Need to merge federal agencies

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[FILES] President of the Senate, Dr Ahmad Lawan. The high number of existing federal agencies recently caught the attention of the Nigerian Senate after its Committee on the Ninth Senate Legislative Agenda submitted its report.

A recent report that the high number of existing federal agencies recently caught the attention of the Nigerian Senate after its Committee on the Ninth Senate Legislative Agenda submitted its report to plenary for discussions is a remarkable development, after all.

At the last count, there are over 700 federal agencies. Senate opined that most of these agencies invariably were mere duplicates and added no value to governance.

In conclusion, the point was made that some of the agencies should be scrapped or merged. No doubt, there are too many agencies at the federal level. This has led to high overhead costs with no tangible contribution to the gross national product (GDP). If anything, they constitute a drain on the national purse.

Doubtless, complaints about the bloated bureaucracy are not new. In a country, which devotes a chunk of its resources to meeting overhead costs thereby reducing access to capital expenditure, the need to merge or downsize cannot be over-emphasised. It was against this background that the Goodluck Jonathan administration set up the Stephen Oronsaye Committee in 2013.

In its report, the committee recommended scrapping or merging of 220 out of 541 existing agencies. At that time, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) deliberated on the report of a White Paper Committee and issued a White Paper. But as usual with most governments in Nigeria, that brilliant and exhaustive report was left in the dustbin. Early in September this year, President Muhammadu Buhari directed that the Oronsaye Report be revisited. We are yet to see any real action arising from the president’s directive. Why has Abuja become a morgue of good policies and ideas?

It would be useful for the government to study the population of the federal civil service and determine the percentage of the federal budget that goes into servicing such a small group. Nowhere in the world is such a scandal whereby more than 70 per cent of the national budget will always go into recurrent expenditure tolerated. It is a recipe for stagnation and underdevelopment. The federal bureaucracy is virtually replicated at the level all over the country with the exception of a few ministries. It is in the strange wisdom of government to create jobs and waste economic resources on salaries and emoluments. A government with a thinking cap would rather stimulate the economy so that jobs may be created in the private sector for the youthful population that we have. Most states and local governments cannot meet their financial obligations to workers. Yet they keep employing people for political reasons.

A visit to a typical ministry would reveal how indolent the average civil servant is. Some come to work and do nothing for the whole day except move one file to another table. A good number of them often treat the job with levity. They have become so powerful that they create fiefdoms for themselves. Somehow, they manage to create jobs for the boys by creating agencies where they go and feed fat from the state. They are also now involved in contracts’ award and execution. Indeed, top civil servants across the country have become so rich that they compete favourably with thieving politicians. It is on record that civil servants often make it easier for corrupt political appointees to fleece the state.

The time has come to trim the size of the civil service and merge or close down some agencies. Why, for example, is FRSC not merged with the Police? Why is Aviation Ministry separated from Transportation? The Nigeria Police ought to be under the Ministry of the Interior instead of a separate ministry at a time like this. Why do we have different chief executives and boards of directors for NTA, FRCN, and Voice of Nigeria? There are more redundancies and avoidable duplicates all over. Even the state governments are not exemplary, in this regard.

The current administration came with a mantra that subscribes to financial discipline and prudence. This is yet to manifest in the federal bureaucracy. The times are hard. Economic resources are scarce. This is not the time to create more ministries or agencies. It is time to merge. It is time to change with technology disrupting the human resource model in public service and world of work.

The Ninth Senate, therefore, should walk their talk. Rather than complain or make beautiful proposals they should work in concert with the executive arm to trim the federal bureaucracy by mergers or scrapping. They should call up the Oronsaye Report as a guide. Whereas Oronsaye identified a total of 541 agencies, the Senate Committee has noted that there are over 700 agencies.

Does it mean that between 2015 and 2019 more agencies have been created in spite of the Oronsaye report? What was the Federal Civil Service Commission doing while this aberration took place? What was the office of the head of the Civil Service of the Federation doing? What happened to the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), which has a critical role to play in coordinating the public service too?

Finally, we call on the Federal Government to put its house in order. Across the country, there is a virtual collapse of infrastructure and social services. The Federal Government currently carries more burden than it can bear. The so-called Trunk A roads in the country are crying for repairs or maintenance. This is one of the reasons the Federal Government should restructure the federation and cede some powers to the constituent parts of the federation. The notion of federal roads has been criminally abused for example. It is an anachronism from the era of the military in government, which negates the spirit of development.

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