Something for the ‘Boys’ and ‘Girls’ By Tolu Ogunlesi
Last week, the call by vice-chancellors for the Federal Government to establish a Ministry of Higher Education got me thinking. I found it rather disappointing; I didn’t expect a clamour like that from people I thought should know better.
Why would anyone be thinking, in 2013, of creating more ministries? Don’t we already have enough un-necessary ministries? Is the lingering strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities taking place because we failed to create a Ministry of Higher Education? If we even create such a ministry eventually, what’s to stop us from going a step further and clamour for the creation of a Ministry of Kindergarten and Elementary Education? Is Nigeria’s problem one of inadequacy of government bureaucracy?
And then, I cast my mind back to recent history.
When, in 2009, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua publicly lamented the non-invitation of Nigeria to the G20 summit in England, I satirised his administration’s penchant for creating Presidential Panels and Committees.
I suggested setting up a presidential probe panel “to investigate the immediate and remote causes of Nigeria’s non-invitation to the G20 Summit. Members will be drawn from all the 36 states of the Federation. There will be representatives of market women, Nigerian Diplomats-in-the-Diaspora, Association of Retired Ambassadors, law enforcement agencies, civil society organisations. The 200-member committee, after a colourful inauguration at Aso Rock, will immediately embark on a nationwide tour to gather memoranda from “stakeholders” and members of the public. After the home-based sittings, the committee will proceed to London (Europe), Beijing (Asia), New York City (North America), Rio de Janeiro (South America), Sydney (Australia) to give Nigerians in the Diaspora the chance to be a part of the report-making process, as well as use the opportunity to table Nigeria’s grievances before the governments of the 20 countries that make up the G20.”
That was the age of Presidential panels/committees on everything from the Halliburton scam to the global economic crisis to electoral reforms. Then, there was a Vision 20:2020 Committee that had hundreds of members (28 Technical Working Groups, each with between 19 and 27 members).
While many of these panels and committees might indeed have been necessary, to carry out ad hoc functions without distracting/burdening the existing bureaucracy, we all know the truth: That nothing useful was/is ever done with their reports. They exist merely to fulfill all righteousness, to create a sense of action. The reports are all fated to vanish with the wind. Which is why we’re still searching for the Okigbo Panel report two decades on, and still asking ourselves whatever happened to the Oputa Panel report more than a decade later.
If it was ad hoc panels and committees alone, that’d be fine. But we’ve long since gone on to adopt the habit of creating permanent government agencies that for the most part do nothing. Or, at best, exist to duplicate what an already existing body is doing.
One reason why I like visiting Abuja is for the possibility to discover yet another interestingly-named government agency. You’re driving around admiring the city, and suddenly you happen upon a building, tucked away in some side-street, announcing itself as (to give one example), the “Border Communities Development Agency.” Interesting.
There’s a Nigerian Integrated Water Resources Commission, and then there’s a Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency. There’s a Federal Environmental Protection Agency, and then there’s a National Environmental Standard and Regulation Enforcement Agency. There are agencies overseeing everything from the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, to Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency. There’s a National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion, alongside a National Agency For Science and Engineering Infrastructure. Even sugar has got a National Development Council all to itself.
Seems to me that the self-styled evil genius himself, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, started this craze. No Nigerian Head of State appears to have created as many organisations as him. Everything that could be bundled up into an acronym or spun into a brand new agency was bundled or spun with alacrity. From DFRRI to MAMSER to Peoples Bank to Community Bank to FUMTA to NERFUND – Babangida created them all, in what is arguably the most ambitious blitz of social engineering in the history of Nigeria.
On the surface, it seemed like an ambitious “development” programme, but in my opinion, it was really more a Jobs-for-the-Boys strategy, in line with the prevailing Settlement mentality of that period.
And that’s where the problem lies. We cannot afford to run government primarily on the basis of a settlement mentality; a Something for the Boys and Girls strategy.
Look at the Niger Delta. We’ve got the Niger Delta Development Commission, and on top of that the Ministry of the Niger Delta Affairs. Yet, no development of any sort has occurred in the region these past years since their formation. You don’t even need to be a professional government critic to observe that there’s something not quite right with that set-up.
