IDEAS Radio 8 May 2020

The Oronsaye Report and IDEAS

Aghogho Oboh: Shaku maku everybody!  I finally get the opportunity to tell you: Shaku maku!  Fine sunny afternoon in the city of Lagos, and am I delighted to be back on the Public Square!  Grand merci beaucoup to the guardian of the Public Square in the past month, Chukwudi Ezugwu, for keeping things in check.  And so we are going to throw rings all around the Square, from IDEAS with Ayo Obe, to the Square with Rotimi Sankore who’ll be joining me very soon.  Remember, you can join conversation on Twitter @PublicSquareNG on @NigeriaInfo @RotimiSankore, @ideasradiong @aghghoobo and you can send your thoughts and comments to us also on WhatsApp.  On IDEAS we’re going to be focusing on the Steve Oronsaye Report.  And I believe Ayo is right here with me?  Hello Ayo?

Ayo Obe: Hi Aghogho, how are you?  Welcome back.   

AgO: Grand Merci Beaucoup!

AO: Let me also join you in thanking Chukwudi for the yeoman’s job that he did in holding the fort during the Lockdown.

AgO: Absolutely, absolutely.  And we’re going to take it up from there, because quite a lot has happened.  I can’t imagine in our years of having seen things happening, not just globally, also internationally, nationally also too, how things have happened very quickly.  One single incident appears to be affecting every single one of us from the economy to the environment, everywhere has been affected by COVID-19.  And I think no better time for us to get back to the Steve Oronsaye Report.  Ayo, someone was just joking, and said that you know how we say: Better late than never.  Might as well just get back to a report that … this is going to be like the ninth year after the report was … well eighth year I think, when the report was submitted to former President Goodluck Jonathan, and it had been like the bogeyman from one administration to the next, but it appears that now, we are on that road.  Em, Ayo …

AO: Yeah, I think … I think that we have to look at the context in which this is occurring Aghogho, and the fact is that … we’ve seen that apart from the actual physical and clinical impact of the COVID-19 virus, the economic impact has been even worse.  In fact in Nigeria’s case – I was going to call it a ‘double whammy’, but actually, if we look at the fact that first of all, the first whammy is the simple shut down of the economy.  Economic activities ground to a halt during Lockdown, and even though the whole country was not locked down, by the time you take Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory, and then you add to that the fact that various state governments from Rivers State – which is a hub for our petroleum industry – Kaduna State and others, were implementing their own versions of Lockdown, then you will see that effectively, economic activities across the country had ground to a halt.  So that was the first whammy.  Then there was the fall in the price of oil, which is a reflection of the downturn in economic activities across the … the world: people aren’t flying, people aren’t travelling, people are staying home, so they are not using petrol and so the price plummeted.  But I think that we should also bear in mind that  there’s going to be a third whammy.  And that is that even when the … the medical aspects of the virus have been addressed, the world’s economy is still not going to be running at full speed any more.  I mean, even those economies that are opening up and are quote and unquote, are doing so with “social distancing measures” which mean that, I mean for example, just think about a restaurant: it depends on having a lot of people coming in.  If it can now only accommodate a quarter of those it used to accommodate, then for some, it’s going to be that: I can’t make money that way, I have to close down.  So it’s actually a triple whammy.

AgO: Exactly.  Hmmm.  Something for us to think about.  Tell me something also too.  The Federal Government has been … a pot pourri of … solutions, or recommendations or proposals being put forward on how to deal … for example, you’ve mentioned the state governments, some have talked about reduction in wages.  And the government has said: Let’s look, how we can implement this Steve Oronsaye Report.  How does this raise issues with IDEAS?

AO: Well, I mean, the thing is that, Aghogho, you know what they say: You should never let a good crisis go to waste. 

AgO: Absolutely.

