Jonathan’s possible response
By Daniel Idonor
Although, the Presidential Advisory Council (PAC), came with a counsel, it was a counsel brought after the fact. For President Goodluck Jonathan, there was an urgent need to do something.
But, it got more impetus with the coming of the PAC delegation to the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, a fortnight ago.
The Taraba State-born former Chief of Defence Staff and Minister of Defence, Lieutenant-General Theophilus Danjuma (rtd), is not known for hiding his views whenever he is called upon to bare his mind on any national issue.
This true nature of the General, who is also the Chairman of PAC, created by President Jonathan to advise his government when he was made Acting President by the National Assembly, manifested penultimate week when he led members of the Council on advisory mission to Aso Rock.
This is not the first time the PAC delegation will be visiting the seat of Nigeria’s highest power; but the mission has never been so clear, it was to tell Mr. President that “the cost of doing government business in Nigeria is on the increase and it is relatively too high.” But, this was expected, essentially, since the visit was at the instance of the Council members.
And, in solving this problem, Danjuma suggested that the rather too large government size, in terms of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), be immediately prune down, to reduce the rising cost of recurrent expenditure, arising from salaries, allowances and other wage bills on public servants.
PAC, in its recommendation, wants government to begin the process of merging and reducing federal ministries and other government agencies to help cut down heavily on government unnecessary spendings.
Fielding questions from State House correspondents after the meeting, Danjuma said the cut down in government agencies will help direct government spendings on infrastructural development.
The PAC chairman, who maintained that boosting the nation’s economy was paramount to the committee, however, noted that: “we understand that most of the points we raised are already being addressed by government and we have been promised that we shall have a feedback from government and even if necessary we shall be involved in finding remedies to all the issues we have raised.”
Nigeria central government has no fewer than 23 ministries aside commissions headed by ministers with over 50 departments (parastatals) and about twice this figure of agencies. These MDAs maintain pay-rolls of several thousands of unaccounted workers (ghost workers); thereby exerting so much pressure on lean government resources amidst decaying public infrastructure.
It was against this backdrop that President Olusegun Obasanjo, toward the end of his government early in 2007 reduced the number of ministries by merging some including Works, Housing, Environment, Transport, Aviation, Agriculture, Water Resources and Rural Development, Power, Energy and Petroleum Resources.
Others were Steel Development, Information, Communications, Art and Culture, Tourism Development, Sports, Youth Development, Women Affairs, Finance, Economic and National Planning, Police Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Interior, as well as Labour, Special Duties, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT and the newly-created Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.
While Obasanjo reduced this 22 ministries to about 16, through merger of some, his successor, President Umaru Yar’Adua, who died in office on May 5, 2010, perhaps for political convenience, increased the pace, by creating a new one and de-merging all the already merged ministries, except that of Agriculture and Water Resources; which has since be de-merged by President Jonathan, following public outcry of favouritism against his predecessor.
The President may not be unaware of the oversize cabinet he inherited from his late boss, but many believed that any attempt by him to reduce the ministries then, which also would have meant sacking some ministers, would have been suicidal politically as such action would have been interpreted to mean political hatred against the geo-political region of origin of those who would have been sacked.
This protest would have also been justified by a stipulation of the Amended 1999 Constitution which says all the 36 states of the federation shall a have at least a minister each in the federal cabinet. However, there was no provision in the legal document that says each of the six geo-political zones in the country should produce a minister as it is now the practice.
With this representation from the geo-political zones, the number of ministers has increased from the 36 that is approved by the constitution to the present 43, as almost all the 21 ministries and two commissions (Sports and National Planning) have two ministers each.
While many have argued that the 23 ministries can accommodate the 36 constitutionally-recognised ministers, with the larger ones having two ministers each, another school of thought holds the view that every ministry is big enough to have two ministers.
The last argument has not only led to unnecessary waste of public funds in payment of entitlements, due to over- bloated administrative cost, but it has, above all, given rise to the current unhealthy rivalry and widespread bitterness between the so-called clause of “senior ministers and junior or ministers of state.”