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Our futile cost-cutting measures

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2019 Budget 

ONE of the long-identified reasons our annual budgets are unable to improve our capital development at both the Federal and states levels over the years is inadequate funding. The annual budgets allocate roughly 70 per cent to recurrent expenditures while capital needs take about 30 per cent, most of which are not faithfully funded.

Our governments are too large and so are the costs compared to our revenues. Successive governments have merely paid lip service to the need to cut costs, yet none has succeeded. The reasons for the failure are two-fold: lack of political will and constitutional constraints. For Nigeria to achieve effective governance with smaller and smarter governments these must be addressed.

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President Muhammadu Buhari came in 2015 bristling with determination to cut the cost of governance due to an economy that was going into recession. He reduced the number of ministers from 42 to 36. But in 2019 when the economy’s revival was still at around 2.1 per cent he jerked up the number of ministers to 44 but cut the size and frequency of ministerial foreign trips as another attempt at cost-cutting.

In neither of these measures did he inform Nigerians the amount of cost we saved, but obviously it must have been a drop in the ocean each time.

We are strongly of the view that it is virtually impossible to effectively cut the size and cost of governance under the 1999 Constitution, which mandates the President to appoint ministers from each of the 36 states and Abuja. Nigeria can do nicely without this unwieldy number of ministers. We can also do without the Senate, except perhaps, a part-time Senate that sits twice a year to clear ministerial and other appointments and deal with constitutional amendments.

The USA, from where we borrowed our presidential system, with a $20 trillion economy (about 40 times the size of Nigeria’s) and a population of 327 million, has only 15 Heads of Executive Departments (Ministers). Since we are copying, why don’t we copy properly? The UK, our former colonial master, operates a 22-member cabinet.

Nigeria can amend the Constitution and use the six geopolitical zones instead of the 36 states as the units of ministerial distribution. We can have anything from a 12 to 18-member cabinet with nothing more than a single chamber National Assembly with half of the current number of members in the House of Representatives.

The real power should be at the zonal or regional levels which can act as the workshops of the nation’s economy. It is only when we have a slimmer and smarter Federal Government that we can effectively cut costs and have more funds to improve the standard of lives of the Nigerian people. Our current model can never achieve that.

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