AO: And so, the Federal Government … I mean, as you mentioned, the state governments, they have been trying their own; the Federal Government has already taken advantage of the crisis and the downturn in the price of oil, to reduce the cost of petrol to the Nigerian consumer; but undoubtedly the main issue that it’s … or the main way in which it’s responding, is supposed to be the implementation of the Oronsaye Report.  But you know, as we say, IDEAS are about Integrity as well as Democracy, Ethics and Accountability, so when we try to look at the statement by the Federal Government: “We are going to implement the Oronsaye Report”, I think the first question that we have to ask ourselves, is: Well, what is it that you’re going to be implementing?  Because after the Oronsaye Report, the Federal Government of the day, which is the administration headed by President Goodluck Jonathan, reviewed the report and they came out with a White Paper, and that White Paper, by the time it had finished, it … basically, it either ditched or shelved more than eighty … more than ninety percent frankly, of the Oronsaye Report.  So that: is it … is the Federal Government planning to follow on from the White Paper issued by the previous administration?  Or is it going back to the Oronsaye Report itself and looking at what it needs to be … what it needs to do?  And quite frankly, nobody should just have a knee jerk reaction of blaming the previous administration for not accepting all the recommendations of the Oronsaye panel, because that … it was a “Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalising of Federal Governmental Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies”.   But it was a technical committee,  and once a technical committee  has done its work, there are always, always going to be political and economic implications for … to be considered.  And those are what the panel that the Federal Government would set up to review the Report would … would have to take into consideration before it came out with its … with its recommendations about what should be done with regard to the Report.  Now, we can say that, even with the remaining ten percent, the previous administration didn’t do anything.  But when the Buhari administration came to power in 2015, they too didn’t do anything!  So I think that the first issue is: Which is it that you’re going …  are you going back to the original Report?  And then … or are you just following on from the recommendations which took into account certain political and economic considerations as at 2014 when that White Paper came out?  And if you are, are they the same considerations for you, given the fire on our particular mountain right now?

AgO: So … I know you’ve talked about the fact that the main thing with the Report, a number of measures here and there, and the entire picture we got at the end, was a slash in the numbers by nearly a third.  There’ve been a lot of controversy over whether any of those things will work.  Take for example, the merging of the anti-corruption agencies.  I remember that when it was proposed then, it was such a big argument on whether or not it made any sense.  But what are your thoughts if that comes before the table again, if you’re going to have to merge anti-corruption agencies like the ICPC and the EFCC?

AO: Well, I think that definitely from the IDEAS perspective, the proposed … the proposal of the Oronsaye Report that these anti-corruption agencies should be merged, is one that actually highlights some of the issues that we should consider.  It recommended that the Code of Conduct Bureau, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission should be merged.  But the reality is that while the Code of Conduct Bureau is a creation of the Nigerian Constitution, whereas the ICPC and the EFCC are created by statute, it is actually the ICPC that is the more all-encompassing, because Code of Conduct Bureau is about public servants, EFCC was actually supposed to be about financial crime: whereas the ICPC looks at the … is supposed to consider not just financial crime, not just the conduct of public officers, but the whole national approach to corruption, corrupt issues, and also, to actually be a proactive and preventive agency.  However, if something is in the Constitution, is the government ready to propose the necessary legislation to ensure that an encompassing body will have the power?  We’ve just seen  in the case of the judgment of Justice … of Senator Orji … 

AgO: Orji Uzor Kalu.

AO: … Uzor Kalu, that good intentions about saving money, speeding things up, can be stymied if you don’t pay attention to the constitutional requirements and make sure that you get your constitutional … constitutional amendments or alterations through to support the legislation or the cost cutting that you want to do.

AgO: Very true.

AO:  We’ve already seen, when it talks about ministries, cutting the number of ministries you have to amend the Constitution if you want to cut the number of ministries.  Is the government ready to do that?  Because otherwise, we’ve … it’s not the first time that there have been recommendations for saving money by cutting costs in Nigeria.  In fact any time there’s fire on the financial mountain, government starts talking about saving money.  The question is: When they talk, do they convert their talk into action?  And so far, on the contrary, since the Oronsaye Report, even more ministries, agencies and bodies have been created!

AgO: OK Ayo.  This one is also very important.  I know that they say, I think it was Dante who said, that: If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, I can’t imagine what is the road to Heaven paved … whether it will be bad intentions, because I’ve been …

AO: It’s straight and narrow!

AgO: … I’ve been hearing a number of people saying that … that we’ve had recommendations, we’ve had proposals  I mean, the executive, whether it’s the federal or the state level saying they’re going to do x, y and z, because of the economic realities we face now as a nation because of … crude oil isn’t exactly where it should be … and serious shortfall in revenue.  But they’ve said that the legislatures have been quiet.  In the past, they’ve faced a lot of criticism with respect to allowances and all of that and people expecting them to maybe make those cuts themselves.  What do you think?

