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The Oronsaye Committee report

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Monday last week, the Presidential Committee on the Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Agencies, Commissions and Parastatals, chaired by Mr. Stephen Oronsaye, former Head of Service of the Federation, handed in its report to the President who set it up.
By all measures, the committee’s work was thorough, its recommendations far- reaching. Understandably, therefore, the Nigerian public’s response to the committee’s report has been mixed – much welcomed in many quarters but received with fear and apprehension in other quarters.
The committee’s recommendations, which have already excited debate, speak of the need felt by most Nigerians for a trimmer, more efficient, more productive, less corrupt and less wasteful federal civil service that delivers without taking much, much more than its own proportionate share of the nation’s resources, one that significantly reduces the cost of governance.
Nigeria, the committee disclosed, obviously to the surprise of many, has a whopping 541 federal agencies, out of which 263 are statutory. The committee recommended, most sensibly in our view, a reduction of the 263 statutory agencies to 161, the outright scrapping of 38 non-statutory agencies, the merger of 52 agencies and the reversion of 14 agencies to departments under existing ministries.
The committee’s bold recommendations were informed by, and based on its findings after a study and review of the legal status, functions, performance, impact of, and the institutional relationships between these hundreds of federal bodies, the very existence of which most Nigerians know only very little, if anything, about.
The committee’s findings contain revelations about which most Nigerians have some vague ideas, but which are nevertheless shocking. Among others, it found that there are overlaps and duplication of functions between many of these agencies, wasteful institutional rivalries between them, and high levels of corruption in nearly all of them.
All this, the committee’s report said, has led to avoidable confusion in the conduct of government affairs, impaired the efficiency and effectiveness of the agencies, fostered corruption, unnecessarily increased the cost of service delivery and of governance itself and precipitated crises and even systemic conflicts and, sometimes, collapse.
At the root of the proliferation of agencies in the country is what social scientists call agencification – the practice by governments to create an agency to address every new problem that crops up, or to respond to seeming failure or poor performance of existing institutions, or even just in order to find jobs for the boys. Both military and civilian regimes are guilty of this practice, the cost of which to the nation is incalculable.
Today, we have, in many sectors, multiple agencies addressing the same problem, often in rivalry with each other: the EFCC and ICPC addressing corruption, even though traditionally the police has a department doing the same thing; NASRDA and NigComSat performing virtually the same space research functions; UBEC, NEC and NCMLA tending to the same problems in the education sector; and multiple agencies in both the environmental and education sectors competing with each other to do the same things.
As a result of the huge cost of public sector governance that this multiplicity of agencies has occasioned, Nigeria has now become a nation where overheads gulp 70% of the federal budget. In effect, 70% of our resources are consumed by a mere 1% of the population who man and manage a bloated federal bureaucracy and its countless agencies that are neither productive nor efficient.
This is not right. It is unjust, to fund and run this kind of public sector structure that is so heavily weighted against the vast majority of the people. There must be reforms, restructuring and rationalisation of the kind recommended by the Oronsaye committee and others before it.
The question, or problem, though, is whether President Jonathan will summon the political will and courage to do that which is necessary. And since the changes and restructuring will necessarily involve repealing of law, there is also the question of whether the National Assembly itself will be on the same page with the President in order to hasten matters.
It is important for especially the President to summon courage and stand firm. The committee’s recommendations have kindled fears in many quarters. Change will always be resisted by those who perceive that they stand to lose something.
Already, labour is kicking and warning against retrenchments, which will be the inevitable consequences of any serious and far reaching restructuring. But the government should allay labour’s fears by proceeding in a way that ensures that the more competent and productive staff are re-absorbed into the mainstream civil service or the rationalised agencies.
Besides labour, there are many entrenched forces who make their living off these agencies, and cosseted individuals within the agencies, who will fight, and fight dirty too, against any changes. This should neither frighten nor stay the hands of the authorities.
The Oronsaye committee has suggested that its recommendations should not be implemented until the government has first decided on which agencies are to be scrapped, or restructured or merged. This is very important. And the committee that has been set up to write a white paper on the Oronsaye’s report should note this.

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