8 November 2012

Nigeria: Cutting Down the Size of Government


Former Commonwealth Secretary General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku recently added his voice to the clamour for reduction in the size and cost of governance. Speaking at the public presentation of a book, Anyaoku expressed concern over 'the unwieldy nature of government, especially at the federal level. He said that Nigeria's chances of realizing its development objectives would be greatly enhanced if it adopted a major restructuring of the present "governance architecture".

Anyaoku was not saying anything new; his lament only echoed the views of experts who for years have been advocating a change in the bloated and costly political structure and bureaucracy in the country in order to significantly reduce recurrent expenditure averaging at 70% of the budget. The remarks came as President Goodluck Jonathan once again failed in the 2013 budget to keep his promise to scale down the cost of governance by restructuring government ministries and agencies. The expansion of government and embarking on frivolous expenditures has become the rule.

It wasn't always so. The old Western Region Government, which administered a vast expanse from Ibadan to Asaba, employed 25,000 Civil Servants. There was one Government House, one Prime Minister, nine Ministers, and one House of Assembly. Today the same area is Balkanized into seven states, each with its governor and a retinue of public and personal aides, all drawing from the public purse. These states employ civil servants in excess of 150,000, approximately ninety commissioners, hundreds of special advisers and senior special assistants, and approximately 110 members of state houses of assembly.

As a result money which should otherwise be spent on meaningful social development has been devoted to paying salaries, constructing government houses, secretariats, houses of assembly, and quarters for the legislators, and of course the proliferation of fleets of official vehicles, many of them exotic and expensive. Added to that is the fad of state governors, some hardly able to meet their basic duty to the people, acquiring the costly taste of buying aircraft.

The recent report by the Steve Oronsaye Committee on the rationalisation of ministries, departments and agencies frowned at the huge size government and recommended merging many agencies whose functions overlap as well as scrapping others that were deemed unnecessary. Like many other reports before it, this one is yet to see the light of day. In addition to the economic disadvantages of bloated government, Anyaoku also held federal governance practices discourage healthy competition among the states in terms of productivity and encourage what he refers to as destructive competition. He asserted that "it is this destructive competition for the control of power at the centre that ...fans the flames of religious and ethnic differences...rather than being a source of strength; our pluralism has become a harbinger for division and disunity".

Supporting these assertions, the Minister of Finance, Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who was presenting her book, curiously titled "Reforming the Un-reformable. Lessons from Nigeria" at the occasion, also identified the struggle for control of political power at the centre as responsible for the spate of political and religious crises that have engulfed the country in recent times.

Paradoxically while almost everyone else sees the sense in downsizing government, the politicians see it differently. The on-going exercise aimed at amending the Constitution has been inundated with demands for creation of over forty different new states. There is request whatsoever for the merger of states for administrative efficiency! Naturally with each new state, there would be more to go round.

A common assertion about Nigeria's consistent failure to solve the problems bedevilling the nation is that everyone knows what the problems are and everyone knows what the solutions are; yet no government has shown any commitment to apply them. With the on-going Constitutional amendment initiative, it time that that the so-called "no-go areas" of a bi-cameral legislature, the Constitutional requirement for all States to be represented in the federal cabinet, the derivation and the revenue sharing formulas, are all ripe for revisiting to free the nation to develop the potential of each state at their own pace according to the peculiar needs of their citizens.

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