Nothing would provoke an outrage as a call to phase out the Nigerian third tier of government in the next constitutional dispensation but it is very rational that this incubus be thrown into the abyss to resurface no more. Another moot point is the fact that the vast resources of this country are cornered by less than 0.1 per cent of the population and we appear helpless in the face of this abnormalty.
No one else could know the figure better than Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who said the country expends 70 per cent of its annual budget to service and maintain its bi-cameral legislature, raising the pertinent question: do we need 109 senators and 360 representatives to make good laws? Is Nigeria better off with the large corterie of presidential and gubernatorial aides?
The Supreme Military Councils of the Yakubu Gowon and Murtala/Obasanjo juntas were made up of about 20 brass hats with some super permanent secretary attendees. Yet these executive cum legislative bodies made laws that are still in force today. Two of these enduring statutes are the National Youth Service Corps and the Land Use Act. Obasanjo and Generals Sani Abacha/Abdulsalami Abubakar merely played to the gallery setting up constitution drafting committees which reports were doctored and vetted to boot by a handful soldiers to give Nigeria the supreme laws that the emergent democracies were and have not been able to tinker with. Thirteen odd years have passed since the Abacha/Abubakar 1999 Constitution was promulgated into law yet the unwieldy democracy it foisted on Nigeria remains nonplus about how to amend what some gun-toting hot-heads could suspend without much ado.
In military climes, the executive and the legislature were one and the same set of people. But democracies democratise wastage and enthrone profligacy. The military, neither consulting far nor wide, constructed the 774 drain pipelines in the name of local governments and inflated the administrative units from five to 38.
The plethora of local governments is another ball game entirely. With due deference to the founding fathers’ lofty vision to devolve administration down to the grassroots, the whole exercise has smashed on the faces of rational people like putrid eggs. In concept, the council idea is superb but in practice it is shambolic and a huge failure and this is provable.
Monthly Federal allocations to the 774 local governments are too huge to imagine. The last one published by the allocation committee revealed an average of N115 million. What, for instance, would a local government in remote areas do with such allocation in addition to statutory internal revenue generation? The evidence points to nothing in particular.
We have these supine grassroots administrations groaning under their state government overlords who sit on the joint accounts. It is not unlikely that less than 50 per cent of the monthly allocations are cornered by the predatory state governments and the rest expended on overblown officials and the pecuniary interests of local politicians. The concept of grassroots development thus becomes vacuous, empty in every material particular.
Governor Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State has had his handpicked caretaker committees in place since he assumed judicial muscle to rule the state almost four years ago in spite of constitutional provisions that the third tier must be administered by elected politicians. Has he been tinkering with the federal allocations to the third tier in that state? If he has, he is not alone. Lagos has 20 constitutionally recognised local governments. Thirty-seven new ones, though with new nomenclature, were crafted. How allocations for 20 are shared among 57 is shrouded in the state oversight bogey. Woe betide the city father that dares raise his shrunken hand in protest.
The above is just the tip of an iceberg. In Imo State where Emperor Rochas Okorocha is in control, the election of the council officials prior to his electoral conquest has been abridged in deft moves.
The local governments have become the fertile backyards for the lordly governors to plough to boot through the instrumentality of the joint account provision. Yet some of these states are glorified councils with complete reliance on largese from the centre. Yet the governors till and plough the councils, rendering the land infertile and barren. The concept of tertiary administration in today’s Nigeria is no longer feasible beyond that it is avenue for further extortion of the people at the grassroots. The only viable option, though unpopular, is to scrap them.
The 36 state governors rose from their monthly forum in November vowing to resist any constitutional amendment that would remove their sticky, oily hands from the councils’ purses. They love their oversight and are diabolically bent on continually riding roughshod on their spineless victims. Yes, no one lets go the goose that is still laying the golden eggs even if the bird and the system are worse off. The master-slave relationship is salacious and must be vehemently defended.
Our very good governors also want more power devolved to them from the centre. Yes, our Excellencies at the state level love the power to control, to challenge but not to be challenged.
The civil service is as old as Nigeria and the concept of permanence, severally bandied during military era, has remained with these civil, or do we say, evil, servants. The service is bursting at the seams with all manner of workers who are more patient than the vulture in their attitude to work. They can remain in their high or low stations irrespective of defects and proclivity to do wrong. The service is the evil spirit that drives the engine of government; it is the driving force of the miasma of corruption in the political system. Without the service no wrong will occur.
The issue at stake is more urgent than aspersion casting. It is the fact that the service at all levels is too loaded with personnel. There ought to be a drastic reduction in the workforce. The suggestion of 50 per cent reduction is still too conservative for comfort. Development of Nigeria must start with looking critically at the bloated service, unwieldy legislature and the overstuffed political offices.
If we must develop social infrastructure, empanel social insurance, energise the industries, give lifelines to micro and macro businesses to bail Nigeria out of crippling unemployment, if we must reduce the lure of political office and encourage entrepreneurial drive, if we must shift from government-do-all syndrome, we must look at the workforce in the public sector. We must do away with bi-camera legislature and prune the number of the lawmakers to less than 100. The executives at the centre and state levels must do away with too large a cabinet and forget about the so-called senior assistants and special advisers whose presence in government is less salutary, uncomplimentary and a bizarre distraction. Job for the boys’ syndrome, at the expense of the larger society must stop. Trillions of naira will be saved monthly be merely plugging the local government channels.
Monies saved from these pare downs will be available for real and meaningful development which will reduce the level of poverty and alleviate crass misery in the society. Recurrent expenditures in future budgets should be brought down to less than 40 per cent and the rest devoted and dedicated to capital development. This is the only path to sanity.