Publication

Nigeria’s Economic Hullabaloo: Why A Further Review of The Oronsaye Report Is Necessary Before Implementation

INTRODUCTION

Nigeria is currently undergoing an economic crisis – one of the toughest over the decades. The nation’s mainstay of economy is the oil and gas sector which  paved way for the downfall of agricultural dominance since the 1970s boom. The persistent fall of Naira is not unconnected with the response of fossil fuel prices and other crude oil products, little wonder the crusade for diversification of the economy have always gained traction by stakeholders and the public. Through military regimes, and successive civil administrations, the price of fossil fuel continue to plummet, thereby causing attendant radical changes in the economy.

In order to address this issue, the nation have not been lackadaisical towards providing a lasting solution, but success is largely dependent on the will power of every government. Relevant stakeholders have always been engaged in a bid to address the economy, white papers have always been issued, but all end up with – zero  implementation. Planning without execution s a waste of time, and akin to dissipation of energy.

Since the removal of fossil fuel subsidy by the federal government vide the inaugural speech of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, GCFR, the economy has not remain the same, naira have depreciation to dollar beyond imagination, and food insecurity is on the rise. In anticipation of the fuel subsidy palliatives programmes, the President ordered the commencement of the implementation of the Oronsaye Report in a bid to reduce the cost governance in Nigeria. It is believe that this would provide more funding for the government in order to assuage the hardship on the citizens engendered by the ‘bold reforms’ of the federal government, and of course, contribute significantly to the infrastructural drive of the nation.  

In respect of the size of government, we should not be in a haste to forget that the enlargement of the civil service of Nigeria began in the 1970s, during the Gen. Yakubu Gowon regime as Head of State. The leadership picked interest in almost every aspect of business, created MDA’s –  many for temporary basis which temporariness has lasted for over 40 years. It did not end there, in 1999, the federal government led by former President Olusegun Obasenjo, expanded the civil service by creating so many agencies and bodies. This is same for successive governments, for instance, in July 2010, the Asset Management  Corporation of Nigeria (AMCOM), was created with the duration to last till July, 2020, but four years later, AMCOM is not only in existence, but the current administration have extended its duration by the appointment of its management team for another five year tenor. The former President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration also attempted implementing the report but ended up creating more agencies. For instance, the Nigerian Data Protection Burea (NDPB), was created in 2022. This are the issues. And of course, we should also bear in mind the impacts of the reduction of the civil service in the face of massive unemployment rate, and low creation of jobs. This would be a discourse for another for a.

Therefore, this article discusses the economic crisis of Nigeria amid the removal of fuel subsidy, the order by the President to implement the Oronsaye Report, and the need for further review before implementation. It is submitted that this bold reform should have been the first step of the President even before the removal of subsidy and passage of budgets. It would have been the first hand means of reducing government expenditures and budgets. By now, the mergers, acquisitions, and scrapping may have been concluded.  Notwithstanding, let’s see how it goes, everything happens for a reason.

THE NIGERIAN ECONOMY, REMOVAL OF FUEL SUBSIDY AND THE BLAME GAME

In spite of an average growth of 6 percent between 2017 and 2022, the Nigerian economy is still at its primary development stage. The economy has been stagnant for over a decade, and this is due to the fact that the economy of Nigeria is market base – Market Capitalism. The rate of employment has increased drastically, and lending rate is at its peak.

During the Buhari administration, the development plan for 2021-2025 and Agenda 2050 economic blueprint was approved. The new administration of President Ahmed Bola Tinubu, in assuming office on 29 May, 2023, came up with a seven-point priority within its Renewed Hope Agenda, with its priority areas embedded in the approved economic development Plan 2021- 2025. Without much ado, the IMF and World Bank are also key factors to the economy of Nigeria, we must strive to balance and protect our interest, even if their one-size-fits-all policies must be rejected if Nigeria is to make progress economically.

Fast forward to the inaugural speech of the President on the 29 May, 2023, the whole economy was thrown into a state of economic hullabaloo. The nation have been due for removal of fuel subsidy but successive governments failed to mull the will power to achieve same. However, following the speech of the President which was quite uncertain, the economy has not remained the same.

The removal of fuel subsidy came with attendant negative impacts on the livelihood of the people. Of course, like the President rightly noted, it would not be easy. But for how long?

We have watched with utter dismay, the increasing pump price of fuel, the naira – dollar depreciation, and rising food insecurity. Today, even a 2 years old baby know that a sachet of pure water is sold for 50 naira, hungry man size of indomie is now sold at over 500 naira, spaghetti is selling for over 1,000 naira, the people seem to be overwhelmed. What is really happening in Nigeria?. 

Surprisingly, in the face of all this challenges, some elements from the ruling party have openly accused the previous administration  led by former President Buhari, as the cause of the present economic woes of the nation. In essence, the All Progressive Congress (APC) is shooting itself on the toe, for failing to savage the nation. With respect, this is not the time for blame games. Blaming selves would simply send a negative message to the citizens on the efficacy of the ruling party. Rather, the ruling party should work closely with the President to ensure that the hardship being melted on the citizens is reduce to the bearers minimum.

In the light of the above, the President on the 26th day of February, 2024, ordered the implementation of the Stephen Oronsaye panel’s report on the reform of the public service, which entails the abolition, reduction, merger, and revision of some MDAs. Oronsaye was a man, with clean private sector background, from where he joined the civil service and rose to become the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. He was the best choice to actualize the dream of Former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies.

