Could Sanusi Be Right About The Civil Service?

Not too long ago, Nigeria's controversial Central Bank governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, called for a reduction of the federal civil service strength by 50%. As would be expected, many organizations and interest groups, especially the Nigerian Labour Congress, called for his head and suggested federal expenditure reductions instead. Analysts of every profession and media personalities, including one of my favorites, Ijeoma Nwaogwugwu of Thisday Newspapers, offered alternatives to Sanusi's proposal, including a mix of staff and federal expenditure cuts.

The question is, was Sanusi wrong in suggesting that the civil service strength be reduced? Not really. Everyone agrees that the civil service is bloated from local to federal level, yet no one seems to point at the real cause for this problem, beyond the accusations of cronysm, nepotism, and political favoritism. One major reason the civil service employs more people than they need is because Nigeria does not have a social safety net for its poor, old and umemployed. There are no unemployment insurance, medicare of medicaid for the old and disabled, and no assistance for women and infants. So, to compensate for the absence of these alternatives, governments at every level keep employing people they do not need, thereby bloating the civil service. The end-result is non-payment of salaries due to limited funds, causing employees to resort to corrupt practices to feed their families.

Though the NLC would prefer that governments at every level cut expenditures instead of staff strength; the question is, where would they cut from that would not affect the same civil servants NLC would rather protect? Any meaningful cut in government expenditures will ultimately affect the civil service, thereby achieving the same proposal proffered by the central bank governor. Ms. Nwogwugwu's proposal of a blend of elimination of some redundant federal departments, merger of like agencies and ministries, and reduction of senior service renumerations and estacodes -among other suggestions, while favorable, would still involve elinimation of civil serviec jobs, which the NLC will oppose. What we are not aware of is how much, exactly, does Lamido Sanusi expect to save by the proposed reduction of the civil service in half?

Where would the government cut expenditures to achieve the most savings that could be ploughed in to capital development, with a view to creating jobs? During my few days' stay in Nigeria this past Christmas, a few friends and colleagues debated this question and came up with some suggestions among which included the following: reducing the number of federal ministries/ministers to 18; the number of presidential assistants to equal the number of ministeries -18; states reducing their ministries to 9 and applying the same to the special assistants; eliminate most of the redundant and non-viable states - the ones that neither generate enough internal revenue to pay its civil service bills, nor remit any meaningful tax revenues to the federal purse. Some advocated a return to the regional system, or adoption of a six geo-political zone system. Most worrisome to participants in our discussion was the practice of a bi-cameral legislature that is more expensive to run than the American system we borrowed from. To them, Nigeria does not need more than five house members and two senators per state; the 470-member national assembly is viewed as useless and ineffective, yet government spends billions to fund them while members run around pursuing contracts outside the chambers.

As the NLC suggested, cutting in half the number of travel and other expenses by senior government officers and political appointees would reduce federal expenditure more than the firing of half of the civil service personnel. This according to the organization, is because if the the government were to take Sanusi seriously and implement his proposal, a 50% reduction in the civil service strength will save roughly 30% of whatever desired revenue projection,because only the low-paid staff will be eliminated; while an equally 50% reduction in various allowances of the top 10% of the senior service and political appointees, coupled with elimination of agencies and departments with duplicating responsibilities would result in a savings of 70% of Sanusi's desired revenue projection.

While these proposals, along with many others put forward by many Nigerians and organizations sound effective, if ever implemented; the reality is that such will never happen, because those responsible for implementing these proposals will be negatively affected. Since no one would want to legsilate him/herself out of a job, Nigeria and Nigerians will continue to wallow in self-deceit, dreaming of an ideal nation that will never materialize for the suffering 99%





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