Nigeria – It is time to reform Governance

Nigeria – It is time to reform Governance

By Segun Aluko

 

Over the years, Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria has been plagued with bad governance in various forms. For a country that got its independence as far back as 1960, it is disheartening to see that it still has not got so many things right; politically, economically and in particular, governance at all levels.

This article seeks to dissect these issues, look at the underlying factors and suggest in more ways than how to proffer reforms to not just only change the narrative but to see tangible changes in the present and in days to come.

The questions of political reform, democratization and good governance is to a large extent a question of the degree to which the institutions of checks and balances can withstand and reduce the pressure associated with different means employed by government machinery at various levels to withstand much needed reforms.

One of the key issues that stood out like a sore thumb has been the reluctance of several successive governments to muster the political will to instigate or maintain sweeping reforms, be it structural, economical, governmental policies and so much more. Despite the establishment of several reforms committees over the years and submissions of such reports, no government has been particularly close to ensuring implementations of any kind.

With the inability of successive governments to initiate sweeping reforms in governance, everything has more or less maintained its status quo. Government expenditure is over bloated; costs cutting have remained a mirage. One only needs to take a closer look at the present Nigeria budget to have a better understanding. Before the COVID-19 took over our world and brought governments of several nations to a standstill, Nigeria’s budget was about N10.59 trillion naira (about $35Billion dollars when it was signed into law by President Buhari in December 2019).

A common theme of the budget as at when passed was allocation of several billions of naira for Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government (MDAs). Meanwhile, a significant portion of the said budget was to be financed by both domestic and foreign borrowing!

Different governments of the world borrow; yes we know this but to a great degree, their costs of governance is relatively low to what is obtainable in Nigeria. Our dear leaders over the years have not only turned a blind eye to this but have failed to see the need to champion reforms! It is time something changes.

Like I mentioned earlier in this article, successive governments have raised several reform committees with the mandate to come up with ingenious solutions to our many problems.  It might interest you to know that setting up committees to suggest reforms is not exactly new, the key issue has been implementing.  As far back as 1979, there was a restructuring of the Public Service of governance. In 1984 during the military of the current Nigerian President, President Buhari; some form of government reform was instigated. In 2000, The Ahmed Joda white paper of 2000 (during the Olusegun Obsanjo presidency) was presented. In 2001, during the same Obasanjo presidency, a Presidential committee headed by Retired Army General, TY Danjuma was also constituted to consider ways to reduce d cost of governance. Of particular interest was the Danjuma’s committee report hampering on the need to not only reform but calls for a more effective and optimal use of national resources.

Having said that, my key interest is centered on another panel’s report, the Oransanye panel report, which in my opinion is still the best in terms of reforms that can happen at great length in governance.

Stephen Oransanye is an accountant, public service reforms expert and former head of the Nigerian Civil service.  During the presidency of the then president, Goodluck Jonathan; he was tasked with the unenviable task of coming up with recommendations on how to implement reforms in governance at length.  The committee in my opinion did an excellent job but where is the result today? Nowhere to be found!

For Nigeria to get better in terms of governance, a subtle revolution in Nigeria has become  necessary, Political changes such as those proposed by  Debo Onifade ( author of Nigerian politics book “Liberating Nigeria: A Guide to Winning Elections and Liberating our Country) , which in my opinion is one of the  top book on Nigerian politics in 2019. We have labored enough under the strain of unity and togetherness as a country while forgetting the basic tenets of the so called unity that we constantly preach. We need changes!

The Big Question is this, is Leadership the problem?

Can we boldly say without any doubts that Nigeria as a country has done quite well with the series of leaders it had churned out over the years? Have any of them be firm enough in terms of political will to champion sweeping changes?

I will try to explain this in simple terms. Leadership is a strong factor in the management of affairs of a nation.  Nigeria’s lack of  capacity in terms of the attainment of effective governance that have failed to adequately address the issues of corruption, human rights abuse, mobilization of human and material resources for sustainable development is generally traced to leadership failure.

Our democracy that started off on a right note has not particularly yielded the much anticipated results desired. Why is this so, our so called elites who ordinarily should champion sweeping reforms to enhance our democracy have largely failed to do so as it’s obvious they have a limited understanding of what governance entails.

Africa as a whole, with Nigeria in particular should be getting it right in terms of governance by now. We have spent so many years recycling the same leaders, who in their selfishness have held on to power for so years. In their quest to hold on to power, corruption has remained rife while developments have generally stagnated.  Why does Nigeria in particular keep appearing in worldwide indices showing extreme poverty and infrastructural deficits on so many levels? Again, this stresses the need for us to get it right in terms of leadership in years to come. By getting it right, it is way easier to introduce sweeping reforms that can change the face of governance as a whole and reflect in policies that are largely affected with the people as the several factors.

