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Reducing the Cost of Governance – By Dr. Jideofor Adibe

By Dr. Jideofer Adibe, London, UK – April 9, 2011 – At a recent conference in Abuja on the forthcoming general elections, one of the key speakers, a professor of history, surprised many people when he declared that he did not register and did not intend to vote. His grouse was the cost of the entire election, which he said he had estimated to be around N300 billion. Most of the conferees felt he had grossly underestimated the cost of the exercise. 

Though figures on the exact cost of the elections are unavailable, there is no doubt that it is one of the most expensive in our political history. And this feeds into the increasing concerns about the burgeoning cost of governance in the country. In January this year for instance, the Presidential Advisory Council (PAC) led by former Defence Minister Lt.-Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (rtd) expressed concerns about the high cost of governance and advised the President to consider reducing the number of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). Not long ago, CBN Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi made a similar call.

As we go to the polls this weekend and worry whether our votes will count this time around, I believe it is also important that we begin now to highlight the agenda for the next set of leaders that will emerge from the elections. We need a set of leaders that will provide the enabling environment for Nigerians to maximally release their creative energies and for the stalled nation-building project to be given a new spark of life. The paradox of extreme want amid the obscene affluence of the few may no longer be tolerated for too long. Those who believe that the country is used to hanging on the precipice without ever falling over or that revolution is impossible here may actually be living in the past. I believe that one of the priority agendas for the next set of leaders will be how to reduce the cost of governance in order to free funds for development projects. How can this be done? I will recommend the following:

One, in trying to reduce the cost of governance, it may be germane to interrogate the reasons why the size of government has been growing phenomenally at the federal level. One of the reasons for this is the constitutional provision on the reflection of the federal character. This provision means that as states are often used as the units for assessing whether the ‘federal character’ is properly reflected in public appointments or not, an increase in the number of states concomitantly leads to an enlargement in the size of government. There is obviously nothing wrong with this provision in a country which is an amalgam of different ethnic nationalities that are often suspicious of one another. The problem, as I see it, is that the number of states has become both unwieldy and unviable – from three regions to four regions in 1963; to 12 states in 1967, to 19 states in 1976, to 21 in 1987; 30 in 1991 and 36 in 1996. And the demand for more has not abated! India, which has eight times the population of Nigeria, has only 28 states.

With each state of the federation constitutionally producing three Senators and a given number of Members of the House of Representatives, we now have 109 Senators, 360 Members of the House of Representatives and 990 members of the 36 State Houses of Assembly. And they do not come cheap. It was for instance estimated that in 2010 the total actual recurrent and capital allocations to the 1,459 National and State Legislators were   N225.5billion compared to the N118.1 billion allocated to the 27 Federal Universities during the same period. In essence we cannot seriously talk about reducing the cost of governance without restructuring our federation and consolidating the current 36 states into about 18 states – three from each geopolitical zone.

Two, in calling for a re-organisation of our state structure, I am not unmindful of the politics that go with statism. The states and local governments are constitutionally recognised units for the sharing  of the revenue from the federation account, meaning  that the more states an area has, the more ‘federal funds’ it can attract to its area. Besides, our constitution also demands that to be elected as President of the country, a candidate must have no less than 25 percent of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all the states in the federation. This provision gives the number of states in each geopolitical zone a special political salience. Reducing the number of states will therefore not only save cost but probably have a beneficial impact on the current anarchical nature of our politics. Obviously any restructuring must balance prudence with equity. There is for instance simply no cogent reason why the South East geopolitical zone should have five states while the other five zones have six each. 

Three, there is a need to take another look at our Local Governments and assess whether they are truly achieving the noble objectives that informed their being designated a third tier of government with statutory allocations. In a speech on June 25 2003 while inaugurating the Technical Committee on the Review of the Structure of Local Government Councils, former President Olusegun Obasanjo warned that “unless the existing local government system is reviewed and restructured to promote greater accountability, optimal performance and drastic reduction of the current astronomical cost of operating the system, the yearnings of our people will be unwarranted”. What became of that Committee and its findings? Unfortunately many now see local governments as avenues of leakages and primitive accumulation rather than as agents for bringing the government closer to the people. And we have 774 of them! I believe that in zones like the South East, town unions, which are historically agents of development in the area, should replace Local Governments as constitutionally recognised units for sharing revenues that accrue to the states in the zone.

Related to this is the question of whether we really need a bicameral legislature and the value such adds to the legislative process.

Five, do election campaigns really influence electoral outcomes in our country to justify the huge expenditures on them? While I am not against election campaigns – at least for their voter education functions and the buzz they give to the democratic process – I think their impact on electoral outcomes in the country is grossly exaggerated. Election campaigns generally tend to have the most impact on the ‘undecided voters’.  But do we really have such a category of voters in this country?


 Jonathan and the presidential debates

In my piece last week on the above, I erroneously stated that the first presidential debate in Nigeria took place in 1999. The first debate actually took place in the run-up to the 1993 elections between the SDP candidate, the late Moshood Abiola and the National Republican Convention candidate, Bashir Tofa. Their running mates also debated. The error is regretted.

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Posted by on Apr 9 2011. Filed under Columnists, Jideofor Adibe, PhD, NNP Columnists. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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