For many Nigerians, the road to transformation and salvation may still be long and tortuous. This is because governments at all levels are ignoring the need to cut costs. This is one issue the Presidential Advisory Council, PAC, harped on before it was dissolved early this year. The council had argued that reducing the size of government would bring down the cost of governance and free money for much needed socio-economic development.
Up to January this year, after a meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan, Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, a retired general and the council’s chairman, repeated this request, which was a cardinal point on their long list of recommendations put together to place the country on an even keel.
The council had asked the President to cut down the number of ministries, departments and agencies, MDAs, to free resources for other productive uses instead of paying salaries of civil servants alone. There was no doubt that the council was speaking the minds of many Nigerians and the media, including this magazine, which had twice argued along this line.
But it is clear that President Jonathan only listened; he never bought the idea of a leaner and more responsive government. Like his predecessors who ran unwieldy governments, the President proceeded to appoint 42 ministers and 20 special advisers, SAs in addition to the existing bloated MDAs whose staff are now warming up for the new minimum-wage largesse. And with the President apparently unwilling to toe this line of persuasion, governors in most states of the federation are similarly wasting public resources on large armies of commissioners, SAs and assistants ostensibly as aides to advise on virtually every issue under the sun. Indeed, the governors seem to be running a circus featuring men and women (some of them, people of shady characters) who had helped them to power.
Surely, this misguided executive pursuit, as it is, is a sad promotion of sinecures as a directive principle of state policy. For instance, most of the states have an average of between 13 and 29 commissioners and a coterie of SAs from five to about 66! The Imo state governor Rochas Okorocha led the pack with 66 (some say the figure is more than that) SAs/assistants, some of them handling portfolios as ridiculous as SA Igbo Affairs, SA Orlu Zonal Security, SA Lagos Affairs and Chief Comedian of the State! With 17 commissioners and 66 other aides, Imo State has a total of 83 aides working for the governor. Kayode Fayemi, Ekiti State governor, and Sullivan Chime, the former’s counterpart in Enugu, are next with 81 aides each. Fayemi has 64 advisers/assistants and 17 commissioners while Chime’s team of 81 is made up of 25 commissioners and 56 advisers/assistants.
By these appointments, the governors give the impression that they are exercising powers conferred on them under Section 14 (4) of the constitution which states that the composition of the government of a state or local council (and their agencies) “shall be carried out in such manner as to recognise… the diversity of the people within its area of authority and the need to promote a sense of belonging and loyalty among all the peoples of the federation.”
Although this section and Section 192 dealing with the appointment of commissioners are not categorical about the number of such aides, it is envisaged that political players, taking into consideration the resources of the states, would operate within the limits of reason and do what is right, just and defensible.
It is disturbing that governors, like Okorocha, have, in making such ridiculous appointments, unwittingly reduced governance to a pedestrian and irresponsible affair. They have amplified the letter of the constitution to the detriment of its spirit, which they have bastardised and made irrelevant. Indeed, these governors, being clever by half, have allowed the payment of IOUs to their political foot soldiers and godfathers render meaningless the raison d’être of their all-important mandate. With such unwieldy cabinets, it is unfortunate that the states’ treasuries are now prone to insensate looting.
We cannot imagine how much this will eventually cost the electorate, especially taxpayers in terms of salaries and emoluments.
One national newspaper put the cost of running our bloated cabinets of about 1,411 members, at both federal and state levels only, at over N64 billion in four years. This is, no doubt, a very conservative estimate that excludes other perks for these politicians. Even then, for a country ravaged by grinding poverty where governments are saying they cannot afford to pay a minimum wage of (N18,000 or a meagre $120 per month), it speaks volumes about a misplacement of priorities by those who are supposed to govern the people. Sometimes we wonder why we, in this part of the world, breed locusts instead of leaders.
We feel really sad that like what obtains at the federal level, governors in the states are engaged in a wanton waste of resources that could be used to save the lives of millions in the throes of poverty and want. We expect legislators in states where these governors, in our view, preside to rise today to check their excesses in this regard. No governor should have more than 10 commissioners and five advisers/assistants as members of his cabinet. The civil service is there with much more experienced hands to assist the government when and where necessary.
It may bear suggestion in the circumstance, that Sections 14(4) and 192 of the constitution should be amended to put a ceiling to the number of commissioners and other aides a state governor should have. The prevailing situation is not only giving room for abuse, it is an opportunity to steal from the till in the name of compensating some political parasites. We are not opposed to creating jobs to absorb the teeming crowd of job seekers in the country but such effort should be well planned and coordinated in collaboration with the private sector.
Governance, we dare say, is a serious business that does not deserve to be trivialised by political comedians who suddenly find themselves in power only to discover that they are bereft of the needed ideas to drive modern governments. They must either shape up or ship out.