This is why calls for the right revolution matter. We don’t need a revolution that ‘shouts’. No, what we need is a revolution that systematically addresses our issues and pushes the youths (who are future leaders) into call for action in the right way.  Again, Debo Onifade in his book titled, ‘Liberating Nigeria: A Guide to Winning Elections and Reviving Our Country’, explains the need for young & new breeds of politicians to emerge.  His book (which for me is the most practical political book on Nigeria today) challenges us to explore smart and pragmatic politics that should be adopted to change Nigeria.

Let us face the fact, majority of Nigerian youths (which forms the highest age demography in Nigeria) are really not interested in changing the status quo. Over the years, it’s been more of noise without action. That mindset needs to change as it is extremely important to encourage youths participation in Nigeria politics as this will bode well for our future.  This Newspaper article discussing liberating Nigeria: a guide to winning elections and reviving our country further breaks things in detail.

 

It’s time to reform governance

We need to clearly look at areas holistically and encourage the much needed changes where we need them the most.  It is now beyond every reasonable doubt that a lot has got to change. Let’s examine some solutions

  1. Change our Orientation

Yes, I know this has been said so many times but we should get tired of stressing it. The orientation of people in government (from the top to very bottom has got to change). Over the years, our political machinery made up of mostly government in power has resisted change for so long, this has got to change.

In the first term of the present government of President Buhari, his minister for Culture and National Orientation, Lai Muhammed championed a reformist slogan ‘Change begins with me’. The idea behind this was to encourage people in government and Nigerian from all walks of life to embrace change in the discharge of their duties and daily living. Did we at anytime see this reflect in terms of governance, the answer is a big no! We certainly need to change our orientation and begin to see the need to do the right things always.

These changes have to start from the very top echelons of governance and down to the very bottom of the average Nigeria; who would aspire to do right when he or she knows that there is a government in place who is particularly interested in changes at all levels. Some might say, is this possible? Of course, it is. All we need is a systemic approach to get things done. Enough of the rhetoric, let’s get things done.

  1. Implement the Oransanye report

 

For me, this report still remains one of the best ever produced by any government related committees.

The Goodluck Jonathan administration came up with the idea of setting up the Presidential Committee on the Rationalization and Restructuring of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies, under the leadership of a retired federal civil servant and former Head of Service of the Federation, Stephen Oronsaye.

Upon completion of its assignment which it carried out painstakingly, it recommended the scrapping and merging of 220 out of the existing 541 government agencies.  The committee positioned that reducing the size of government and streamlining its operations will help to enhance service delivery while also saving cost of governance drastically.  It further alluded to the fact that several government agencies had overlapping functions and the best bet will be to merge or scrap them.

It will be recalled that in 2019, President Buhari directed the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to start deliberations on the report’s implementation. The DG of the Bureau for Public Service reforms (BPSR), Dasuki Arabi stated this but nothing is yet to come out of it obviously and Nigerians wait in the hope that this will be done eventually.

It takes a strong will to instigate sweeping changes but the eventual survival of a nation can depend on it greatly.  Therefore, it is high time the Oronsaye report is implemented because many of the MDAs are not only drain pipes on the economy but were set up merely for political reasons. The money that will be saved from the scrapping and merging f these agencies could rather be used to set up industries and provide jobs in each of the geo-political zones of the country.  These industries should be made to be self-sustaining without necessarily expecting yearly budgetary allocations.

 

  1. Reduce Government Spending while looking to grow internal revenue base

This for me is the major crux of the matter.  Governance reforms will simply not happen or work if this isn’t made a major part of the proposed changes.

Over the years and in successive governments, wasteful spending has been the norm with little or no accountability, it’s high time we put a stop to that. Why have a Minister and then a Minister for state?  Why have agencies of government who duplicates functions? Why budget millions/billions yearly for income generating agencies of government and in return they bring a tiny fraction of their budgets.

It’s time we cut government spending at all levels. A good start as suggested by the Oransanye report is to drastically reduce Ministries and number of agencies. Let’s have a minister per ministry; the ministry will still function to the fullest. We have to clearly understand that ideally ministers are mere political appointments; the brains behind effective operations of each ministry are the permanent secretaries and its many staff who allows it functions.  A minister per ministry will first and foremost reduce the number of aides that will be appointed per minister. Aides here could range from PAs, to Special Advisers, to Technical advisers etc.

In this first term in office, President Buhari to an extent did this by merging some ministries and agencies (a case in point was the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, which was a combination of two previous ministries)  only to revert back to status quo in his current term.  We cannot continue this way. Like I had earlier pointed out, our leaders need the right political will to stand firm when it comes to the reforms for the greater good.

What about our National Assembly, the legislative arm of government.  It is on record that Nigeria’s legislators consisting of both the Senate and the House of Representatives is one of the highest paid in the world. Of course this is so when you factor in not just their basic salary but allowances and running costs they have forever are mute about. It is on record that the annual budget for the national assembly is about 120billion Naira. How they spend this is forever shrouded in secrecy.

