Editor’s note: In this week's column, Japheth Omojuwa enlists the help of Bello El-Rufai; they put their heads together to come up with the key strategy that would be crucial in transforming and rightsizing the existing government.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Legit.ng.
— “We have now seen beyond reasonable doubt that enlarging the size of government creates more problems than solutions"
— “To reduce spending by cutting the number of federal ministers and state commissioners might sound like a great idea on the surface, but it is barely a scratch at the real problem"
— “Reducing the number of government ministries would help save a much more substantial amount of money"
Across the board, state governments and the federal government in Nigeria have become too big and have lost efficiency. At least eighteen Nigerian states owe their workers. The federal government continues to owe its workers despite claims to the contrary.
What is the point of a civil service that cannot earn enough money for its own upkeep?Are the workers not creating enough value to even grant their own salaries? If workers are creating value, why are they being owed? We have a structural challenge in Nigeria’s civil service, and our 'big government' problems will continue unless we carry out urgent reforms. We have now seen beyond reasonable doubt that enlarging the size of government creates more problems than solutions.
One of the ways many, including the party in power, the APC, have suggested ways of how the federal and state governments could reduce spending is cutting the number of federal ministers and state commissioners. That sounds like a great idea on the surface, but it is barely a scratch at the real problem. An extra minister costs the country just about N10 million per year in earnings, allowances and upkeep. An extra commissioner in a state is likely to cost even less. So if you reduce the number of ministers from 42 to, say, 30, you’d be saving about N120 million. In the grand scope of things, that means zilch. That the constitution constraints the federal government to have a minister from every state of the federation essentially means that we cannot even have less than 37 ministers to accommodate the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. What then can we do?
The idea is not essentially to reduce the number of ministers; the idea is to reduce the number of federal government ministries. Mind that every government ministry must have a permanent secretary, at least four directors, in most cases more than that. Add assistant directors and other subordinates down the chain. All of these high-earning grade-level civil servants earn fat salaries and allowances. What is more crucial is the fact that, unlike ministers, they earn pensions and gratuities. They are virtually permanent burdens on the government even after their retirement.
According to Nasir El-Rufai, Kaduna state governor, each new ministry costs the federal government at least N10 billion per year in these payments. Reducing the number of government ministries from 42 to, for example, 30 would help the government save about N120 billion. Now that is a substantial amount of money. This is the point at which President Buhari may have to reconsider his position on ministers of state if he is to meet the constitutional provision on number of ministers and also save costs. In addition to that, Lagos lawyer Festus Keyamo believes the president will not be breaching the constitution if he appoints less than 37 ministers.
State governments like Kano, Kaduna and Oyo that have already announced a reduction in ministries appear to understand this idea of rightsizing government, not to mention the attendant savings that would accrue to their governments. This is the path the Buhari administration must take to start its way towards reducing the size of government. It is easier to do this than to reduce the humongous size of the civil service sector for instance. It is unfortunate that the sector that earned N800 billion in salaries in 2010 now earns as much as N1.8 trillion. But we are past the complaining time, now is the time to fix the mess left by the Jonathan administration.
The Buhari administration needs to effect a drastic reduction in the number of government ministries. The federal ministry of transportation could absorb the ministry of transportation, ministry of aviation and the ministry of works. The federal ministry of energy would serve us better by housing the ministry of power, steel and petroleum. Or move the ministry of power to the vice president’s office. We are better served by a holistic plan on national transportation than disjointed plans which result from breaking up ministries that should be under one umbrella. An energy ministry will focus on our national energy and power plans critical to the development of every sector. We do not need a ministry of information. These cuts can be made across the board. These are only examples.
That would leave us with room for several ministers of state to accommodate the constitutional provision if the constitutional argument would stand. That is not a problem. Like we already demonstrated above, it is not about the number of ministers, it is about the number of ministries. Ministers cost us millions yearly; ministries cost us billions.
Establishing an effective government that caters for people and creates opportunities the people can use for their own development, a government that runs an efficient system requires big, bold and innovative ideas, but in all of these, there are ideas that just require the age-old common sense.
Complex solutions may look beautiful and appealing, but more often than not, simple solutions win. We believe that if the Buhari government is keen on succeeding, it must by all means set about its reforms by plugging wastes and leakages in the system. Ideas will arise focusing on generating more income for the government and diversifying the economy; we would see movement in many cases, but, until we fix our dysfunctional structural problems, real progress will remain elusive.
Japheth Omojuwa is a renowned Nigerian social media expert, columnist and Legit.ng contributor. His co-columnist Bello El-Rufai has a degree in Political Science & International Relations and an MSc in Public Relations and Corporate Communications.