Plugging Nigeria’s crushing governance cost

President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent commitment to cutting the cost of governance to weed out corruption has given teeth to raging debate over the debilitating effect of the cost of governance on the nation. How far can the President take this new anti-corruption drive? CHIZOBA OGBECHE, ELEOJO IDACHABA, TAIYE ODEWALE, BODE OLAGOKE and KEHINDE OSASONA ask.

Nigeria’s overwhelming cost of governance has been subject of discussion in different forum and by subsequent administrations without significant steps towards curbing the trend perceived as Siamese twins to corruption.

The recent commitment by President Muhammadu Buhari to beam the search light on cost of governance may have given a new impetus to efforts to plug this conduit pipe of corruption.

The President, who hosted members of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) at State House, Abuja, on October 10, pledged that his government would take a dispassionate look into all the requests by the committee which including the reestablishment of the jury system for criminal cases in the country; setting up of a judicial commission on corruption in the judiciary, to be headed by retired judges under the auspices of National Judicial Council (NJC); passage of Proceeds of Crime Act by the National Assembly; the setting up of a Presidential Truth and Restitution Task Force; and a closer look at the cost of governance to weed out all vestiges of corruption.

PACAC chairman, Professor Itse Sagay, earlier stated that: “The ever increasing huge cost of governance in the country is disturbing and must be tackled. For the anti- corruption war to be total and more money available, to put in place required infrastructure in the country, the high cost of governance must be drastically reduced.”

Wages, allowances review

On October 15, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, disclosed that there were plans to review the wages of all political office holders in the country giving an indication that the federal government was committed to cutting cost of governance.

“The last holistic wage review took place in 2011 and a new one is being planned,” Ngige told members of Nigerian Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) during a visit to his office in Abuja.

“What is a governor doing with hazard allowance? What hazard when the state is feeding him and his family? What is a governor doing with constituency allowance? The whole state is his constituency. These are what will be holistically reviewed,” he declared.

The federal government’s also indicated further commitment to shed the burden of governance the following day through a memo from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr Boss Mustapha.

The memo by the Director of Information to the SGF, Mr Willie Bassey, directed all ministers, director-generals and other top government officials to submit all their travel plans to the SGF office for clearance before embarking on such trips.

Accordingly, the plan is said to avoid the frivolities associated with government departments and agencies.

The details of the directive is that without approval from the president, ministers, permanent secretaries, chief executive officers and directors are restricted to not more than two foreign travels in a quarter.

It also noted that whenever a minister is to head a delegation to any country, the size of such delegation should not exceed four. Also, it said all public funded travels, whether local and foreign, must be strictly for official purposes backed with documentary evidence.

It read in part, “President Muhammadu Buhari has approved, for immediate implementation, additional cost saving measures aimed at instilling financial discipline and prudence particularly in the area of official travels.

“Henceforth, all ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) are required to submit their yearly travel plans for statutory meetings and engagements to the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation or the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation for express clearance within the first quarter of the fiscal year, before implementation.

“They are further required to make their presentations using the existing template and also secure approvals on specific travels as contained in the plan from the appropriate quarters.

“All foreign travels must be for highly essential statutory engagements that are beneficial to the interest of the country. Except with the express approval of Mr. president, ministers, permanent secretaries, chairmen of extra-ministerial departments, chief executive officers and directors are restricted to not more than two foreign travels in a quarter.”

This was not the first time that there has been effort to reduce the cost of governance. The Goodluck Jonathan-led administration had adopted similar measures when it set up a Presidential Committee on the Reform of Government Agencies under the chairmanship of the former head of service of the federation, Mr Stephen Orosanye.

According to the report of that committee, it recommended the scrapping of the existing agencies from 263 down to 161 because of similarities in their functions, among other suggestions.

Although President Jonathan could not carry out the recommendation before his tenure ended, that administration actually started the process.

