The report of the 2012 ‘Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies’ also known as the Oronsaye Panel Report, is a significant public document, which neither time nor event can obliterate from my memory as a document-minded, public affairs journalist. I would like to declare with all sense of responsibility that if the Jonathan administration that set up the committee had implemented the organic recommendations in the report, that would have begun the process of transforming the public service in Nigeria. Doubtless, the cost of governance, which has become a huge burden for the Buhari administration would have been part of our history. Hold your breadth, even ASUU members would have been proud members of Nigeria’s academic community. I mean tertiary education and indeed the university administration generally too would have been made easier and more productive.
The report reveals that a larger percentage of official budget to the tertiary institutions is spent on non-academic activities and non-academic staff.
It is still a mystery how some forces of darkness around the Jonathan administration distracted him from this remarkable, yes well researched document with relevant data on ‘reinventing the public sector in Nigeria’.
This is a time to interview former President Jonathan to speak to the mystery of his simplicity that led to the docility, which paralysed him from implementing the two important documents – that would have made him a hero of democracy beyond accepting defeat in 2015.
I am talking of the 2012 ‘Oronsaye Panel Report’ and the 2014 ‘National Conference Report’.
Let me add this here: those who aspire to lead Nigeria out of the present darkness should look for the organic report and study it. It is full of details for serious minded technocrats who would like to study ‘The trouble with the public service in Nigeria’. There is no bombast in the document. It is a masterpiece by those who believe that indeed facts are sacred.
Such patriots who would like to be part of rebuilding the ‘Federal Republic of the Nigerian Army’ called Nigeria, should study this report. Don’t mind analysts who have not seen the report.
This is one of the benefits of the Hurricane Covid-19, that has triggered a recourse to the rejected stone that has become a cornerstone: the Oronsaye Panel’s Report. I just want to sensitise public-spirited people who may have been discouraged about the Buhari administration. Sorry, this is not a time of despair. Not is it a time of lamentation, which I have always declared here is not a strategy to deal with any challenges. It is time to think of what to do to help our President Buhari, lest we will all suffer consequences of collapse of the public sector.
Don’t get it twisted, corruption fight can’t be won unless the public sector is rejigged to deal with the monster that has diminished Nigeria’s stature. This is not the first time that I have dealt with the important document here. I mention this regularly on different platforms including the famous ‘Journalists Hangout’ on ‘TVC’.
Specifically, on April 28, and May 5, 2019, in a serialised article here titled ‘Buhari, Governors and Cabinets of Significance(1&2)’, I dwelt extensively on this document, which would have been a difference maker in Buhari administration.
Lest we forget, the first part of the article appeared on April 28 while the president was prepared to travel to the U.K where it was speculated he would work on his cabinet list. It was indeed a paradox of development that our President actually did exactly the opposite of what was suggested when he increased the number of ministries and cost of governance.
I noted then, ‘…This is the right time to encourage our leaders at all levels, notably the president, the governors and national assembly leaders who are on the verge of dissolving old cabinets, advisory boards and making new ones to consider the time and the season that are shaping our destiny in the country at the moment.
