Big Government, Low Effectiveness &  29 Ministries

Reading Abimbola Adelakun’s two part series (in Punch Newspaper) on “What does the Ministry of Science and Technology do, really?” got me thinking – should we even have one at all?  If you have not read Abimbola’s insightful contribution, I advise you to take a minute to do so here and there. Adelakun describes a non-functional website, a ministry seemingly ignorant of its role in the polity and even more disturbingly one where its functions are duplicated yet almost a billion dollars is budgeted annually to service obligations to it… mainly salaries. Of what use is such agency?

The problems described are not limited to the Ministry of Science and Technology but only illustrates the larger problem of a clueless bureaucracy. One can be certain that outside the Ministries of Finance, Defense, Petroleum and perhaps the Foreign Affairs Ministry, a large majority of Nigeria’s agencies currently exist within a web of laws or by fiat and provide no real services to the public.

We should be curious enough to ask why a Nation of 170 million people, ranking as one of the 20th poorest nations in the world requires twenty eight ministries to discharge its functions, while the richest nation in the world (USA) requires just fifteen (15) Departments? What value does a ministry such as the Science & Technology Ministry serve versus the Information, Communication Technology (ICT) Ministry? Why is the Science & Technology, or the ICT Ministry not super departments in the Ministry of Education?

Why does Nigeria require a Ministry for Woman Affairs? Yet we maintain the Office of First Lady as well? Do we really need a Ministry of Police Affairs when the Nigeria Police Force is one unitary agency with its own Inspector General appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate? The creepiest of all Ministries has got to be the ministry of Information and Communications? Inform whom? What services does the Trade & Investment Ministry perform that can’t be performed by the Ministry of Finance or the separately named Ministry of Commerce? For heaven’s sake who is running this mad shop?

No wonder then that Nigeria spent 67.49% of its meager budget of $30.97 billion in 2013 on recurrent activities i.e. salaries (which was 38.67% of total), security votes and debt service. To put this in context, the State of Texas with just 25.6 million people had a budget of $94.6 billion in the same period, and you won’t see them frittering it away on sponsoring “pilgrims to holy lands”. …Where they have no business!

Nigeria’s budget is not only a litany of waste and unnecessary spending, but one filled with holes, poorly imagined projects and above all; duplications! Indeed, the roughly 1.5 million people that make up the National Public Services were spending 50% of its budget, while the remaining 50% hopefully will find its way to the pockets of 158.5 million Nigerians standing outside the fray! Of course never mind that this is a country that has the highest number of children (10.6 million) out of school, and the only polio infested country in the world!

Don’t take my word for it; ask the former Minister of FCT, Mallam El Rufai who led the first drive to reform the public sector when he served in the Obasanjo administration. He said of his 2005 exercise, and I quote: “The civil service was rapidly ageing, mostly untrained and largely under-educated. Their average age then was 42 years, and over 60% were over 40 years. Less than 12% of the public servants held university degrees or equivalent. Over 70% of the service were (sic) of the junior grades 01-06, of sub-clerical and equivalent skills. About 20% of the public service employees were 'ghost workers' - non-existent people on the payroll which goes to staff of personnel and accounts departments.” You will think I was making this up, if I never quoted El Rufai himself.

Well it didn’t get better in 2012, as the same El Rufai now reveals in his book that all the 36,843 civil servants he got severed in his 2005 exercise and to whom huge severance benefits were paid in 2005, about 20,000 have since found their way back into the civil service, and we are now paying those salaries again- and I’m very sure they are receiving their pensions at the same time! It is Nigeria, go figure.

A cursory review of Nigeria’s national government reveals a grossly imbalanced system of top-heavy bureaucracy, overpaid political class and plenty of Chiefs with no Indians. A thorough review by the more recent Orosanya Committee penciled some 38 agencies for outright scrapping and 52 others for merger; this in my opinion is actually conservative. The petty fights and struggle to keep some of these agencies open should be expected; many of them exist as basket cases and as sources of enormous leakages of our national purse. One can go through a litany of Ministries and Agencies Nigerians do not need, and we don’t need a committee to tell us that. Why do we need ICPC, EFCC and Nigeria Police Force, yet a single act of corruption by a serving Minister goes uninvestigated?

At the center of this problem is a matter of structure, policy and law. The executive arm of Nigeria’s government has from inception grown as large as it can be without any legislative oversight. The executive arm it appears exists as a center to feed the boys; feel your need to compensate your old buddy with a position or a lucrative contract? Well, just create an agency or even a Ministry!

To fix this reality is to settle for real legislative action, which the current crop of corrupt legislature, I’m afraid are too compromised to take on. It will require legislating into existence only a few specific ministries that Nigeria needs and removing the inane clause from the constitution that requires every state to have a Minister. A requirement for balanced geographical spread is good enough; every state does not need a Minister.

We know we don’t need a Science and Technology Ministry; we just need few Ministries; fewer big men and more dutifully hardworking public servants. We don’t need a bunch of bureaucrats or their political plutocrat cousins that feed fat on the national lard; we need few good men. We perhaps need a Ministry of Defense, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Education, Health, Infrastructure, Interior, Justice, Energy & Resources, Housing & Urban Development, Agriculture, Tourism & Culture, and Commerce (to include all things Transport, Telecommunication and Industry). All manned with Ministers and deputies that won’t fritter public funds on bulletproof vehicles.

The National Planning, Sports and Environmental Commissions should be maintained as cabinet level offices in the Presidency; but why the Environmental Protection Agency need to become a Ministry rather than an enforcement agency in the first place shows the vanity of their initial creation (keep the FCT and Niger Delta Ministries, those are special needs). We don’t need a Police Ministry, and the policing function should be devolved to ensure better security in every nook and cranny of our beautiful country. The Information Ministry should go away, I’m sure the Presidency can handle its own propaganda and stand-alone public corporations to oversee the public broadcast networks should be established as it is done in saner climes. We know the solutions to our problems, the President just need some courage and balls to do his job. Eighteen cabinet level offices or less will get the job done, we should stop deceiving ourselves.

In a country like Nigeria, we need few men, a strong cabinet of focused officers to tackle our growing national pain. Not more than thirty percent of the budget should be spent on recurrent activities, and I tend to agree with Vice President Atiku that an outright ban on using non-tax or duties revenue to pay salaries should be on the books. This will permanently put a lid on recurrent expenditure, and force us to live within our means. New found resource wealth will then be focused on improving our rotting infrastructure- be it roads, airports or rails; rebuilding our cities, ensuring we have good schools, hospitals and security; you know, those things politicians have forgotten they owe us as citizens.



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