On assumption to power in 2015, there were calls on President Buhari to take a second look at that report, but all that went on deaf ears for inexplicable reasons until lately.

Speaking on the President bid to cut cost of governance, the former Minister of Aviation, Osita Chidoka, said there was nothing new in what the president has said.

He pointed out that in the extant rule that governs public servant at the level of ministers, no one can travel without the express permission of the president.

“That policy had been there. I was a former minister under former President Olusegun Obasanjo and then if I needed to travel, all I will do is to inform the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation about my planned trip otherwise I can’t travel and that applies to all other ministers, therefore it is not a new thing. What they need to do is to look inward for where there are leakages and not the cosmetic approach we are hearing,” he said.

Okorocha’s case for statutory representatives

Not too long ago, former Imo state governor, now Senator Rochas Okorocha, had during a plenary in the Senate called for reduction of senators from three to one in each state. The implementation, he said, would help to reduce the cost of governance and further help the country to maintain fiscal discipline.

Okorocha said, “This country must begin to make sacrifices; our country provides that we have three senators, but what are the three senators per state doing that one single senator from that state cannot do?  With over 300 representatives from the states, each of them creates increased demands from the economic system.

“What we need to have under the present ugly economic situation is to have a statutory representative one per state to reduce the cost of governance,” he noted.

…Fayemi too

Also speaking recently on the sidelines of the 25th edition of the Nigerian Economic Summit (NES), Ekiti state governor, Dr Fayemi Kayode, threw his weight behind the call for reduction in the number of senators in order to save cost.

In his opinion, the adoption of the Stephen Orosaye report which recommended the merging of federal government’s agencies that perform similar functions would help to save the country’s resources.

Speaking further, he also said, “We do need to look at the size of government in Nigeria and I am an advocate of a unicameral legislature. “What we really need is the House of Representatives, because that is where the representation is.

“The Oronsaye report that proposed mergers of several ministries departments and agencies that are doing the same thing is something that the government should pay serious attention to and reduce the resources being expended on them,” he noted.

Govt scratching the surface

Similarly, a Public Affairs Analyst and Executive Director of OJA Development Consult, Dr Jide Ojo, said the government is only scratching the surface of the real issues by the directive to ministers on their travel schedules.

On ways to reduce cost, he said, “I am of the considered view that if we visit the Steve Oronsaye report on the merger and scrapping of some ministries, department and agencies, the country would be able to save a lot of money and reduce the running cost of government.

“Secondly, there is no basis to have 43-member federal cabinet with the president being the 43rd persons as the minister of petroleum resources. The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Section 147 (3) talks about appointing a minister from each of the states. Therefore, if the president is concerned about reducing the cost of governance, he should have kept it to the minimum of 37 ministers (36 states and one to represent FCT).

“Thirdly, the N125 billion budgeted for the National Assembly and over N3bn the presidency wants to spend on foreign travels in 2020 is too high. The president does not need the five presidential jet or there-about in his fleet. Two or three should have been adequate. Huge resources voted for meals and entertainments across MDAs should have been deleted from our annual budget.

“Furthermore, there is no reason why Buhari’s administration should continue with the profligacy of the past by sending people on holy pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Jerusalem, Israel. The long convoy in the president’s car fleet should have been cut down to a maximum of five vehicles. This is how to begin,” he said.

According to him, cost reduction means achieving more with less, saying the lifestyles of the law makers call for prudent management of resources.

“There is no reason for Nigerian legislators to buy official cars when their transport allowance has been monetised. If they do need official vehicles, it should not be one to a person. It should be few vehicles in a pool available for official use only. Budgeting N5.5 billion for vehicle purchase is highly insensitive. This is an institution that has consistently failed to disclose its salaries publicly. It’s the more reason why Nigerians don’t want to pay taxes.”

He noted that among the three organs of government, only the executive and legislatures appear extravagant with public funds.

