By Akaninyene Esiere
NIGERIA IS BROKE. Her rulers since the end of the Civil War in 1970 have stolen her blind. In the seventies and early eighties, we used to hear about government officials and their contractor-collaborators pocketing 10 percent of contract values. All that changed in the mid eighties under the misrule of the government of Ibrahim Babangida when corruption became rampant. In a way that reflects what the old xerox advert says, that government taught Nigerians how to copy corruption. Now corruption, just like malignant cancer, has metastasized in the country and one may not be wrong to say that government officials and their contractor-collaborators now steal 90 percent of the contract value!
This explains why, try as you might, no sector of our society seems to work. Our roads are dead traps (forget about the ministry of works and their trillions of Naira contracts and the federal road safety Corp); thousands die yearly via water transportation (national inland waterways authority exists to embezzle money and not to enforce safety rules on our waterways); ten years after power generation and distribution were privatized by the Goodluck Johnathan administration, we still generate and distribute darkness; our public schools are now very close to teaching illiteracy; government hospitals exist to send patients to untimely death and to operate morgues than to treat patients.
Twenty-two years after mobile telephony, connectivity is still a challenge; our people now wear poverty as a permanent emblem; trillions of naira is spent to keep our refineries so they can continue to refine everything but crude oil; the National Assembly, the untouchable Nigerians, who fix their budget, fix their salaries and pay themselves, fool around as law makers though they are truly law breakers.
The other day, the minister of budget and economic planning, a former Sani Abacha bagman, said the country was finding it difficult to pay salaries. The reason is not far fetched; the country is broke. And the people in government and their collaborators are still stealing endlessly. The reason why the stealing is going on uncontrollably is because, in Nigeria, there are no consequences for stealing; and for breaking any law for that matter. In fact, if you are in government in Nigeria and you do not steal government money, you are treated as one with leprosy, COVID-19 and HIV combined. And for those who steal, we celebrate them, garland them with worthless titles, give them positions in public; get the only well equipped security operatives to guard them; and reward them with higher public responsibilities so they can steal more.
That is why government is broke. And it needs to be fixed one way or the other. If it is not done quickly, we are only postponing the evil days. Unfortunately, the government of Bola Ahmed Tinubu does not seem to realize it, or to get the message. It is behaving as if all is well, as if we are in the age of the Udoji era when government in the seventies was doling out money aimlessly. The Tinubu presidency has ballooned more than any other in recent times. One would have thought that given the state of the economy, there would be a slim government; but the opposite is the case. He is setting up the largest government in Nigeria’s history.
How does one explain the fact that there are 49 ministers in government in a regime of austerity? Constitutionally, the president is to appoint a minimum of 37 ministers, which on its own is bulky. But because Tinubu has too many political IOUs, compared to other presidents, 37 ministers does not cut it for him. To make matters worse, he has well over 20 special advisers. For the avoidance of doubt, a special adviser is equivalent to a minister of state; almost. These special advisers have tens of people reporting to them. Tell me: a minister of state for petroleum resources (oil) and minister of state for petroleum resources (gas)? What does it even mean? In the same vein, why have a special adviser for media and publicity; and a special adviser on communications and strategy if not for the sake of finding jobs for the boys at a time the economy is bleeding.
It is the reason for the duplication of duties by ministries, departments, parastatals and agencies in government that the Goodluck Jonathan government set up the Stephen Oronsaye Committee on Public Sector Reforms to streamline government departments and agencies in 2011. That committee sat for several months and had a photo finish product which would have saved the nation the embarrassment of having to exist only for those in government and their cohorts.
As at the time the committee submitted its report in April 16, 2012, there were about 541 government parastatals, commissions and agencies (both statutory and non statutory) milling around the whole country delivering poor quality services to the public. The report added that 263 of the statutory agencies should be reduced to 161, while 38 agencies should be abolished and 52 of them should be merged. It further recommended that 14 agencies should revert to relevant departments in ministries. It was estimated that if the Federal Government implemented the recommendations of the Committee in 2021, the country would have saved over N241bn. That amount would have tripled by now given that the Nigeria of 2021 is so dramatically different from the country of today, from an economic standpoint. Many of the agencies are duplicating the activities of other agencies. It is not uncommon to have an agency FOR, and another OF, AT,IN, all solving or, more appropriately, pretending to be solving similar problems.
Let me step on very raw nerves: why still retain the Niger Delta Development Commission after setting up the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs? Why have the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission as well as the Code of Conduct Bureau and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission? Beyond finding jobs for the boys (and girls) and draining the national treasury, what is the wisdom in having the National Examination Council and the West African Examination Council especially when the NECO certification is not honoured outside our borders.
Implementing the recommendations of the Committee submitted some 11 years ago would have helped the country save money for the development of the people of the country. This would free people, money, infrastructure, buildings and equipment for efficient service delivery. But the report was first subjected to a review by a white paper committee. The white paper report accepted some of the recommendations of the earlier committee and rejected others.
One would have thought that even at that, the government would implement the recommendations of the white paper. The Buhari government did not only not implement the white paper but also did not deem it necessary to formally handover to the government of President Tinubu. So, the current administration is not only groping in the dark as far as the report is concerned but also complicating matters by setting up more agencies and appointing more people into its government. If you ask the Secretary to the Government of the Federation or more appropriately, the Head of Federal Civil Service how many agencies, parastatals and departments the federal government has, they will not know because many more of these agencies have been created since after the white paper was submitted.
And the National Assembly is not even mindful of the unwieldy number of these agencies that we have as they continue to create new statutory ones without thinking about how they are going to be funded. At the rate this government is going, chances are that by the time it turns two in office, it would have appointed every Nigerian into its administration! Common Sense requires that when you have fallen into a pit, to come out of it, the last thing on your mind is to keep digging yourself deeper. But that seems to be what this government is doing by not only not implementing the white paper report but also setting up more government agencies and appointing more people to man them.
In the 2023 budget prepared by the Buhari government, over N200B was budgeted for the agencies the white paper recommended to be scrapped. Imagine that whole money going to federal hospitals or universities that are so underfunded and lacking in quality. The main reason why the report of the white paper has not been implemented is the perennial lack of political will to do the right thing and get the country move in the right direction.
During the electioneering campaign, we were told how Tinubu was man enough to take tough decisions. Apart from the ones that have afflicted must Nigerians, there is no pro-people action taken by this government yet. Rather the government is obtaining approval from a pliant National Assembly to spend N2 trillion on frivolities for its top members. Before you know it, the Ghana experience where government defaulted on its sovereign debts and bonds may very well be our experience.
By then it would have been too late to do the right thing for the generality of the people of the country. A stitch in time can save more than nine, including the over 200 million Nigerians, half of whom are layered in unexplained and unexplainable poverty.
Esiere is a former journalist!