By Ochereome Nnanna
SHOULD we sack Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for calling for a drastic cut-down of public sector workforce to make more money available for capital development?
That is what many people would have us do if they had their way. Immediately the Governor made this call on Tuesday, November 27th 2012 at the Government House Annex, Warri in Delta State, he reclaimed the headlines of the media, as usual.
The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and even members of the House of Representatives condemned the call, with the unions asking that he be relieved of his job. My question is: should we join this call? And my answer is… wait for it in a bit.
Let me start by saying that Nigerians and their economy have experienced a bitter-sweet relationship with this Kano blueblood who is widely tipped to climb into the royal shoes of Alhaji Ado Bayero, the Emir of Kano (if Bayero transits to eternity before Sanusi, that is).
He has demonstrated enormous capacity for good and bad. His predecessor, Professor Chukwuma Soludo, conducted a successful consolidation of the banking sector and thus saved Nigerians from losing their deposits when the economic meltdown of 2007/2008 set in.
But Soludo was so carried away by his own success story that he failed to deploy adequate risk assessment measures to identify the massive corruption eating away at depositors’ and shareholders’ funds.
In fact, Soludo had become so unwholesomely friendly and protective of bank executives that it was only a matter of time before the financial system would implode. The appointment of Sanusi appeared to be the way out. But in fighting the corruption he found in the system, Sanusi ended up destroying the banks he was supposed to protect.
Up till today, even after pumping in over one trillion naira to prop up some banks and facilitating the creation of the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), Sanusi’s actions (and more importantly his utterances) have made customers to walk away from the banks he saved.
Sanusi’s assets and liabilities
Sanusi’s greatest assets are his boldness and communicative capabilities. They are also his greatest faults. He uses them indiscriminately like a loose cannon. And that is why he is always in the news.
Now, should we sack Sanusi for what he said in Warri? If you choose to take the literal import of his call for a reduction of governmental workforce you might want to side with the organised Labour. But if you examine it with maturity, taking into account the greater national good, you will join those who feel Sanusi has done nothing wrong this time around.
The learned Mallam is only saying what most of us have said several times over without getting into trouble: seize the opportunity of the ongoing constitution amendment exercise to repair the national anomaly whereby we spend nearly 80 per cent of our national (and state and local council) budgets on servicing the recurrent bills of government workers.
Those after Sanusi: This trend is not only chieflyresponsible for our endemic corruption and cretinish infrastructure deficit, it also promotes social injustice.
A few government workers take three quarters of our national income leaving the non-public sector workers and self-employed Nigerians with virtually nothing. Those who are after Sanusi have not told us if they find the current arrangement sane and acceptable.
I do not really think Sanusi would sack 50 per cent of federal workers if he were president of Nigeria. Otherwise, he would have started with the CBN where he wields enormous powers.
I think he wants us to look for ways of eventually achieving that purpose. He is just setting an agenda for the constitution amendment exercise to achieve one of its objectives: reducing the size of government and cutting costs.
It is impractical to just get up and slash government workforce. Not only will it be resisted by organised Labour, it will also create major social discontinuities.
At the Warri event, Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan made it clear that governments had no choice than to absorb as many people as possible discharged by the many government-owned and multinational manufacturing enterprises that closed down over the past three decades.
If you suddenly release 50 per cent of the workforce into the Labour market with no employment opportunities to absorb some of them you will spend more trying to cope with the ensuing social problems than you will save from the exercise.
Oversized recuurent spending
It is about time that we, as a nation, recognised the albatross that big government and oversized recurrent spending have become. It is a structural problem.
The only way to address it is to restructure, and the only way to restructure meaningfully is to re-examine the continued usefulness of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.
The reduction of the size of government and its recurrent bills cannot be achieved through mere constitution amendment.
Too many entrenched principalities empowered by this constitution will use their powers to resist the change of any clause or section of the constitution that threatens their interests.
The 36 governors have demonstrated this by telling the nation areas of the constitution they will support and others which they will not. Members of the two chambers of the National Assembly will not uphold anything that will negatively tamper with their tenures and entitlements.
We need to write a new constitution. We need to re-lay the foundation of this nation before we hit our Centenary in 2014. We need to do away with the sectional conspiracies of the past 98 years and create a nation where all will feel at home, government and funds to service it will be small while opportunities for citizens to actualise their dreams will be limitless.
If we insist on this amendment exercise we will return to amend again soon – with little positive result. It’s nothing to do with Sanusi’s opinion.