By Tonnie Iredia
Many patriots have of recent drawn attention to the need to trim down the cost of governance in Nigeria. We need to do so now because ours is probably the highest in the world, especially with the scandalous cost of legislation in the country.
Today, however, our focus is on the Executive. We shall deal with the legislature some other time. Some years back, the Federal Government, ostensibly to reduce its unwieldy structure, decided to collapse its ministries.
For example, Agriculture and Water Resources were merged as was done to Works and Housing etc. After the so-called shrinking exercise, we came up with only one minister for both Agriculture and Water Resources which were merged. Then, another minister of state was appointed to assist him making us to arrive at a total of 42 ministers. Is that not clever?
Since then, the number of times the ministries have been demerged, remerged and merged again can only compare with the number of those amazing changes introduced by the military during the transition to civil rule political programmes of 1987 to 1993. Today, we have about 43 ministers with many of them exceedingly busy in their offices handling political campaigns on a full- time basis.
But, why must we have so many ministers? The Constitution of the Federal Republic (1999) appears to support that. According to Section 147(3) of the said Constitution, “the President shall appoint at least one Minister from each State who shall be an indigene of such State.” What this suggests is that Nigeria must always have at least 37 ministers made up of one per state and the Federal Capital Territory.
Since anything which does not tally with the provisions of the Constitution is deemed to be illegal, we can have 37 ministers or more, but must never be less. But, if to add more ministers to that figure is discretionary, the addition of as many as six ministers in a country as poor as ours as the government has done since 1999 is a gross display of indiscretion.
The argument that the additional ministers represent the six geo-political zones is not strong because the zones are not known to lawmaking, the argument is only an excuse for absurdity. It is because we have too many ministers that some are in charge of ‘special duties’. It is for the same reason that as many as three ministers are deployed to Foreign Affairs which, if properly managed, does not, like any normal organisation, require more than one head.
After all, the most dynamic era of our foreign policy remains that of the Murtala/Obasanjo regime which did not have as many cooks in the foreign affairs kitchen. In fact, how can we imagine a time in our democracy when, the Army, the Navy and the Air-force, all in the Ministry of Defence, had one minister each which even a war cabinet does not require? For God’s sake, the cost of maintaining unnecessary ministers and their several hangers-on should from now be stopped and directed at productive ventures.
As for Advisers, one reason why they exist is to placate the high and the mighty, or what some other analysts would rationalise as ‘inclusive government.’ It is a strategy that can douse tension in a heated polity; hence some people may have applauded the setting up of a Council to ‘advise’ Mr. President at the inauguration of this administration.
The Presidential Advisory Council (PAC) as the body was called consisted of as many as 26 members-large enough to serve as a cabinet. Apart from the fact that the public treasury may have been the victim of the maintenance of the committee, to have flown with the ideas of its elderly members may have posed unpublicised generational problems to the rather young Jonathan.
Incidentally, we seem to believe that our President must have advisers different from ministers forgetting that a minister’s primary role is to advice the President on the activities of his portfolio. In other words, all other persons purporting to advice or appointed to advice on the same subject are essentially excess baggage. And, we have many of them making our President to be over-advised.
Apart from the day-to-day quantum of advice from those who think they were instrumental to the emergence of the administration, it is interesting to imagine how one man can be officially advised on one subject like the economy by the Federal Cabinet, the Minister of Finance, the National Planning Commission and its Minister, the National Economic Council, the Economic Management Team, the National Economic Intelligence Committee, Committee on the Global Economic Crisis and the all-important Council of State.
Indeed, because of the economic dimension of the Vision to make Nigeria one of the world’s 20 leading economies in year 20: 20, our immediate past President sought to institute a 405-member committee on the subject. Haba! Is it not obvious that a reduction of advisers, especially those who are officially remunerated would save some money towards the development of our nation?
In the case of Permanent Secretaries, the situation is simply baffling. They are just too many. A friend explained the other day that we have so many permanent secretaries in the offices of the Secretary to Government and the Head of Service respectively, because each of both offices is a full-fledged ministry on its own.
Through some recent interaction with the office of the Head of Service, we found that it has six permanent secretaries. There is one in charge of Common Services Office (CSO), another for Management Development Office (MDO) and yet another for Career Management Office (CMO). There are three other permanent secretaries in charge of Establishment and Records Office (ERO), Management Services Office (MSO) and the Bureau of Public Service Reform (BPSR).
While some smart bureaucrats can produce persuasive memos to justify an addition to the already large figure, we hardly need Sanusi Lamido to tell us that the top heavy unwieldy structure of our public service can consume as much if not more than what the federal legislature extorts from our national revenue.
We all know that the situation is unfair to the nation and that in the interest of the elite class, there is a need for an immediate change or else…