The high cost of governance in Nigeria has become a very disturbing phenomenon and has been widely acknowledged by many as one of the country’s most niggling problems. Regrettably, for one inconsequential reason or the other, many state actors at all levels in Nigeria do not seem to understand the importance and expediency of cutting the cost of governance.
The suffocating impact of the high cost of governance on our national life has made it assume a dimension of national emergency. With this high cost of maintaining the government, the economic fortunes of the country have recently been pronounced as uncertain, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) downgrading the growth prospects of the economy for 2021.
It is noteworthy that the trillions of naira Nigeria makes from oil annually, independent of other earnings like taxes, have yet to translate into desirable development because most of the country’s funds go into recurrent expenditure, like payment of wages, salaries, purchase of vehicles, allowances for overseas travels, accommodation, medical expenses, among many others, as evidenced in yearly budgets. This pattern is also obtainable in most states.
Government in the past has made attempts to address this perennial problem. To prune the rising cost of governance in Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan in August 2011, set up a Presidential Committee on Rationalization and Restructuring of Federal Government’s Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies.
The committee, which was headed by former Head of Service of the Federation, Stephen Oronsaye, submitted its report, which contained far-reaching recommendations, some of which threw government employees into some sort of panic and apprehension. In the report, the committee reviewed the extant laws in sync with its mandate and submitted inter alia: “The average cost of governance in Nigeria is believed to rank among the highest in the world…If the cost of governance must be brought down, all arms of government must make spirited efforts at reducing their running cost.”
Out of the existing structure of 263 statutory agencies, the panel recommended a reduction to 161, with additional proposals that 38 agencies are abolished; 52 be merged, and 14 others be reverted to departments in various ministries.
The agencies and parastatals employ varying numbers of workers estimated at 30,000 nationwide; a number deemed too high by the committee. Marginal successes were recorded following the government’s actions in implementing some of these recommendations, but the huge cost of governance seems to be immune to these tweaks as they continue to maintain an upward surge.
Upon his inauguration in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari declared that he would operate a lean government, decrying the huge wastages incurred annually in sustaining the operating expenditure of many government Ministries, Departments & Agencies (MDAs), most of which he described as non-essential. This was made manifest in his revamp of MDAs; completely scrapping some while merging others, all in a bid to address this same problem.
In May 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the Oronsaye Report submitted during the Jonathan administration. The 800-page Report recommended the abolition of 38 federal agencies, the merger of 52, and the reversion of 14 agencies to departments in relevant ministries.
Amongst other recommendations approved by President Buhari was the discontinuation of funding to professional bodies/councils, and also the downsizing of boards. Currently, the number of federal agencies in the country is estimated to be close to 1,000. At the time when the Report was submitted, there were 541 government parastatals, commissions, and agencies, including statutory and non-statutory in the country and the Report prescribed a reduction in the number of statutory agencies from 263 to 161.
The approval by President Buhari was met with palpable apprehension in the Civil Service. In an instant reaction, the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) issued a statement condemning the development, saying that it would lead to job losses. ASCSN’s Secretary-General said the body was shocked that the government decided at a time when the world was mourning the death of thousands of people killed by COVID-19 to implement the Oronsaye Report.
The fear of public outcry has hampered the government’s resolve at taking necessary steps to implement this Report till date; with the looming threats of industrial actions and widespread backlash by organised labour also in the wings. The Federal Government is also guilt-tripped by its inability to effectively cut down the enormous funds expended on its executive and legislative arms annually and, therefore, has little moral rectitude to aggressively pursue the necessary MDA downsizing.
The Director-General of the Budget Office has revealed that the cost of governance under the President Muhammadu Buhari regime has risen sharply from N3.61 trillion in 2015 to N5.26trn in 2018 and N7.91trn in 2020. That is an increment above 100% since the administration came into power. These sorts of upsizes are detrimental to a struggling economy.
In May 2021, the Kaduna State government, however, decided to ride against the wave and present a bold affront in this area where the government has developed cold feet repeatedly. It took the bull by the horns and embarked on an offensive to get immediate results. The government dismissed 7,310 local council workers, 1,700 workers were sacked in the Primary Health Care Development Agency (PHCDA), and 3,000 civil servants were also laid off, as part of its proposed plan to “right-size” the workforce of civil servants in Kaduna.
