - Tonnie Iredia

Public reactions to the report of the presidential committee on restructuring and rationalization of federal government parastatals, commissions and agencies led by Steve Oronsaye, former Head of Service of the Federation have been immensely positive. Those who have a few reservations, have no substantive objections to the report; instead, they are merely raising issues of how to implement an old report without updating it to meet today’s concerns.

What this suggests is that both presidents Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari failed to meet public expectations on the expedience of taking steps to reverse a trend in Nigeria that had been encouraging bloated government. A bigger blame goes to Jonathan who saw the need to set up the panel, yet for 3 years 2012-2015, got distracted away from doing the needful by implementing even those aspects of the report which his government accepted.

 

As is always the case in Nigeria, the government that came after that of Jonathan spent several years reviewing the report that had been severally reviewed as if its game-plan was to buy time rather than cut the cost of governance. As a result, Buhari’s government joined those which set up panels without doing anything positive about the findings of such panels. As if following precedents, different former heads of service Ama Pepple, Ebele Okeke, Bukar Aji etc. were mandated to either review or produce white papers that were never implemented. It was nothing new because from history we are aware of a plethora of panels: Mbanefo (1959), Morgan (1963), Simeon Adebo (1971), Jerome Udoji (1972-4) Dotun Philips (1985), Allison Ayida (1994) Ahmed Joda (1999).

 

Against this backdrop it is in order to commend President Bola Tinubu for resurrecting the famous Oronsaye report which would have saved the nation N862 billions of naira between 2012 and 2015 if it were implemented. Everyone including Peter Obi has praised Tinubu for the decision. President Tinubu  must however distance himself from leaving the subject at the cosmetic point of proclamation as his predecessor did. The target of 3 months set by him for the exercise makes a lot of sense as he needs to consider new developments that might work against the implementation of some aspects of the report. At the same time, there are many areas that are too obvious to be delayed. For example, organizations  found by previous report to have no enabling law, which Oronsaye restated should be done with immediately and avoid the old vice of procrastination.

There are also several bodies with similar functions and powers that can be run together without serious adverse consequences. It would not be necessary to add such bodies to what needs to be reviewed once again. Nothing for instance works against the merger of the Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission(ICRC) with the Bureau of Public Enterprises(BPE). Similarly, a health entity can be achieved from the merger of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the National Commission for Refugees (NCF). There is also no aberration in recognising the ample similarities between the Voice of Nigeria (VON), the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) and our own Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). Our worry as I personally testified before the Oronsaye Panel in 2012 is funding.

Over the years, government developed a nonchalant attitude towards broadcasting. Apart from paying only salaries to broadcast stations, they are not allowed to exercise professional discretion in the performance of their duties. Indeed, the last 8 years saw a subtle but effective clamping down on the stations, introducing several censorship guidelines that make broadcasting obsolete. For such a sector which gets minimum respect from government, one would not be surprised if a merger of the 3 bodies leads to sending to them one third the funds needed by the 3 components which would still function separately. The case of television would be particularly precarious because its needs are technically different from that of radio which may suit VON and FRCN that have no need for the video component of television. If they must all merge, the only gain would be to reduce their 3 Boards of Directors to one.

The Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) has done some good work for some time, but its relatively better performance than its mother body, the Nigeria Police is due more to funding. No one would have given to the Police alone, what both the Police and the FRSC are getting now, yet the FRSC was cut off from the Police to handle the assignment of one department of the Police. Interestingly, many provisions in the law setting up the Police are reproduced with respect to functions and powers of the FRSC. No wonder Nigerians meet a multiplicity of law enforcement agencies on the highways. It is also noted that the Universal Basic Education Commission, the Nomadic Education Commission and the National Mass Literacy Commission can seamlessly fuse.

For all intents and purposes, both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) are essentially set-up to fight corruption. Considering that corruption is one of the greatest challenges to good governance in Nigeria, what both bodies need are great working tools. They don’t necessarily need to be two separate bodies. The recommendation by the Oronsaye panel that both should merge is therefore understandable. The same argument can be put to support the merger of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the Public Complaints Commission(PCB). In fact, the latter which has almost faded away on its own will get revived if merged with the NHRC that has always had vibrant leadership. In addition, the nature and powers of the PCB render her a toothless bulldog.   

It is ridiculous to hear that regulatory bodies of professional entities are part of organs which get annual subvention from government. Why for instance should government carry the burden of funding the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria APCON or even the Nigerian Press Council NPC? Well before 2012, different courts had declared that the existence of the NPC negates the constitutional provisions on press freedom. Should such a body still exist let alone to attract annual government subvention? It is true the council has done well in attracting bright officers but such staff can easily fit into other government bodies under the information and communication sectors. Although the Oronsaye report recommended that the Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) should become a department in the Information Ministry, no organization should be allowed to have the NFVCB type of Board with 54 Directors.

One of the easiest ways for government to cut cost is to investigate  several organizations that came into existence through the legislature whose members create institutions for their villages without feasibility studies. So many such bodies have since emerged through the bow and go culture of the legislature to compound an already bloated government. President Tinubu should stand firmly against many such bodies that have been created since after Oronsaye’s report was presented in 2012. We cannot afford to be seen outside our clime as one that continues to increase government bodies after a panel had been set up to reduce the size of the same government. It is not enough to say such new bodies were the creation of law that can be amended.

 

For a successful general harmonization, the size of ministries should also be rationalized. Nigeria as a poor country cannot afford to have twice the size of Ministers of the United States. The unveiling of a large ministerial size by President Tinubu may have been informed by the desire to attain inclusivity as well as that he probably didn’t know the extent of Nigeria’s low finances. Now that he knows, he should strategize to do the needful because examples have always been better than precepts. After that, Nigerians from all walks of life led by civil society activists must stand in unionism to demand for an amendment to our constitution to bring to an end our two-chamber federal legislature. Its capitalist nature is too expensive for Nigeria. One chamber is enough if we must cut our coat not according to our size but according to our cloth.

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