Elections are over. It is time for governance. So, from the office of the citizen should flow constructive suggestions on how to evaluate the effects of the rains that have been beating us since 1999 generally and specifically since 2015. It may not be a time to share blames. But our leaders should not entertain sycophants at this time. They should be prepared to listen to some voices of wisdom, which an ancient word says is the principal thing. That word says if you are blessed with wisdom, that power (of wisdom) will promote you in any office you occupy and that same power from above will decorate you ‘with ornament of grace’. That is why leaders need to ask for wisdom, which is different from knowledge or high intelligence quotient. Young readers need to note this distinction…
‘The consequences of the quality of presidential and gubernatorial bureaucracies appointed four years ago have been visible.The implications of the quality of security and intelligence chiefs, chief executives of agencies and others procured in 2015, too have been glaring. The consequences of the quality and quantity of the executive councils of the federation and the states (cabinets) since 2015 have been reflecting in so many indices and the way the citizens and indeed the world have perceived us. As I noted the other day here, ‘it is a period of consequences’. Whatever our leaders sowed into their appointments since 2015, we have been reaping. Some of our fathers have sown and eaten sour grapes and so their children’s teeth have been set on edge… ‘
I also added then:
‘We can begin the process of rebuilding our broken walls too by suggesting to the president wherever he is making his appointments. The simple suggestion is that he should this time consider a cabinet of significance to the country. The cabinet he made in 2015 was with due respect what Benjamin Disraeli once described as ‘a cabinet of mediocrities’. One is not too sure even the president has been proud of his (2015-2019) cabinet – that has not been remarkable, anyway. I hope people are aware that those of us in the newsroom have to sometimes use Google to find the names of some ministers and heads of agencies of this government. They have neither been prominent, nor significant. This is not peculiar to Abuja alone. We are quick to fire some regular shots at Abuja only, without considering the fact that there are other 37 centres of the peripheries and 774 local government councils in the federation.
Here was the clincher then on Oronsaye Panel Report: ‘…If the party system were working, there would have been reflection of the ruling party’s programmes in most parts of the country. But we are developing our own peculiar democracy without an ideological road map known as manifestos. That is why I would like to recommend immediately that the president’s good men should dust up the abandoned Steve Oronsaye Panel Report…It is one of the best documents that I have read and kept as a public service journalist. It can be dispassionately studied as a policy document by any good government. The 2012 ‘Presidential Committee on Reforms of Government Agencies’ Report’ can be adopted to restructure the public sector for efficiency and development. There should be no argument about the profile of Chairman of the panel that wrote that significant document. The 800-page report submitted to President Goodluck Jonathan in April 2012, is a classic on efficiency, prudence and lean government at all levels. It is not about Oronsaye. It is about the content of the document – that can be used to transform public service. For instance, the panel recommended the reduction of statutory agencies of government from 263 to 161. Besides, the Oronsaye panel did not see any reason why NTA, FRCN and VOA should be separate entities with three directors-general and three boards of directors. The panel would like the three media outfits to be merged and headed by one director general as it is with the BBC, U.K and SABC, South Africa, etc. I am aware that most government agencies’ heads then compromised the White Paper Committee – to remain as entities. And so president Jonathan was careless about this remarkable document that would have reformed the public sector significantly before 2015. The reason for a specific reference to Oronsaye Report is that this is not a time for big government. It is not a time for more ministries and agencies, especially as revenue has been dwindling and oil remains a major source of revenue for all the states and local governments.
Meanwhile, there have been dark hints that the president would likely expand his cabinet in line with the promise he made to members and officials of his political party the All Progressives Congress (APC) in October 2017, during the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the Party. He had then disclosed his intention to expand his cabinet. “Apart from appointing one minister from each of the 36 states as enshrined in the constitution, the president would also pick one person from each of the six geo-political zones in the country,” one of the sources had hinted. The source added that more ministries would be created and others split in line with the exigencies of the moment. The plan in the new cabinet, it was learnt, would also enable the president accommodate some governors who lost their second term bids and senior party faithful who couldn’t secure seats in the National Assembly.
This is a time to encourage the president to consider the absurdity of allocating more than 70 per cent of the national budget to recurrent expenditure just for public servants and political office holders. This is a time for his party officials to put heads together on prudent management of the nation’s resources. The president needs to cut costs by merging ministries, agencies and even embassies we don’t need. He needs to talk of Nigeria first, not party men first. That is the significant commitment that has made Donald Trump to be both prominent and significant as a leader in America and indeed the world today despite all the bashings by the opposition and the powerful media. He says he will do all that is needed to fight the opposition and indeed the trading partners just to put America first…’
We will continue with this narrative next week on the expediency of looking at how the Oronsaye Panel Report can be reset to restructure the public service that can’t serve public interest at this time. It shouldn’t be about reduction of cost of governance alone, it should also be about efficiency of the public service.
* This article was first published by The Guardian newspaper on Sunday, May 10, 2020.