MUHAMMED LAWAL examines the controversy surrounding the possibility of merging and scrapping some Ministries Department and Agencies without job losses

After 12 years of waiting for the implementation of the most anticipated report targeted at reducing the cost of governance through merging, scrapping and relocating of departments and agencies by the Stephen Oronsaye Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies comes a declaration of its instant implementation by President Bola Tinubu. In the course of waiting, the country has witnessed theatre of absurdity which can be likened to the drama of the master of absurdism, Samuel Beckett as portrayed in his play, ‘Waiting for Godot’.

The implementation of this report has sparked reactions amongst Nigerians who agreed and disagreed on the execution of the Oronsaye Report. While some believe it will reduce the cost of governance, and relocate relevant agencies and departments to appropriate quarters, some believe that there is a need to subtract and add to fit with the current realities of the country. However, some have seen the President’s directive on the implementation as a mere announcement to score a political point considering the bloated cabinets of the President. Another set of Nigerians argued that the Orasanye Report itself was outmoded as it was believed that a great deal of things had changed across all agencies since 2012.

In the same vein, the Presidency noted that 30 Federal Government agencies, commissions, and parastatals might be scrapped, merged, or subsumed. This move may result in protests by those who may be affected due to job losses. Despite this, the implementation of the Oronsaye report must be initiated as and when due to ensure that the country gets it right in the current economic quagmire and other unending issues facing it.

After announcing the plan to implement the report, the President had set up an eight-member committee. The members of the committee include the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, George Akume; Head of the Civil Service, Folashade Yemi-Esan; Minister of Budget and Economic Planning, Abubakar Bagudu; and Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Lateef Fagbemi; Director-General of Bureau of Public Service Reform, Dasuki Arabi; among others.

The committee has a 12-week deadline to ensure necessary legislative amendments and administrative restructuring needed for effective implementation.

Summary of Report

The 800-page report recommended that of the 541 Statutory and Non-Statutory Federal Government Parastatals, Agencies, and Commissions, 263 statutory agencies should be reduced to 161, 38 agencies should be abolished, 52 agencies should be merged, and 14 should revert to departments in ministries.

Past failed attempts

The presidential committee on the reformation of government agencies was initiated by former President Goodluck Jonathan chaired by Steven Oronsaye, a former Head of Service.

Upon its completion, a white paper committee was constituted to review the report which was headed by a former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, who rejected most of the report’s recommendations in 2014. Some agreed recommendations were not implemented at the end of Jonathan’s tenure in 2015.

In 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari came up with a different approach by establishing two committees to review the Oronsaye Report and the government white paper. While the second committee was to review MDAs established between 2014 and 2022, the former was headed by former Head of Service, Bukar Aji, and the latter by Ama Pepple.

In 2022, another white paper committee was created by a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation; Boss Mustapha to examine the report of the Ama Pepple-led committee headed by Ebele Okeke. At the end of this, there was nothing near the implementation of the report during Buhari’s administration.

Report benefits

A 2020 analysis by Sunday PUNCH revealed that the Federal Government of Nigeria could save over N241bn if the Stephen Oronsaye report on public sector reforms was implemented.

Also, a reported breakdown showed that about N100.6bn from agencies proposed for mergers; about N6.6bn from professional bodies; N489.9bn from universities; N50.9bn from polytechnics; N32.3bn from colleges of education and N616m from boards of federal medical centres.

Job loss concerns

Amid the criticisms of Nigerians on the matters regarding the implementation of the report which is to scrap, subsume and relocate agencies, some Nigerians who work in the affected agencies and government parastatals have been taken over by fear of losing their jobs.

The National President of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, Tommy Etim, ahead of the implementation of the Stephen Oronsaye report, had warned the Federal Government that job losses at the country’s current critical time could lead to mass protests.

However, the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, dispelled the fear of job losses after the implementation of the Oronsaye Report. He said, “The whole idea is that the government wants to reduce cost and also improve efficiency in service delivery. It does not mean that the government is out to retrench workers or throw people into the labour market.”

Tinubu’s govt irony

There have been criticisms of the directive given by President Tinubu to implement the report. Some look at the paradox in the President’s appointments as he is noted to hold the record of having the largest number of ministers in Nigerian history. This contradicts the motive to cut down the cost of governance.

A public analyst, Damilare Adeleye, said “How do Tinubu and his 47-member cabinet (apart from Betta Edu who is currently on suspension) resolve to implement the Oronsaye report without considering mapping out a plan to reduce the size of the government by cutting down the number of ministers who are largely feeding fat on the national treasury, stressing that some persons thought that the amount spent on a minister might be enough to take care of 100 to 500 civil servants considering a minister’s humongous allowances, number of aides with ‘operational’ SUVs and cost of running individual office.”

Some affected agencies

If implemented, agencies that may be affected include the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Source Offences Commission, and Federal Road Safety Commission. Other agencies cited doing overlapping functions are the Nigerian Communication Satellite Limited, the National Broadcasting Commission, and the Nigeria Communications Commission in the area of frequency allocation.

Also, the Universal Basic Education Commission, Nomadic Education Commission, and National Mass Literacy Commission are performing overlapping functions and should be brought under one body. The committee again believes the Nigeria Television Authority, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, and the Voice of Nigeria should be under one management.

It recommended the elimination of the Fiscal Responsibility Commission and the National Salaries, Income, and Wages Commission, with their responsibilities being incorporated into the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission.

