Difficulty in downsizing cost of governance: Starting point on what to do

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Concerns over the need to draw Nigeria out of the mire of economic downturn has continued to tingle the ear from different angles, particularly with the negative effects of the COVID-19, which have stricken and toughen the debilitated posture of the Country’s economy. Stakeholders and concerned Nigerians have been more critical on the possible measures necessary to adopt in salvaging the Country from looming economic breakdown.

The essential factor of huge investment in capital project has unequivocally been on the top front of calls. The ratio of capital to recurrent expenditures in the Country’s budget has been a red flag that sends a spiking signal down the spines of all Nigerians who understand how economy runs to grow viably. The status of resources attracted by overhead cost at the level of 70 per cent of the budget is clearly a predicament that reflects nothing but a crawling growth. The call to cut down the cost of governance in the Federation has been on the canvassing front as a critical measure to adopt in raising the bar to balance the stretch of overhead with capital expenditure. There is no controversy about the fact that cost of governance in the Federation is encumbered with sapping infusions that are draining resources, which would have yielded more benefits, had they been channeled to capital projects in the Country.

Nigeria’s Vice-Presidents, Prof Yemi  Osinbajo, had on Friday said Nigeria needs a national debate to examine the issues surrounding the expensive size and cost of governance. While stating that the need to downsize the cost of governance in the Country is non-negotiable, he however lamented that the hands of the Government may be tied in effecting the arrangement. The Vice President who made the reservations while fielding questions from a former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and immediate past Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi, noted that it might be difficult to effect the process of placing laws-makers on part-time, given the fact the ratification of the provisions itself will go through the National Assembly.

Sanusi, had during a webinar   organised by the Emmanuel Chapel, tagged, ‘Economic stability beyond COVID-19’, pointed out that the governance structure in the country had set it up for bankruptcy, while asking the vice-president to state what the current administration would do differently to address the perennial problem. He had questioned, “The greater Atlanta (in the United States) has a Gross Domestic Product that is higher than that of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and Atlanta is not the richest city in the United States. I don’t want to be disrespectful, but the annual sales of Tesla exceeds the budget size of our country, so should we not begin to cut our coat according to our cloth; should we not begin to look at all these costs and the constitution itself; maybe turn the legislators to part-time lawmakers, have a unicameral legislature instead of bicameral, have the local governments run by employees of the Ministry of Local Government Affairs? We just need to think out of the box to reduce structural cost and make government sustainable over the long term.”

The vice-president had in his response,  said: “There is no question that we are dealing with large and expensive government, but as you know , given the current constitutional structure , those who would have to vote to reduce (the size of) government, especially to become part-time legislators, are the very legislators themselves. So , you can imagine that we may not get very much traction if they are asked to vote themselves, as it were, out of their current relatively decent circumstances.

“So, I think there is a need for a national debate on this question and there is a need for us to ensure that we are not wasting the kind of resources that we ought to use for development on overheads . At the moment, our overheads are almost 70 per cent of revenues, so there is no question at all that we must reduce the size of government. Part of what you would see in the Economic Sustainability Plan also and several of the other initiatives is trying to go , to some extent, to what was recommended in the (Steve) Oransaye Report, to collapse a few of the agencies to become a bit more efficient and make government much more efficient with whatever it has.”

The  Government in Nigeria needs to become strategic in the approach of piloting the Country. It is essential that political stakeholders begin to streamline their policies and the corresponding implementation, with the realities of political and socio-economic demands in line with the ideological yearnings of the Nigerian people. If in Nigeria, average citizens expect the government to provide them with jobs, it is more important that the government consider reorganizing critical structures, such that, in as much as the Government creates amiable environment for private enterprises to thrive, it also at the same time, develop effective system that runs government owned business ventures; large and virile with standards of efficiency and effectiveness. The existence of such profit oriented establishments will create jobs for millions of Nigerians who rely on the Government for provision of jobs. The profit accruing from these establishments will go into paying those employed under these ventures, while the Government will be relieved of the burden of using larger chunk of its thin resources to cater for overhead cost. In this case, thousands of Nigerians redundantly attached with government Ministries, Agencies and Departments, can be redeployed productively based on specialisation within these new ventures.

The Government should develop the political will to institute a possible means for pragmatic consideration  of the necessary move to place benchmarks on the spendings of officials occupying public offices. This campaign, supported by Nigerians, should give consideration  to downsizing the chunk of aides and avoidable allowances attached to public offices. While there has been reservations on the hostility of lawmakers in the Country against the idea of cost-cutting by adopting a system that places legislators on part-time, it remains important that no matter how difficult it may look, it is not insurmountable.

Nigerians should rise to propel and navigate the best way for running government affairs for the general good of all, as demanded in a democratic setting. In as much as the Government may be finding it hard to revolutionise some institutional settings, such as  placing lawmakers on part-time, it is significant to note that the government is yet to show convincing signs of strong political will to raise the bar of resources available for capital ventures in the Country. Loopholes that exposes the Country’s governance system to corruption is a key factor that can be addressed in the meantime as the need to save cost becomes pressing.  Effort should be intensified to block many of the channels through which government officials and public office holders are fraudulently sapping the Country’s resources directly and indirectly through strategic means. The phenomenon of ghost-workers remains a resource sapper across the Federation. To curb this, the Government should embark on an extensive study of the working patterns of the systems of advanced Countries of the world that are automatically resistant to corruption, and streamline the provisions for prudent domestication, in line with the peculiarities of the Nigerian terrain.