“Recall that Senegal in 2012 or there-about scrapped her Senate and went unicameral. Nigeria can go same way by having a unicameral legislature at the centre just like the states. However, since that may be stoutly resisted by the law makers, I think the best way out is to fight corruption in the system,” he said.

Cleansing should start from within

On his part, a newspaper columnist, Mr Martins Oloja, said the body language of the president has not suggested that he really means what he said. According to him, “How can a President, who wants to reduce the cost of running government increase the number of ministries as against what had existed before only for him to wake up one day and tell us that he wants to reduce the cost of governance; the whole thing is paradoxical.

“Also take a look at the appointment of aides the president made for his wife the same week he announced his plan to reduce governance cost. It shows he is not sincere about it. What does the woman needs six aides for? The cleansing, to me, should start from within. For instance, why should we have a ministry of petroleum if we can have a functional NNPC? They should say something else,” he said.

Strengthened Accountability process

Also speaking to Blueprint Weekend, a legal practitioner Barrester Kingsley Chinda said: “I think basically, we need an attitudinal change in the three arms of government with respect to how resources are used.

“This becomes more important especially in this time when we are experiencing some drop in oil prices. So, it is not enough for Mr President to say I want this to happen, I believe that the person whose duty is to run the civil service or manage the legislatures and all that must adopt transparent method and also see to how resources that is made available is used.

“Not only that, accountability process should also be strengthened just as the Fourth Estate of the realms must equally wake up to its responsibility which is to ensure that the Freedom of Information (FOI) 2015 is invoked.”

Speaking further he said: “We can ask and demand to know as to how certain fund is made available is spent. But if that is not done, at the end of the day what you would likely see is a situation where the EFCC and ICPC lurking around.

“Right from the local government levels, the state house of assemblies and even independent sectors, everybody has to wake up to the fact that if we spent ten kobo, it has to be spent judiciously such that masses would begin to view it from that perspective.”

Role of NASS

On the role of the National Assembly (NASS) in ensuring cost of governance was cut he said, “For me, the NASS represents in my view the collective aspirations of the Nigerian people via a fair representation of the entire citizenry.

So, if they begin by ensuring or finding the way to let the citizenry know that; look it is no longer going to be business as usual. We have a small salary; we have to run the constituency office and at the same time, we think we have to key into the agenda of the government as that remains the only way through which we can save resources for development. I think by so doing things the pressure on the representatives by their constituency would reduce.

“The masses themselves on the other hand have to change their orientation and that can only be achieved if they start demanding that whatever that is budgeted should not be implemented by NASS members but the executives.

“So if project are awarded and they are suppose to go to constituency, the masses would have to ensure that the projects are carried out to the fullest extent to which it was designed and paid for.” Chinda explained further.

“If that is done; if communities begin to rise, the press begins to rise; the international community’s too begin to assist and not just collaborate by allowing stolen funds to be stashed in their countries.

“To this end, I think NASS should be allowed to do their work of over sighting and law making for the good governance of the country while the citizen monitors their progress. Time to put a stop to our commonwealth being stolen unashamedly by few is now,” he added.

Cut should be from executive

In an exclusive interview with Blueprint Weekend Hon Chukwuemeka Atigwe representing Igboeze/Udenu Federal Constituency of Enugu state, said though  cutting cost of governance is very necessary but not through reduction of number of federal lawmakers who in totality, are 469.

What should be done according to him at the various arms and tiers of governments is to curb wastage and leakages particularly within the executive arm of government.

“The entire yearly budget of the National Assembly is not up to three per cent of the budget of the country, meaning that if huge cost of governance is to be cut, it should be from the executive arm of government.

“Gratifyingly, President Buhari seems to have started with the reported cut in estacodes for Ministers and heads of the various MDAs. He should do more in this direction for more money to be saved and use to fund the capital component of the budget which will be beneficial to the generality of Nigerians,” he said.

