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NIGERIA: Politics of the Oronsaye Committee Report

For reasons no less than political considerations, the federal government may have rejected some of the recommendations proposed by the Stephen Oronsaye-led Committee on the Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies, writes Ojo M. Maduekwe

On June 4, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) with the support of the Federal Public Administration Reform Programme (FEPAR) organised a workshop on the Cost of Governance. About 30 participants, including representatives of the civil society organisations, sector experts and the media attended the workshop held at the Grand Ibro Hotel, Abuja.

A part of the communiqué released at the end of the meeting by the organisers, read that the workshop was “convened with the objective of reviewing the White Paper on the Report of the Presidential Committee on the Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies, known as the Oronsaye Committee to determine whether the positions of the White Paper are in accordance with the original mandate of the Oronsaye Committee.”

Presentations at the workshop were made on an overview of the entire White Paper with regards to specific sectors such as Agriculture, Aviation, Education, Extractives and the Oil and Gas Sector, Fiscal Governance and Taxation, ICT, Science and Technology as well as Trade and Investment.

The whole idea was to further seek avenues of proffering new insights into how to reduce the costs of governance in accordance with national and international best practices. The costs of governance, many believe, has been incurred because of the presidential system that Nigeria practises.

Amidst the bickering and politics that divide Nigerians across political lines, tribes and religion and sometimes threatens the fragile unity of the country, there is an issue that every Nigerian – including past and present leaders, even President Goodluck Jonathan – have reached a consensus on; it is the wastefulness inherent in the nation’s presidential system of government.

Former Secretary-General of Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, in early April, at the fourth edition of the Emeka Anyaoku Lecture series on “Good Governance” in Abeokuta, Ogun State, said: “I agree with people urging our young ones to go out, register and vote to bring about the change we need but I must confess that the present structure of governance in this country is not one that will make for peace and stability of this country. We should look at the structure of this country. We were a lot better when we had a federation of four regions.”

Same April, the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), took the same position as Anyaoku when its’ Chairman, Elias Mbam appeared before the National Conference Committee on Public Finance.

“The presidential system of government is much more expensive than parliamentary system of government as practised in the First Republic. This is characterised by large executive cabinet consisting of personal assistants, special advisers, senior special advisers and large legislative set up on full time basis,” said Mbam.

Underlining all the disapproval for the presidential system of government are corruption and waste.
According to a member of the House of Representatives, Honourable Abike Dabiri-Erewa, who spoke during the Anyaoku lecture, “Our problem really is not about structure or no structure, it is about implementing what we have; about political will and I think the major thing we must tackle now is corruption.”

To stop the leakages in the system, while some said the presidential system should remain but that the anti-corruption laws must be strengthened, others have advocated for a different type of government in exchange for the presidential system.

Suggestions ranged from the Parliamentary system of government which was practiced for at least five years before and after Nigeria’s independence in 1960, and was believed to have worked effectively until the military intrusion in January 1966.

Anyaoku wants a return to regional system of government where the country would run along six geo-political zones. “We were a lot better when we had a federation of four regions,” said Anyaoku.

One thing everyone agrees to is that there is the need to check the waste in government by pruning the ever-growing parastatals and agencies.

Even President Jonathan while inaugurating the Oronsaye Committee on August 18, 2011, supported prudence in government and mandated the committee “to study and review all previous reports/records on the restructuring of the federal government parastatals and advise on whether they are still relevant; to examine the enabling Acts of all the federal agencies, parastatals and commissions and classify them into various sectors; to examine critically, the mandates 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 to eliminate such overlaps, duplication or redundancies.”

One major work of the Oronsaye Committee, according to President Jonathan was to “advice on any other matter(s) that is incidental to the foregoing which may be relevant to the desire of government to prune down the costs of governance.”
After the federal government released its White Paper in response to the Oronsaye Committee report, many stakeholders have come to question the government’s genuineness in setting up the committee.

A critical look at the White Paper in relation to the recommendations in the Oronsaye Report was what formed the CSJ workshop in Abuja.
At the workshop, one stakeholder voiced the position of many participants and probably most Nigerians when he found to be suspicious, the federal government’s rejections of most of the recommendations without giving reasons for its action.
“Government should either reject or accept. For the government to say that it ‘notes’ makes their position confusing. Also, everywhere government was advised to reduce board members from 36 to 7, it said ‘government notes’. I believe this confusion in government’s unclear stand in some of the Committee recommendations means there is politics in the mix somewhere.”

He drew reference to the point that many government agencies and parastatals were created by different governments with no concrete functions.

“This looks like they were created for political purposes,” he said, adding that serving Ministers being a part of the members of the White Paper Committee have cast grave doubt on government’s sincerity.
“Ministers were members of the White Paper and not one Minister would want his Ministry’s agencies to be scrapped. The Minister of Labour was a part of the Whitepaper. I think that all of the “notes” has 2015 as the deciding factor and government is worried of losing political capital.”

In a bid to save cost, part of the recommendation reached during the workshop includes but not limited to the following:
“In accordance with the Oronsaye committee report, the federal government should reduce the number of members on each of the governing boards or councils of all agencies, parastatals and commissions to not more than seven and the membership and composition of boards and commissions should be based on merit and competence; a single seven-member board should be appointed to serve and oversee all the River Basin Development Authorities as against the current practice of one board per River Basin Development Authority;

“The federal government should expeditiously roll out the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) to cover all Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Government; the proliferation and duplication of research institutes and agencies should be redressed through the mergers recommended by the Oronsaye Committee and the establishment of the National Research Development Fund and all research institutes should access competitive research funding from the Fund;

“The federal government should conduct staff and management audit in all tertiary institutions including teaching hospitals in the light of the administrative staff outrageously outnumbering the core staff of these institutions; the continued public funding of the Tafawa Balewa Square Management Board and the Lagos International Trade Fair Management Board after they have been concessioned is a waste of public resources and should be discontinued immediately;

“The federal government should reduce the size of the federal cabinet through the amendment of the Constitution to ensure that ministers do not exceed 15 in number and also limit the number of assistants to the President to a reasonable number; all Bills pending before the National Assembly seeking to set up new agencies of the federal government should be reviewed for duplicity or overlap of functions and an evaluation of the cost of implementation;

“Considering the secular/multi religious nature of the Nigerian society, the federal government should immediately scrap the Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission and the National Hajj Commission; the federal government’s continued direct investment in aviation infrastructure is a waste of public resources and should be stopped in favour of funding under public private partnerships.”

At the end of the workshop, participants noted that these recommendations do not cover the entire gamut of the Oronsaye committee recommendations as well as the White Paper and therefore called for deeper engagement with the recommendations and with authorities in the Executive and the Legislature with a view to drastically reducing the costs of governance.

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