The Salaries and Wages Income Commission is likely to face a similar fate. Thirty-eight federal agencies were recommended for abolition, including the Public Complaints Commission, National Poverty Eradication Programme, Utilities Charges Commission, National Agency for the Control of HIV/AIDS, National Intelligence Committee, and more.

The National Agency for the Control of HIV/AIDS is merged as a department under the Centre for Disease Control in the Federal Ministry of Health. The merger of the National Emergency Management and the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and Internally Displaced Persons may also be brought together as one body.

The Directorate of Technical Cooperation in Africa be abolished and its functions, along with those of the Technical Aids Corps, transferred to an appropriate Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Infrastructure Concessionary and Regulatory Commission be subsumed in the Bureau of Public Enterprises for greater synergy and their enabling laws amended accordingly, etc.

Stakeholders react

Sharing his thoughts on the Oronsaye Report, A professor of Political Science and former Secretary-General of the African Association of Political Science, Prof Adele Jinadu, said the probability of the implementation of the report could not be ultimately decided if it would result in loss of jobs or not.

Jinadu opined that the job was not only the case but stressed that the execution may affect the structure of public service activities.

He said, “It will be surprising if the Oronsaye Report does not result in some job loss. The problem is not job loss as such but its level and how it is carried out without further eroding the quality, effectiveness, and efficiency of public service delivery.

“I hope we do not put forward the wrong foot going forward. I suspect that even within the current administration there is little awareness and understanding of what Oronsaye was also about, what its recommendations were, and their relevance today.”

The professor advised that there was a need to thoroughly examine the report because the civil service was a critical government unit.

Jinadu said, “We must avoid a rush to action because the public civil service, especially the civil service, is the engine of government. We look back and see what implementation lessons to learn from earlier efforts to reform the civil service such as the Ayida Report and the Fika Report.

“The Oronsaye Report is a great deal more than about cutting costs and we should approach it that way.”

Contributing to the discourse, the Executive Director of the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Debo Adeniran, said the report would not lead to loss of jobs. Still, it would sanitise the public service to weed out inefficient individuals.

Adeniran believed the report would help identify people who had been committing several offences in the Civil Service.

He said, “The report does not necessarily mean to lead to loss of jobs. It is just that it may lead to the sanitisation of the Civil Service. Those who have committed serious financial offences and fraud should be looked into even if they have been pardoned. Those who have queries and traces of dishonesty in their files should be shown the way out because many honest people are waiting to be absorbed. Some in the civil service have falsified their ages that they can do that, they could falsify any document. These are people who ask for inducement from people who need their services.

“These are the people to be shown the way out by implementing this report. Some civil servants are supposed to be rendered redundant because we do not have enough teachers in the rural areas, and they can be sent to these schools. We do not have enough people in the Nigeria Police and Armed Forces. Those weeded out of the offices in the Ministries Departments and Agencies should be transferred to the armed forces and police so that we have more hands in internal and external security. There are so many areas where they can be utilised. Even the government can create farms and they work there in relevant capacities.”

He called on the Federal Government to put together past reports for proper execution.

Adeniran noted, “There have been a couple of whitepapers on the Oronsaye Report, those whitepapers should be harmonised. The reality is that any time there is a new law that comes from the National Assembly there are likely to be new MDAs or agencies that would be created by those laws and that is why it is advised that whatever is overlapping its function should be implied.

“The only thing to be done is to bring back members of these committees to harmonise the observations that have been put together in the various white papers and they should juxtapose with what is in the public domain. Put all the MDAs in check and see where their functions overlap and streamline it. It is possible if there is political will to do it.”

Adeniran enjoined the Federal Government not to only streamline the MDAs, adding that they should rejig political appointments too. He said, “The Federal Government should not waste time streamlining the MDAs with the view to reducing the cost of governance. At the level of political appointees, like the assistants and special assistants, there is a need to look at streamlining them.

“They need to also reduce the take-home pay of all political appointees, including members of the National Assembly. If we claim that Nigeria is poor and they (political appointees) are living ostentatiously, it means that they are not empathetic of the situation.”

A lawyer, Toyin Taiwo-Ojo, said Nigeria’s governance was expensive, adding that the multiplicity of offices would not do the country any good. She said, “Governance in Nigeria is very expensive because of the duplication of agencies and government parastatals. This may lead to the loss of jobs and for every reformation, there are always casualties. There cannot be a revolution without casualty. The Oronsaye report is a revolution in itself. For the high cost of governance in Nigeria, we must do what is within our power.”

Taiwo-Ojo mentioned that those whom the execution of the Oronsaye report affected would find another way to survive, stressing that it was critical to have its implementation. She added that government jobs should not be seen as the only scheme to reduce unemployment in the country.

She noted, “However, those who would lose jobs as regards the implementation of this report will find another means of livelihood. The expenditures, emoluments, and gigantic offices of governments will be reduced. Government agencies are not a panacea for unemployment in the country. With the implementation of this report, the government will live more to its duty of attracting foreign investors and opening up its economy.

“It is not fair in an economy for people to live fat on the government. There should be productivity and a sector of the economy that is thriving. People are usually after government jobs. The 800-page document will change a lot.

The lawyer said the government must desist from profligacy, adding that it should not be a case of “enjoying now and suffering later.”

She added, “The government cannot continue to be wasteful; looking at our country’s economic reality, they (the government) cannot sustain the huge employment speculations. There is a need to restructure and resize the Civil Service. At the moment, the country finds it difficult to fund essential services. What one person can do, we have many people doing and that is wasteful.”

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