Do we honestly need a National Assembly? Yes but I honestly feel their budget can be drastically reduced and the monies channeled into other developmental projects. Why can’t we have a part time national assembly with very unattractive salaries? An assembly made up of minds that are extremely willing to put the people first and enact laws that will indeed have meaningful impact on the lives of Nigerians as a whole.

Government needs to encourage revenue generating MDAs to look inwards and channel their energy and resources into raking in more money for the government. Take the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board (JAMB) for example; it recently generated about 8Billion Naira revenue in 2019. It has consistently proven it can bring in revenue while not depending on government for running costs for years now. Lots of other revenue generating agencies can key into this and successfully run their operations without government’s subventions. By so doing, budgetary allocations to them can be channeled into other areas of governance that needs them.

  1. Strengthening the Judiciary

Nigeria’s judiciary thankfully has done quite well considering it’s remains the hope of the common man. Despite the Supreme court’s Justices invasion masterminded by the DSS under the guise of fighting corruption, it has nonetheless done well to remain steadfast in the discharge of its duties while redeeming hope with some landmark judgments.

In other to keep pace with the anticipated reforms in governance, it must start to ensure speedy completion of corruption trials. It is hoped that this will serve not only as deterrent to corrupt government and political office holders but also pass a strong message to future looters as whole

  1. Separate political parties spending from the purses of government in power

This has been a recurring theme over the years in most African countries and Nigeria in particular. A political party who produces the government of today regularly depends on the same government for funding. This isn’t right on all levels.

The National assembly should be encouraged to pass sweeping legislations that clearly separate and limit political party spending. This will not only help with campaign spending but clearly stipulates stiff penalties if the laws are breached. We need a systemic approach in other to achieve this.

  1. Focus on key sectors in terms of developmental projects in the next few years

Certainly the Buhari presidency has done well in the area of road infrastructure. Do I think they need to do more? Certainly Yes. They are still tons of roads that needs to be refurbished or totally reconstructed.

However, I strongly government key into developmental projects for very important sectors. If government is able to cut spending drastically, it can then divert funds to other areas that need it badly.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the rot in the Nigerian Health sector. Clearly, more needs to be done in the areas of infrastructural development in the sector, equipment upgrades and provision for federal hospitals who lack, Increase in remuneration (It was quite disheartening hearing the Nigeria Minister of Health saying recently that he didn’t know health workers were entitled to an hazard allowance!), regular refresher courses/trainings to mention but a few.

Another sector I will suggest government focus on is Education. Just like Health, Education has suffered for lack of willingness of successive governments to focus attention on it.  From Primary, to Secondary and Tertiary, a lot has got to change.  During the Obasanjo presidency, Oby Ezekwesili, the then Minister for Education introduced sweeping reforms that were swept under the carpet as soon as another government took over. We need to revisit some of these changes while government focuses more attention on the sector.

Another sector worthy of mention is Agriculture. It is probably the only sector that has consistently grown within the last 20 years. Again, kudos to the Buhari presidency; it has done a lot in terms of encouraging growth in the sector but more needs to be done.

 

  1. Fighting corruption to a standstill

Let’s face it; corruption is still the bane of development and governance reforms in Nigeria. Over the years, several institutions backed by law have been established to fight this menace. Let us take a quick look at these bodies.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is one Nigeria’s anti corruption agencies. It was set up in 2003 during the Obasanjo regime by a presidential decree to  partly because of the pressure from the international community which believed Nigeria to be of the most corrupt places on earth whose instruments of law didn’t encourage diligent convictions of corruption cases.  As a matter of fact, the International Financial Action Task force on Money Laundering (FATF), named Nigeria as one of 23 non-cooperative countries when it comes to corruption.

The EFCC from the onset of its establishment demonstrated the importance of strong and committed political backing for an anti corruption agency to work. In the course of the current Presidency, It has largely enjoyed government backing to go after the corrupt. However, more still needs to be done in terms of selective prosecution. A body such as this should be doing more to combat corruption.

The Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission (ICPC) is another anti corruption body. Established in 2000 by the Obasanjo Presidency, its core mandate is to receive and investigate reports of corruption and in appropriate cases and prosecute the offenders, examine, review and enforce the corruption prone systems and procedures of public bodies. Just like the EFFC, more needs to be done to curb corruption and avoid selective prosecution.

Also of worthy mention is the Code of Conduct Bureau. These bodies need to be empowered to do more than it is currently doing. Speedy completion of investigations needs to be encouraged, with completion of trials and convictions secured as fast as possible too.

 

The reality on ground is this, these changes just won’t happen overnight. However, these reforms can be encouraged at all costs. We need to do everything possible to encourage regular discussions on reforms.  The leading online political forum in Nigeria encourages participation in this regard by championing the need for citizens to take charge by getting involved in pushing for good governance at all levels.

The ultimate goal is simple, good governance should not be a mirage. It is time for reforms and the time is now.

 

May 5, 2020

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