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If we were to fix Nigeria: Can we break the curse hanging over Oronsaye report?

If we were to fix Nigeria: Can we break the curse hanging over Oronsaye report?
February 27
08:22 2024

You have seen the news; President Bola Tinubu has ordered the full implementation of the Stephen Oronsaye report, which seeks to merge multiple government agencies to reduce the cost of governance and duplication of duty. 

As expected, there has been some excitement in the system since the announcement was made on Monday. In fact, supporters of the president and the All Progressives Congress (APC) have started to brand it as one of the difficult decisions the “courageous” president is taking to reduce the cost of governance in Nigeria.

But like the Biblical parable, the elders are crying as they behold the foundation of the new temple but the younger ones are rejoicing, such that the voice of rejoicing could not be distinguished from the voice of weeping. If you have followed Nigeria’s politics long enough, you have seen this drama before.

While I want it to be different this time, I owe it to myself and to you to show you what played out in the past and what I have termed the curse of the Oronsaye report.

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A LITTLE HISTORY OF NIGERIA’S CIVIL SERVICE

In the beginning, the Nigerian government focused on policy direction and regulation, staying out of the business of business. But in 1970, under the leadership of Yakubu Gowon, a former head of state, the nation expanded the civil service to feature in every aspect of national life.

This meant more agencies, parastatals, and commissions — it also meant new jobs for tens of thousands of Nigerians. Some MDAs as they are now called were meant to be temporary in nature, but have gone on to be temporary for 40 years and more.

A more recent example is the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), set up in July 2010 to run till July 2020. Four years after 2020, AMCON still exists. In case you did not notice, four days ago, Tinubu appointed AMCON management team for a five-year tenure. AMCON will be here in another 30 years.

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This means an increase in the recurrent expenditure in government, and billions of naira in salaries, allowances, and pension.

Analysts, policymakers, citizens, and civil society have complained for years that Nigeria’s structure and cost of governance is not sustainable.

Every government since Gowon has created more ministries, departments and agencies  — including Bola Tinubu, who wants to implement the report. Before Tinubu, there was nothing like the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy.

THE CURSE OF THE ORONSAYE REPORT

In 2011, former president Goodluck Jonathan, set up a seven-man committee led by Stephen Oronsaye, the immediate past head of (the civil) service, at the time, to look into the structure and cost of governance in Nigeria.

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The committee came back with an 800-page report making 268 recommendations, which included the merging and scrapping of some ministries, agencies and departments.

After the report was published, different support groups began calling on Jonathan to reject the report and ignore its recommendations. Jonathan did not do much with the report till he left office.

Immediately after former president Muhamadu Buhari took office, he was advised to implement the report, especially due to the austerity of the times. Six years into his time at the helm, Buhari also “ordered the full implementation” of the Oronsaye report.

As we now know, Buhari did not make good of his word to implement the Oronsaye report. In fact, he created more agencies. In February 2022 for example — two years after making the bold promise to reduce the number of MDAs — he approved the creation of the Nigeria Data Protection Bureau (NDPB).

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Now, you will forgive me for not believing Tinubu will make good on his promise to “fully implement” the Oronsaye report. Our history just does not support such implementation; we are a people who have been there, done that, and left it when it became too hard to implement.

Watch how in the coming days, arguments will be made that too many jobs will be lost — how agencies affected will sponsor media campaigns to refuse the process. Watch how experts will come on TV to rationalise keeping the structure of government the way it is. Look out for those who will recommend other ways of cutting the cost of government. All of these things will happen, till the government moves on from the implementation.

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Who knows, maybe Tinubu will be different; after all, he removed the subsidy that his predecessors romanced for far too long. Oh wait, fuel subsidy is back. Tinubu is not different after all.

This is another chance for Tinubu and his team to prove that they are ready to run a different and decisive government in Nigeria. To fix Nigeria, we must beat the curse of the Oronsaye report.

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How do you think we can beat the curse of the Oronsaye report and cut the cost of governance in Nigeria? Tell Mayowa on Twitter and across other social media channels @OluwamayowaTJ.

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