Columns

March 6, 2024

Will “North” allow implementation of the Oronsaye report? By Rotimi Fasan

Rotimi Fasan

THE decision of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to revisit the Stephen Oronsaye Committee recommendation of 2012 is already being criticized by groups and individuals who seek to be exempted from the demands of that report. As things stand, the direction debates about the report will go and their potential outcome have been outlined by the type of criticisms the report has so far attracted.

And except Nigerians rise to insist on Abuja going through with the implementation of the report, there is no way its recommendations won’t suffer a still birth. For now, the criticisms are coming fast and thick from the usual suspects, those that have turned themselves into what could be called opposition spokespersons even while they are members of the same political party as the president.

Nigerians are all too aware of the criticisms that apparently led to President Tinubu seeking refuge in the Oronsaye report. While many enjoy the criticisms levelled against him for his bloated cabinet of 48 ministers, few are ready to actually do what is necessary to put things right. They expect everyone to join them in their blind criticisms and failure to do this is, for them, evidence that one is a bigot or tribal champion. But we won’t for fear of being called names fail to speak the truth, not only to power but also to those who would project their primordial thoughts on others. It’s the duty of every lover of truth to stand up to such bullies wherever they may be.

So, Following loud complaints about the meltdown in the economy, Nigerians have been questioning the rationale behind the forbidding cost of governance. Their complaints have got more strident the more Abuja has carried on as if it’s an island unto itself, untouched and unconcerned by the pains occasioned by the monetary and fiscal policies of the Tinubu administration. By Abuja I don’t mean just the executive arm of government or, indeed, President Tinubu and members of his cabinet alone. This is what some would like to hear but I’m not here to give them that comfort.

My reference is to the entire machinery of governance, from the civil service side of the executive to the National Assembly and the judiciary, not leaving out the various agencies and so-called parastatals involved in the criminal pilfering and wastage of our commonwealth. Nigerians couldn’t understand why public officials, especially politicians and their cronies, seemed immune from the demands being made on them. They are, therefore, asking questions and have been demanding answers. A sore point of debate is the size of the entourage that usually accompanies state officials on local and international trips.

About 1,200 people were reported to have constituted the Nigerian delegation to the last annual climate summit in Dubai last year. The recriminations that trailed this revelation were loud, and apparently in reaction to the criticisms, the Tinubu administration took the decision to put a cap on the number of officials that could accompany political office holders and other senior appointees of government on both national and international trips. This was in January this year. The maximum number for the president’s entourage is 20 while the vice president’s is five for international trips. The figure for local trips is slightly higher. It’s a different matter, though, if the government complies with its own recommendation in this regard. Claims about the President travelling with an entourage of 35 people to Doha puts a question mark on whether the government is living up to its own avowals.  Nigerians have a duty to keep them on their toes.

The immediate goal of the recommended cut in the entourage of public officials is to reduce the cost of governance which many see as partly responsible for our national debt. But beyond the question of what Tinubu might or might not be doing personally, there have for some years now been questions on how the cost of governance can be reduced in general terms to leave room for efficiency and the prudent use of scarce resources. It was against the backdrop of these questions that the Goodluck Jonathan administration constituted the Oronsaye Committee whose report became widely known for its far-sighted recommendations about the merging, scrapping or relocation of some government agencies, ministries and departments in order to make them more efficient.

It was also meant to put an end to the duplication of responsibilities by the different government units and agencies. The recommendations of the Committee report could, however, not be implemented for reasons that the Jonathan administration could not adequately explain. But it was clear to any reasonable Nigerian that the implementations of the recommendations of the Oronsaye report would have taken unearned loaves of bread from the tables of many government officials, particularly those occupants of political positions without any clear job descriptions.

Beyond the individuals and groups that the report was poised to render jobless, there were regional interests who also were apparently not pleased by the recommendations of that report. Such interest groups, political, social and religious, are beginning to crawl out of their shells in the wake of the decision of the Tinubu administration to implement the Oronsaye report. While these groups would want their criticisms to be seen as objective in the light of what many Nigerians have come to see as the adverse effect of the economic and social policies of the current administration, the fact is that their critiques are driven by self-interest disguised as regional interest.

The critics are far from being altruistic in their attack. The same hounds opposed to the restructuring of Nigeria- those who opposed the relocation of certain units of the Central Bank and the Aviation Ministry to Lagos are behind the latest complaints. The high-strung senator from Borno south, Ali Ndume, has been quick to say, for example, that the Nigerian Army University located in Biu should not be merged with the Nigerian Defence Academy. If there is one good example of how government policies have been implemented for political reasons, establishing a Nigerian Army University where the Nigerian Defence Academy exists is a good example of it.  

Like Ndume, Salihu Lukman, former Deputy Vice Chair (North-West) of the APC, has also cautioned against the implementation of the Report. For him, Tinubu is a dictator whose re-election bid hangs by a thin rope. Professor Usman Yusuf should be the next in line to attack Tinubu to complete the circle of Northern malcontents toying with Nigeria’s destiny. Yet all of these individuals, including those in the Northern Elders Forum that claim to speak for and in the interest of the Northern Region, time wasters opposed to the restructuring of Nigeria, will turn around later to talk about wastage of resources.