Before implementing the Oronsaye report…

No doubt, the over-arching need to reform the Nigerian Civil Service for general efficiency was long tardy. Apart from being largely over-bloated, the service known as a hub for administrative dexterity and excellence over the years is now a shadow of itself. It has become a centre for mediocrity known for promoting nepotism. To make matters worse various policies of government leading to duplication of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) have further pushed the cost of governance to all time high. The time-tested rules guiding the service were recklessly circumvented and the worse eventually took the shine off the system. For the above reasons and more, former President Goodluck Jonathan inaugurated the Presidential Committee on the Rationalisation and Restructuring of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies to streamline the operations of MDAs in 2012. Stephen Oronsaye, the then Head of Service of the Federation, was appointed head of the committee. 

The terms of reference included: (a) study and review all previous reports and records on the restructuring of Federal Parastatals and advise on whether they were still relevant; (b) examine the enabling Acts of all the Federal Agencies, Parastatals and Commissions and classify them into various sectors; (c) examine critically, the mandate of the existing Federal Agencies, Parastatals and Commissions and determine areas of overlap or duplication of functions and make appropriate recommendations to either restructure, merge or scrap some to eliminate such overlaps, duplications or redundancies; and (d) advise on any other matter incidental to the foregoing which might be relevant to the desire of Government to prune down the cost of governance. 

Expectedly, the committee’s 800-page report recommended the scrapping of some agencies and merger of 220 out of the then-existing 541 government parastatals. This means that if the report was implemented then, more than 100 heads and many staff of agencies and parastatals would  have lost their jobs. It also recommended the reduction of statutory agencies from 263 to 161 as well as the abolition of 38 agencies, the merger of 52 and the reversion of 14 to departments in ministries. The document proposed the audit of 89 agencies with biometric capture of staff as well as cessation of government funding of professional bodies and councils. 

The report revealed that government would save over N862 billion between 2012 and 2015 when implemented. The above expected savings are tied to the combined allocation accruable to agencies penciled down for scrapping or merger. At the end, a white paper committee set up afterwards by the Jonathan administration rejected most of the recommendations, while those accepted were not even implemented. It seemed Jonathan intentionally kept the report in view as a result of public outcry against it and the backlash it could generate if fully implemented.

President Muhammadu Buhari never remembered such a report existed. He shied away from implementing the recommendations, considering the adverse effect it will bring to bear on the society. 

The federal civil service is the key driver of the overall policy actions of government. And a productive civil service is the administrative pride of a nation. However, the resurrection of Oronsaye’s report as a measure for cutting down the cost of governance does not seem to be the best of decisions. There is every need for cautious optimism on the side of government before implementation of the report. In fact, government should step down the implementation of the report. More emphasis should be laid on promoting the culture of merit, hard work, discipline, transparency, professionalism and good work ethics to achieve the envisaged results. One recurring decimal which halted the implementation of the report by previous administrations was the constant feature of job loss. 

Any reform mostly targeted at rationalisation of the staff serves no better purpose. In fact, majority of Nigerians saw the Oronsaye’s committee as one primarily constituted to find reasons to lay off staff in the federal civil service. The priority of government at this critical juncture should be creating jobs and providing a conducive environment for businesses to thrive. Labour, civil society and well meaning Nigerians had kicked and are kicking against implementation of the report, citing the same negative effects of jobs loss that comes with it.

Before moving on with administering this bitter pill which will throw more Nigerians into poverty and misery, it is hoped that this burning issue of job loss will be addressed accordingly. Government is also challenged to pay living wage and stabilise the ailing economy. Majority of Nigerians are battling to survive the adverse effects of high cost of living occasioned by the removal of fuel subsidy, electricity tariff hike, among others. Therefore, disengaging those already working in the name of reform when there is obvious high unemployment rate in the country is not the best option. 

The private sector is already in troubled waters. According to reports, more than 15 multinational companies have left Nigeria on account of poor ease of doing business and rising cost of production. The Manufacturing Association of Nigeria (MAN) also reported that about 767 manufacturing companies shut down operations while 335 experienced distress in 2023. This goes with the attendant consequence of job loss. The negative effect on the society is better imagined. The amount of money government hopes to save going forward with the report is nothing compared to the pain this implementation will inflict on the society and discontent it will generate. 

Government whose responsibility it is to find solutions to the economic quagmire should not stoke the fire of disengaging staff in any guise. Honest and deliberate plans to stem the tide of endemic corruption in the federal civil service should top the agenda of reforms. Lack of discipline, hard work and integrity which have become the bane of the civil service should be addressed.

Almost, if not all, the MDAs were established by Acts of the National Assembly, therefore, it is pertinent to confer with the assembly for legislative action before implementation to achieve the desired result and for better consensus building. The Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Lateef Fagbemi, who leads the implementation team, should critically reflect on the general societal dislocation this implementation will throw up and the ripple effect on the citizenry. 

Eze writes from Kaduna via [email protected], 08060901201