Nigeria: Cost of Governance

Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and the Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, recently differed on the cost of governance, raising a fresh debate on the issue, writes Nkiruka Okoh

In his familiar candour, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, recently raised concerns over the cost of governance in the country. He stirred the hornet’s nest at the 2nd Annual Capital Market Committee retreat held in Warri, Delta State.

At the occasion, Sanusi said it had become impossible for the country to develop under the current constitution unless certain sections are amended. He cited a situation where the constitution provides for more ministers than necessary, saying this raises the cost of governance.

According to him, over 70 per cent of the nation’s revenue is spent on government, leaving 30 per cent for the people, adding that the current political structure is a drain on the national resources.

In a theatrical manner, Sanusi went ahead to proffer a solution. Ironically, his solution soon caused an outrage in the polity. He recommended that the workforce in the civil service should be halved to free up capital for infrastructure development and by extension, boost the economy.

But Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomole, has a different view of the situation. He said at the launch of the Nigerian employees Digital Welfare Scheme (NEDWS), organised by Buyright Africa, that instead government should reduce the overhead cost of all its functionaries by 50 per cent as against reducing the workforce in the civil service.

He held the view that Nigerian workers are the drivers of the economy and as such, should not bear such a brunt. To buttress his argument, he said: “Ministers, commissioners, directors in government parastatals- all live exclusively on their travels and they all fly first and business classes with the best international airlines, thus generating so much cost for the government at the end of the day.”

He said in developed countries, such categories of government employees flew the economy class, “but in Nigeria, government officials travel with their aides and place all expenses on government’s account.”

Oshiomhole noted that the CBN governor was right on the cost of governance in Nigeria being high, but that Sanusi left the real issues unaddressed by calling for a mass retrenchment in the civil service.

He, therefore, said Sanusi’s solution was defective as he did not consider the welfare of the Nigerian workers, who are the real drivers of the economy.

Supporting Oshiomhole’s position, President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Abdulwaheed Umar, said Sanusi had a way with speech but must guide such utterances as a government official.

He claimed that Sanusi left the issue of corruption in government circles to dwell on issues that will affect the Nigerian workers negatively.

Analysts, however, believed that Oshiomole’s view underscores the fact that reality checks have to be made by government officials in terms of their expenditure. The fact that they are in office to serve and ensure that basic societal needs are met should be their primary concern.

Interesting, this debate came at a time that the Nigerian public had been fed with the story that public sector officials expended N300 billion in 2011 on aircraft charter alone and that the presidency is expected to spend even much more in 2013, about N1.2 billion on travels alone.

This is against the backdrop of the fact that the Presidential Air Fleet (PAF) is the third largest in the country, coming after those of Arik Air and Aero Contractors, both commercial airlines, whilst the sum of N9billion is spent annually on maintenance.

Besides, there were reports that the House of Representatives once threw out a motion seeking to rein in government expenditure by reducing the cost of air travels incurred by civil servants in any given year.

The motion, raised by Hon. Eddy Mbadiwe and which sought to limit air travel tickets for civil servants to not more than business class was suspended despite Mbadiwe’s argument that the value of public resources lost through overseas air travel by public servants runs into billions of naira annually.

He was reminded by the Speaker, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, that the said overseas travels were usually statutory entitlements and the cost in line with the recommendation of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMFAC).

But that, analysts said, cannot account for the degree of wastages in the public sector. This, of course, brings to the fore, the issue of the official residence of Vice-President Namadi Sambo. While the total cost of the structure was initially put at N7 billion, contractors are asking for additional N9 billion to bring the total cost of the project to N16 billion.

The same argument applies to the sum of N2.2 billion being proposed for a new banquet hall by the Federal Government.

According to the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Senator Bala Mohammed and his colleague in the information ministry, Labaran Maku, the president requires a smaller banquet hall nearer to his office and a place to host important guests like heads of state and envoys.

For that reason, not because the existing banquet hall has become unusable, government is parting with the sum of N2.2 billion.

This is why analysts believed that the Sanusi option was not well thought out. For instance, according to analysts, if 50 per cent of the civil service workforce is sacked, what alternative has the CBN governor in terms of employment for those who would be forced into the already saturated labour market?

And considering the fact that the current unemployment rate is said to have a strong link with the growing insecurity in the country, ideas that propound more jobs are believed to make sense at this time in the life of the nation.

Yet, analysts believed that the role of an efficient civil service cannot be understated in a developing and even developed societies, hence the need to fight corruption which is the civil service greatest undoing.

Thus, rather than reduce the workforce by 50 per cent, analysts contended that poor attitude to work, redundancy and corruption-related disposition of the civil servants be tackled through effective administration of the civil service commission.

A scholar once described Nigeria as a rich country with poor people. The poverty is evident on the streets and this is said to be a function of leadership failure to follow through with developmental goals, side-by-side with leadership’s penchant for primitive accumulation.

More importantly, analysts contended that the need for the privileged few in the corridors of power to always watch their words and actions has become compelling. It is not enough to solve a problem by creating another through unguarded comments.

This is why Nigerian leaders must be conscious of the fact that the welfare of about 167million should be their primary concern and as such, should focus more on what to be done to make life easier for all.