The state government maintained that those disengaged were redundant or non-essential staff who only served to bloat the Civil Service and were mostly unneeded and consuming gargantuan salaries, adding no real value to the day-to-day operations of the civil service. The state governor further stated that the government was not convinced that devoting about 70% of the revenue accruing to the state to the payment of workers’ salaries who constitute less than 10% of the total population was right.
Still on Kaduna, an event occurred in November 2017, when the state governor sacked more than 20,000 teachers who failed the competency tests designed for primary six children. Those sacked got scores less than 75% in the tests. To be candid, would any parent want their children/wards to be supervised and educated by teachers who cannot score 75% in a test designed for 10-year-old school pupils? The move was ruthless; but quite relevant to improve the quality of education. Such an act is an example of the typical ruthlessness needed to bring about the needed change and halt the downward slope we face as a nation.
In protest to the May 2021 clampdown on civil service redundancy in Kaduna, a coalition of workers under the umbrella of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), declared a showdown with the state government over what they described as “the most obnoxious and inhuman” action which they also described as a flagrant contravention of the labour law. They embarked on a five-day warning strike to compel the governor to reconsider his proposed plan to right-size the workforce of civil servants in Kaduna. Workers from different parastatals and cadres of the Civil Service and private organisations joined the protest, withdrawing their services for the second day. However, the state government repeatedly vowed not to back down from its plan. Leaders of various labour bodies came to Kaduna to demonstrate their solidarity with the sacked workers They went through Kaduna metropolis to ensure that all the Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) were stopped from operating. All commercial banks, transporters, traders, petrol attendants, and others withdrew their services in the metropolis.
A defiant Kaduna State government said the five-day warning strike will not distract it from its plan to right-size the Civil Service of the state. The state government dismissed the strike and street protests as an attempt by labour union leaders to sabotage its policy. The protests eventually took a violent dimension; hoodlums and miscreants caused mayhem and chaos, while also destroying properties. In response, the state government declared NLC and other labour leaders wanted for alleged economic sabotage.
Eventually, the Federal Government convened a conciliatory meeting with the Kaduna State government and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to resolve the impasse that has grounded labour activities in the state. Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, presided over the meeting while the NLC National President, Aliyu Wabba, led other labour leaders to the discussion, with top officials from the Kaduna state government. The meeting, thereafter, resolved to constitute a 10-man committee, comprising six state government officials and three NLC representatives to discuss and resolve the impasse.
The labour leaders thanked the Federal Government for its intervention, saying the issue that brought the parties to the meeting was because of the state government’s policy to downsize its workforce. They explained that the crux of the issue was the payment of emoluments to affected staff during redundancy, stressing that this was never done.
It is interesting that the state government stood its ground and was able to effect the change it deemed critical towards the better usage of public funds. The technique deployed by the Kaduna state government may have been quite combative, given the expediency to achieve instant results, but it can be subsequently modified into a more comprehensive template for future usage nationally, where all relevant parties and stakeholders will be effectively carried along. The redundant ones who were disengaged should be paid their severance packages, and all other necessary payments as required, for them to be able to put it to good and productive use in other areas of national production. Less than 10% of the state population work in the Civil Service; but they consume 70% of the government revenue. To make it worse, most of these government MDAs contribute little or nothing to economic development or government revenue. This is a voyage towards economic capsizes, if not discontinued.
The malady of bloated Civil Service is a common feature in the Federal Civil Service and in almost all the 36 states of the federation permeating the local and district governments. Factor in the concomitant expenditure that is attached, and a pattern is established. The picture becomes clearer as to why our economy is stagnated. Salaries! Salaries!! Salaries!!! Rotund consumption without production!
We must start our national reconnaissance from somewhere. If the government wants to commence the much-needed process of pruning recurrent costs of government from this angle, they must be supported by citizens to achieve this aim. It will additionally give the citizens increased moral rights to demand for same pruning among political office-holders and political appointees who are equally excessive numerically and more than necessary.
Any time government wants to prune the Civil Service, they are often faced with massive resistance engineered by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). The mischievous NLC rile up the whole country and blindfold them, while eventually they only play to serve their interests. It is time for Nigerians to pull the wool from their eyes and realise the non-altruistic posture of labour unions. They don’t fight for Nigerians most times; they fight for themselves and the minority who consume a huge part of our national revenue.