AO: Well I think you make a very good point Aghogho, because, this report is about the Federal Government, but the fall in income is not going to affect just the Federal Government, it’s going to affect  government at all levels, and it’s going to affect every arm of government.  And even when Nigeria was swimming in money, the expenditure in the National Assembly was the cause for comment, and … it’s one of the things that I can’t just forget was the sight of the National Assembly receiving quote and unquote “luxury cars” as Nigerians were being asked to tighten their belts.  And so I think it’s … it’s legitimate to ask: Is there room for belt-tightening in the National Assembly?  We know that Governor Kayode Fayemi, who is the Chair of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, had urged that we should consider having a unicameral legislature.  You know, in some countries like Senegal – maybe it’s because we only hear about the end result – it looks as if was a very easy thing for them to do: We abolish the Senate and we concentrate on having just one legislature.  But in Nigeria again, between the technical decision and the political and the economic impact, there are a lot of hurdles; whether they are good intentions or not, I don’t care to say, but it’s certainly one of the areas.  But even without banning … without doing away with the bicameral legislature, there are still … a lot of room for … belt tightening by the legislature.  And of course, we’ve seen that the state governments themselves … they’ve had  a very varied response, which is … appropriate for a federation, but as I’ve said, the money that is coming in, is going down.  So while you have some states like … in fact I think Ekiti State is one of those which has imposed  a pay cut on its political appointees, and they’re doing that as a prelude to telling their workers: You’re also going to have to tighten your belts and accept pay cuts.  Of course the Nigeria Labour Congress is saying: “Na ah, that’s not going to happen.”  But then you have other State governments that are really … I mean, we just saw in Cross River State, 427 Special … Special Advisers appointed by the Governor …

AgO: Yes, this is ludicrous!

AO:  And I think that at the bottom of it is the, in a way, the failure to understand the link between … not so much the size of government, but the function of government.  Because it’s not … because for example, there are some areas of government where you can’t just say we’re going to cut them, like the police, the judiciary – cases are being delayed.  But if you don’t understand the function of government, then your … your tendency is to create roadblocks and red tape, rather than saying: Are we here as an end in ourselves?  Or are we here to facilitate and liberate the potential and the power of the Nigerian people?  And I think that without that, the Integrity that is brought to the administration, or to the implementation of the Oronsaye Report,  definitely there has to be a review before you go with what was happening six years or so ago, but even if you are going to do that, you have to understand: What do I want to achieve?  

AgO: Absolutely.

AO: Do I just want to save money?  Or do I really want to use this crisis as an opportunity to get myself a functioning, facilitating public service?

AgO: Mmmm.  Plenty of food for thought.  To bring today’s edition of IDEAS to a close, what are your final thoughts Ayo?

AO: Well, I would say, that as I said, I think that the review has to be not just at the  federal level but at the state level.  I mean some states are spending huge amounts of their income.  I mean, Kano State, when the Oronsaye Report was out, Kano State had the highest amount that it was spending on overheads.  Definitely the National Assembly cannot just be making noise about others: it has to also show that it is cutting its …  tightening its own belt.  Because we are not coming out of this crisis in five minutes.  When the virus is defeated or there’s a vaccine, we’re not going to return to normal.  The environment may have benefited from the lack of burning of fossil fuels, but for the rest of us, we have to get used to a world in which tightening the belt is not just that – you know that famous cartoon about the fisherman whom the billionaire meets and says: Why are you just spending all day relaxing and fishing when you could be out making money and making money so that you could then come and relax and fish – we’re a bit in that kind of  situation.  Are we just going to have economic activity for the sake of it?  Or are we going to liberate people to make their own money, even if it means that we are looking at a slightly smaller GDP?  So I think that these are some of the issues that we need to bear in mind as we consider: Is the Federal  serious about implementing the Oronsaye Report.

AgO: Alright, we’ll leave it at that.  Thank you very much Ayo Obe.

AO: It’s my pleasure.

AgO: Alright.  So we’ll continue with the Square right after this break.  please don’t go anywhere.