…PDP adds voice

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had challenged President Buhari to lead by example by ending the alleged profligacy that pervades his Presidency in order to give validity to his directives to ministers and other functionaries.

In the same vein, the PDP tasked the Buhari Presidency to explain the basis and source of Presidential support for the Office of the First Lady, including the appointment of aides, contrary to his promise not to run that office.

The PDP in na statement by its National Publicity Secretary Kola Ologbondiyan held that Mr. President remained responsible and answerable for his presidential assurances and Nigerians expect an explanation on the violation of such sensitive undertaking.

The statement read in part: “While the PDP is still monitoring the implementation of directive to government functionaries on cost cut, the party tasks President Buhari to take the first step by immediately fulfilling his promise to reduce the Presidential fleet, as well as cut his over bloated entourages and curtail the opulent lifestyle in the Presidency, which is daily flaunted before suffering and impoverished Nigerians.

“The PDP invites Nigerians to note that the Buhari Presidency has proven to be extremely expensive and a major draining pipe for valuable resources, while millions of compatriots, who look up to government for solutions, wallow in hunger and acute poverty.

“The profligacy that permeates the Buhari Presidency had further manifested in the public fight between the First Lady, Aisha Buhari, and President Buhari’s nephews over issues of opulent accommodation in our presidential villa.

“The party further urges Nigerians to note that the Buhari Presidency has failed to make the details of its budget public, despite demands by our party and other well-meaning groups in Nigeria.”

According to the spokesperson, “The failure to make the details of the Presidency budget public places a huge burden on the Buhari Presidency, particularly in the face of allegations of budgetary corruption and financial sleazes.

Unless the Presidency budget is made public for Nigerians to see, any directive on cost cut remains cosmetic.”

For National Ex-officio of the All Progressives Congress (APC) South-east, Chief Nduka Anyanwu, the President has shown commitment to cutting cost of governance.

According to him, “You will agree with me that one of the first things Mr President did was to reduce his salary by 50 per cent. He also ordered the sale of two presidential jets. He has equally directed that salaries of public office holders should be cut down after their current tenures.

“You will also recall that he reduced number of ministries and that also means reducing a huge cost. On his foreign trips abroad he has reduced number of his entourage and this is very commendable. We can go on and on to count what he has done in this area.

“Think about the implementation of the TSA to check leakages in the system. Through the BVN serious monitoring over 40,000 ghost workers have been fished out thereby saving Nigeria several billions of naira.

“What about the removal of subsidy which was heavily oiling the pockets of petroleum importers and the restructuring of the NNPC to become financially profit oriented. Most importantly and this is important too, attitudinal change of Nigerians that corruption is receiving attention. The body language of Nigerians have adjusted to the reality that it is not business as usual.”

Similarly, the Secretary Buhari Media Organization, Chief Cassidy Madueke, stated: “I agree completely on the need to reduce cost of governance which is a major cause of unimaginable inequality among citizens and excruciating impoverishment against majority of the population.

“…No doubt, beneficiaries like NASS, top members of judiciary and public office holders will kick against it, but public hearing and opinion will in no doubt favour the proposal and it is of public interest which in reality and constitutionally superior to minority opinion.

“You can also agree with me me that high cost of governance is a pragmatic element and inducement factor to corruption, excessive luxurious life style, arrogance among the beneficiaries, gross inequality, impoverishment of the middle and low class, waste of resources belonging to the masses amongst other ills.”

It’s not realistic

However, a top chieftain of the APC, Mr. Aminu Ifesinachi, told our correspondent that the move to cut cost of governance was not realistic because in every ineffective system there are people benefiting and such people will do everything they can to sustain the system.

“Also, with the type of democratic governance system we copied and now practicing promotes capitalism. And all the three arms of government; the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary are all benefiting from the existing system.

“For me the solution is to build our own home made form of democratic system based on our cultural heritage orientation and values. That will certainly solve the system problem.”

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