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Mulling over NGF’s summit on Nigeria’s challenges (1)

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THE governors of the 36 states of the Nigerian federation under the aegis of “Nigeria Governors’ Forum’ (NGF), last February, were constrained to hold a summit to brainstorm on the existential challenges that have all the trappings of reducing Nigeria to a ‘failed state’. They were altruistic as critical stakeholders in the country’s governance and really came up with far reaching pragmatic postulations on sundry issues that gnaw at the fragile fabric of the nation. Some of the nagging issues were the ever worsening insecurity especially the transhumant and brazen exploits of the militia herdsmen, possibilities of reduction of cost of governance, among others challenges that have hobbled the strenuous efforts at the peace, unity and progress of the nation.

  The governor of Kaduna State, Malam el-Rufai, who dwelt on many issues pointedly, argued that unless the cost of governance is reduced by both the central and sub-national governments, the masses’ plight, especially the low income earners would never be assuaged to an acceptable level.

  Hear him: “There is need for aggressive reduction of the cost of governance at the federal, state and local government levels through merger of ministries, departments and agencies with similar mandates and functions; and a nation-wide freeze on creation of any new administrative, regulatory or executive bodies for the foreseeable future. We simply cannot afford any more”.

  Let’s take the welfare of workers and pensioners for specific concern which is pitting many governors with the organised labour with reference to partial or non implementation of the new minimum wage. The issue of attending to the minimum wage has called for a review of cost of governance since the spiraling inflation has eroded the monthly salaries and pensions of workers, especially state government workers because the federal workers have been paid the new minimum wage.

  This implies that state governments should take a realistic look at the recurrent expenditures in the annual budgets. In the preparation of the annual budget, the canons of development dictates that significant and substantial provisions are made for capital component of the budget.

  The over-riding importance of assigning substantial amounts of money in the budget meant for the execution of the capital projects is that when executed with the release of say 85 to 90 per cent of the funds appropriated in the budget, the capital projects will constitute the fulcrum on which the economy revolves. For instance, all-year round motorable roads in both the urban, semi-urban and rural towns and communities, will make industrialists, manufacturers to evacuate their manufactured goods to the designated markets and ports where they will be exported.

  But given a situation where the recurrent provisions in the annual budgets have been progressively gulping substantial amounts for capital expenditure, it has become detrimental to the welfare of workers and pensioners even as the issue of pension harmonisation has been a tug of war between the Nigeria Union of Pensioners and state governments.

  This was the unflattering and deprecating scenario during the President Goodluck Jonathan administration and he thought it expedient to establish a committee headed by former head of the federal service, Mr. Stephen Orosanya and charged with taking a realistic look at the apparent overlapping and duplication of responsibilities and functions among the ever-bourgeoning ministries, departments and agencies.

  The committee came up with far-reaching pragmatic recommendations which included scrapping, merger, and re-evaluation of functions and responsibilities of certain MDAs with a view to making a substantial cut in the cost of governance. A cursory glance shows that going by probable exigencies in addition to preparation for imminent national elections, the white paper following the recommendations of committee was not released and implemented which would have gone a long way to bringing a radical reform in the public service of the federation. At the inception of his administration, President Muhammadu Buhari perceived the need to implement the Orosanya public service reforms going by the degenerating revenues occasioned by the vulnerabilities and uncertainties in the sale of crude oil in the international market which had adversely affected the execution of capital and recurrent expenditures.

  The unflattering performance of the economy compelled the federal government to resort to loans from multi-lateral financial institutions which attracted public bashing in view of the long term implication for the future generation. The first recession and the ravaging global COVID-19 pandemic plunged the economy in a tail-spin. The devastating impact of the pandemic also occasioned the second recession due to lockdown in Nigeria but the nation exited it when the lockdown was lifted, coupled with proactive and pragmatic macro-economic policies by the CBN.

  The creativity of the CBN like Anchor Borrowers program in addition to other small scale businesses led to the early exit from the recession as the partial diversification of the economy broke the jinx of a mono economy being run on sale of crude oil.

  Therefore, the imperative of implementing the Orosanya recommendations for merger of MDAs become critical to reduce the cost of governance in all the levels of government. The organised labour fears possible job losses by virtue of the mergers but the fear is neither here nor there since cost of governance can be reduced without job losses as it will affect only the expenditures in the overheads of the multiplicity of unnecessary MDAs. The Minister for Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, had described the kicking of the organised labour as needless, saying that the Buhari administration is conscious of the prevailing privations in the public sector employees as the reform would not lead to job losses.

  He said: “First and foremost, we are not using the Orosanya’s report hook, line and sinker”. Extrapolating, he said that “…the recurrent expenditure alone was one third of the budget and salaries, wages and allowances, with running cost of government was 85 per cent of the budget, hence Buhari, in consonance with his campaign manifesto constituted presidential committee on salaries and wages to restructure government and make it leaner and more efficient”.

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