THE ORONSAYE’S REPORT AND THE NEED FOR A FURTHER REVIEW BEFORE IMPLEMENTATION

On April 16, 2012, the Oronsaye committee submitted an 800-page report to the President. The report comprehensively captured the overlap of functions by so many agencies, which is responsible for the high cost of running the affairs of government. The report was a remodel of the civil service system.

The report recommended the discontinuation of government funding of professional bodies and councils to free funds for capital projects. There were 541 Federal Government parastatals, commissions and agencies (statutory and non-statutory); 263 of the statutory agencies were proposed to be reduced to 161, while 38 agencies to be scrapped and 52  merged. Also, 14 of the agencies should revert to departments in ministries. This was about 12 years ago.

In 2022, former President Muhammadu Buhari, inaugurated two committees, the first chaired by Goni Aji, former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. They were inaugurated to carry out a holistic review of the report and establishment of agencies from 2014 to 2021. The committee submitted a report to the President, and another committee chaired by Ebele Okeke, was set up to produce a white paper on the reports, but its implementation never saw the light of the day.

The implementation of the Oronsaye report is long overdue, the present administration have once again, taken another bold reform, but like the subsidy, may this implementation not turn out to be inimical to the state of the nation.

The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) have kicked against the implementation of the report, bemoaning loss of jobs and calling on the federal government to take a cursory look at the report in order not to affect workers nationwide.

In the same vein, renown human rights activist Femi Falana, SAN noted that the report won’t “substantially reduce the enormous costs of governance in the country as it does not reflect the current situation in the public service.” The learned silk further noted that, “…the number of ministries, departments and agencies has increased to 1316. Even the current administration has increased the number of ministries and created new agencies. To that extent, the Steve Oronsaye Report is completely outdated. He however admonished that in implementing the Oronsaye Report the Federal Government should ensure that the crisis of insecurity is not compounded through the retrenchment of hundreds of thousands of workers.

In a bid to approach the implementation carefully, the House of Representatives recently adopted a motion moved by three (3) members urging President Tinubu to “comprehensively review the 2012 Orosanye Report, the Goni Aji Report which reviewed Orosanye Report, the White Paper released by the President Jonathan administration, the Ama Pepple White Paper and the Ebele Okeke White Paper in line with current realities, while considering implementable alternatives that are in tune with current realities, and which at the same time would have minimum unintended consequences, impacts, implications and outcomes.” The speaker of the house inaugurated a 23-man committee chaired by House Leader, Julius Ihonvbere, to recommend appropriate measures to mitigate the likely impacts of the review exercise.

The Honourable members were of the view that a 12 year old report cannot fit the taste and requirements of the times. The report was described as outdated, and incompatible with the present day dynamic society, economy, polity, technology and all facets of our national life has been.

In all, majority views lean towards the fact that the implementation of the report may not substantially reduce the cost of governance. However, it is the conviction of the present writer that a holistic review of the report, and other new targets for reduction – for instance, payment of millions of naira as pension to past executives office holders, reduction of aides, and abolition offices with solely political reasons – would cut down the cost of governance in Nigeria.  

WAY FORWARD

While the implementation of the 12 years old report is plausible, it is important that it equals the present day expectations. There have been too much proliferation of government agencies and parastatals, some borne out of real expediency and genuineness, while many others created as a sub head for embezzlement of resources. Up till date, the federal government is still establishing agencies, as there are some agencies pending the approval and funding of the federal government.

The fear of loss of jobs due to this exercise is another vital factor to consider. If agencies and parastatals are merged, and scrapped, the likelihood of loss of jobs is obvious, and if same is not made good by the federal government simultaneously, the reactions and outcome of the people may not be funny. Loss of jobs amid this economic hardship is the last thing that should happen to Nigeria.

The federal government must actualize the palliative programmes in order to cushion the continuous effects of the fuel subsidy removal. The dollar – naira depreciation should be of utmost concern to the government, and security of food should be guaranteed in order to balance the welfare system of the people which is the primary purpose of government as guaranteed in section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution. The government should underscore the essence and outcome of international collaboration and obligations in order to appreciate the dynamics of financial development and advancement. Internally, slashing down of humongous salaries to political office holders, unjustified pensions, aides reduction, abolition of some political offices in addition to the Oronsaye report would go a long way.

The National Assembly is very essential to the implementation of this report. So many of this ministries, agencies and parastatals are creation of legislation, and the alteration of same is to engender radical legal alterations and amendments, the peak would be the alteration of the Constitution, which is where the main exercise lies. We hope that after due consideration of this exercise is made, the National Assembly would key in, whether or not their interest is also affected.

The federal government should also endeavor to make provisions for gratuities and pensions to civil servant who may loose their jobs if the implementation of the report is enforced.  

CONCLUSION

The move by the federal government to implement the Oronsaye report is not out of place, it is a complement to the many bold and hard governmental economic reforms ongoing. However, may the effects of this implementation not be like the effects of fuel subsidy removal, because this would be a double challenge for the government and survival of the citizens. The report should be meticulously scrutinized and reviewed before any step at implementation.

FOOD FOT THOUGHTS:

     ‘’A vision without a strategy remains an illusion.’’ Lee Bolman.