The biggest irony is that the duplication bug has now overwhelmed even the desire to put an end to the manifestation of duplication.
The Presidential committee (yes, another Presidential committee) that President Goodluck Jonathan set up in 2011 on the “Restructuring and Rationalisation of Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies”, headed by a former Head of Service, Stephen Oronsaye, is at least the third attempt to do the same thing, in the last 15 years.
Before, it was the Allison Ayida Civil Service Reform Panel set up in the late nineties, and then the Ahmed Joda Panel White Paper on the Review, Harmonisation and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals which followed a few years later.
So, even the committee that should put an end to needless duplication and “anyhowness” in the bureaucracy is itself now suffering from duplication.
That Oronsaye committee reportedly found out that Nigeria has 541 Federal commissions, agencies, parastatals; a good number of which are duplications.
For example, there’s the case of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission. You wonder why the functions of both agencies cannot be handled by a single body.
The committee reportedly argues that both commissions are actually duplications of the functions that ought to be carried out by the Nigeria Police. Which is true, technically speaking. But we all realise that within the Nigerian context, it more than makes sense to seek to bypass the Police Force – which regularly takes first prize in the “Government Institution Most Perceived To Be Corrupt” contests – in trying to tackle corruption. It makes absolute sense to seek to create a stand-alone body, to increase the chances of escaping the overpowering shadow of police dysfunction. (We all recall the role the Police played in hounding Nuhu Ribadu out of office).
Indeed one pattern that emerges is this: Some of these agencies were created in good faith – to bypass dysfunctional statutory establishments. Faced with a choice between waiting for a reformed police force to fight corruption, and creating a bypass solution, what would wisdom compel you to choose? So, I would be the first to acknowledge that sometimes we need these “bypasses”.
But in most other cases, the proliferation is not informed by any noble or reform-minded ideals. So, year in year out, we spend most of our funds maintaining government offices, buying official cars, paying salaries to bloated boards and uncountable “DGs” and “MD/CEOs” and retinues of special assistants and special assistants to special assistants.
And while I agree that patronage might very well be an inescapable fact in politics and governance, I think the truth is that as Nigerians we’re overdoing it. Just as we like to overdo everything else.
In 2011, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai presented a paper at the Guild of Editors Conference in Benin, titled, “Perspectives on the cost of governance in a democracy”.
In it, he noted that, “It costs nearly N2.5m on the average annually for the upkeep of each of the Federal Government’s nearly one million public sector workers – in the police, civil service, military and para-military services and teachers in government schools and institutions.”
It is public knowledge that more than two-thirds of Nigeria’s Federal budget go into sustaining an inefficient bureaucracy. This is in a country that desperately needs funds for infrastructure development and maintenance.
El-Rufai also pointed out that taking into account government’s spending on the National Assembly, each of our legislators costs us about N320m per annum. And each federal judge costs about N73m per annum. (So, the next time you hear of another mindless judgment from one of our federal courts, keep in mind how much it cost to make that happen).
As far back as 2000, The Economist magazine had reflected on the penchant of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic legislators for doing everything but the job for which they were elected – while receiving a fortune in remuneration.
The article, titled, “Self-service for Nigerian senators”, in the August 10, 2000 edition, started as follows: “Nigeria’s splendid new white and green National Assembly hums, but not with lawmaking. Since they were elected in February 1999, Nigeria’s 109 senators and 360 representatives have passed just five pieces of legislation sent to them by President Olusegun Obasanjo. And one of these was a budget that was held up for five months by their attempts to inflate the money allocated to parliament.”
That’s what is most annoying; the fact that we’re not getting much value for all of the public spending on committees and panels and commissions and agencies and legislators and judges and sundry bureaucratic elements. That most of it is spending done just to keep the “Boys” and “Girls” happy; to oil the non-productive, value-deducting wheels of our dearly beloved dysfunction.
As an anonymous source told The Economist in 2000, regarding the National Assembly, “they did not come here to legislate. They came here for contracts.”
As it was then, so it seems, today. And will likely be in the years ahead, unless we do something drastic today.
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