Columns

April 22, 2024

Implementing Oronsaye: The domestic cat is not a lion, by Owei Lakemfa

Implementing Oronsaye: The domestic cat is not a lion, by Owei Lakemfa

THE Tinubu administration picked up the courage to implement the Oronsaye Report on restructuring the federal public service and cutting cost of governance. It was a courage lacking in his two immediate predecessors.

The Report recommends the merger of 220 of the 541 agencies, reducing agencies from 263 to 161. In all, 31 agencies are to be abolished, 54 merged, and 14 reversed to their previous status in the ministries. It is not clear yet how much of the Report will be implemented, but it is off to a good start.

The architect of the reforms is Stephen Osagiede Oronsaye, a rather conservative public servant who was appointed Head of the Civil Service of the Federation in June 2009 and left office on retirement on November 16, 2009. As Head of Service, he had pushed through a new policy limiting terms of permanent secretaries and directors to eight years. Armed with this, he forced nine permanent secretaries and some directors to retire from service.

Impressed by this unprecedented reform in the service, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan appointed him to head a team that would reform the public service. His team turned out an 800-page document that became known as the Oronsaye Report. But Jonathan found it too hot to handle and dropped it like hot potato.

 President Muhammadu Buhari came into power singing an anthem of change. After a number of declarations and vows to implement the report, he dropped it.

Oronsaye, himself, might not be too happy with the country. He supported an Executive Bill presented to the National Assembly in 2013 for the creation of an Independent Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit outside the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. A visibly angry EFCC opposed the bill. Shortly after, it accused Oronsaye of carrying out a N190 million pension fraud back in 2010-2011. Two years later, he was hauled before the courts and, for the next eight years, dragged before two different judges before a third, Justice Iyang Ekwo discharged and acquitted him.

The judge ruled that the entire investigation and subsequent arraignment of the reformer, was a witch-hunt. He had wondered how, over the years, Oronsaye was not even availed a copy of the petition against him, so he had no way of responding or defending himself against the charges.

In a sense, the commencement of the implementation of his 12-year Report is a further vindication of the 74-year-old Oronsaye.

There have been some controversy about the decision to implement the Report with some accusing Tinubu of seeking to divert attention from the punishing economic crises Nigerians are going through. However, for me, the issues of reform, change and effective service delivery to the populace, should not be wished away or thrown out purely on such basis. I also do not buy the argument that rather than implement Oronsaye, the administration should concentrate on creation of more jobs. I do not see both as being mutually exclusive. Again, those who argue that we need more, not less agencies, have missed the point because the multiplication of bureaucracy does not translate to more government.

If anything, so long as the implementation does not result in job loses, I think it is not even going far enough. For instance, I do not see the reason for the existence of the Police and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps as two distinct civil security bodies.

It makes a lot of sense to me that the Directorate of Technical Cooperation in Africa and Directorate of Technical Aid Corps are merged under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission also brought under the Ministry. Why should the National Metallurgical Development Centre and National Metallurgical Training Institute be different agencies or, the Nigeria Army build a university separate from the Nigeria Defence Academy?

I think those who claim that with the implementation of the Oronsaye Report, the Tinubu administration has begun the much- needed restructuring and cutting cost of governance, are widely off the mark. It is like claiming that because the domestic cat and the lion share a common ancestry and belong to the same feline family, they can be interchanged. In comparison, the Oronsaye Report Implementation is cosmetic.

To begin with, the Presidency is so ubiquitous, with so many officials and aides, that they can in themselves constitute a country. A supposed Federal Government has 68 items on the exclusive list, including fishing in local waters, police, marriage and divorce!

Despite being the economic capital of the country and housing a mega city, Lagos State is not allowed to create local governments that can service its populace. To be able to do so, is what true restructuring means.

Cutting cost of governance includes states being allowed to run only the local governments they need and not maintain the number imposed on them by military fiat.

Cutting the cost of governance includes making the legislative houses part-time. It should also include paying them basic allowances and total emoluments not higher than those of an assistant director in the ministry. To pay a senator N14 million monthly is the equivalent of the wages of 466 workers on the monthly National Minimum Wage of N30,000.

In a country like Cuba, senators receive no payments at all, and if they need to research, they approach the tertiary institutions to assist.

No serious country gives a single senator N21 billion as ‘constituency projects’ for which there are no competitive biddings, no specific projects approved and no proper accounting system. If we were to be serious with cutting cost, the Bicameral Legislature would give way by the scrapping of the 360-Member House of Representatives. Its duplicated functions can be carried out by the Senate.

An agency of massive wastage is the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. In some Third World countries like Venezuela, all the voter has to do is show up with his national identity card at any voting centre, cast his vote by touching the symbol of his preferred party as provided on the secluded screen. His vote is automatically counted.

In contrast, INEC developed temporary voters card which is then replaced by permanent voters card, display of voters list for every polling station, printing of voters cards, movement of non-sensitive electoral materials, followed by the sensitive materials which are escorted by armed security men. At the voting centre itself, it has deployed card readers, the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS,and the INEC Result Viewing, IREV, portal. All these rigmarole, only to produce inconclusive or hotly disputed results.

To be serious about restructuring and cutting the cost of governance, we need to retrieve the Report of the 2014 National Conference just as the Oronsaye Report was dusted up.