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Efforts in the past to restructure the federal workforce or its agencies failed. But the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita, said last month that the workforce would be restructured or repositioned this year for enhanced service delivery. The move has already been approved by the Federal Executive Council. That is right.
The agencies to be affected, according to her, are Office of HoS, Nigeria Immigration Service, Pharmacists Council of Nigeria, National Institute for Educational Planning and Administration, National Agency for Great Green Wall, Optometrist and Dispensing Opticians Registration Board, Corporate Affairs Commission and the Nigeria Institute of Soil Science. It is not clear if this streamlining will be limited to these organisations.
Evidently, all indices point to the fact that the government has a bloated workforce and a civil service that is anything but result-oriented. Every administration since 1999 noticed this challenge, but none mustered the required political will to rout the rot.
These antecedents, therefore, leave little to cheer about the new Oyo-Ita initiative, despite being a move in the right direction. Any meaningful reconfiguration should begin with implementing the Oronsaye report, which President Muhammadu Buhari’s government had embraced with the reconstitution of its implementation committee in 2016, headed by the erstwhile Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal.
That the federal workforce is wracked by fraud is evident in successive governments’ endless weaning of “ghost workers” from the system. At least 60,000 of them have been uncovered by the present administration, thus saving the public treasury of N142 billion from the hands of bandits in the bureaucracy. A similar weeding out of 60,000 ghost names through personnel biometric data capturing was done by the immediate past administration.
Yet, the government is encumbered with a N165 billion monthly wage bill, according to the Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, in addition to N16 billion for pension, as of June 2016. Part of this cost is defrayed by borrowing. A report from the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation showed that N763.64 billion was spent between February and April last year on salaries and pensions. Interestingly, an analysis showed that while N181.52 billion and N182.7 billion were spent in February and March respectively on salaries, the figure spiked to N268.28 billion in April. Government does not exist only to pay salaries of a few, at the expense of provision of infrastructure: roads, education, healthcare, environmental protection and security.
Any reform of the civil service that will work – call it workforce repositioning or agencies’ restructuring – must have a tripartite bearing: the government, the legislature and the organised labour. This is essential because of the vested interests of the lawmakers and the labour. Agencies set up by an Act of Parliament cannot be scrapped by mere executive fiat, just as the labour unions will always protect their members’ interest even on grounds that run against the grain of commonsense.
In kicking against the White Paper that sprang from Oronsaye, the Nigeria Labour Congress, for instance, said, “…the NLC believes that the cost of governance needs to be reduced, although we think this has to do mainly with government expenditure on political appointees and hangers-on.” Indeed, it is always a rough-and-tumble undertaking here. What Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State is going through with his decision to replace 21,000 incompetent primary school teachers is an eye-opener.
Regrettably, lack of national planning makes the matter worse. While the government is over-burdened by huge wages and is attempting to downsize the number of MDAs, more of them are being created by our lawmakers, whose legislative activities are driven by the rule of thumb. They pay no attention to the basic principle of scrupulously considering the cost implications of the passage of any bill before doing so.
Recently, the President signed into law eight bills that set up more agencies or expanded the scope of existing ones. This means more funding. One of them – the National Institute of Legislative Studies – has been accorded a degree awarding status, focusing on democracy, party politics, electoral process, legislative practice and procedures. This is uncalled for as there are more than 100 public and private universities with political science departments that could run courses in these areas. The number of such MDAs created by National Assembly since 2012 when Oronsaye raised the red flag could be unimaginable.