By this time next week, General Muhammadu Buhari (GMB) will become President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB). Since he will transmute from being GMB to PMB, let me play a pun on the new tag of PMB by sending my ‘Change wish list’ to his private mail bag, albeit publicly. I do so in my capacity as a proud holder of the ‘Office of the Citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria’, the highest and most important office in Nigeria. The list is a very simple one, focusing on governance issues. It requires clear steps to be taken by the new administration to save us some of the problems we face as a country, especially since 1999. Here we go.
I call on President Buhari to limit the number of political appointees to the barest minimum. To be honest, we don’t need more than 20 ministers of government. However, having regard to the provision of the Constitution, I will ask that he limits this to 37 ministers. He should not appoint more than 10 special advisers by whatever nomenclature. I submit that many of the governance and administrative duties carried out by some of the large retinue of aides of government officials could be effectively carried out by senior civil servants in those ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), and that would even be carried out in a professional manner.
The president should ensure that there are specific job titles and descriptions to all officers of government, to avoid overlaps and thus cut inefficiency. The government should streamline the functions of different agencies that overlap at the moment. PMB needs to pick out a few tips from the recommendations in the Orasanye Panel Report which is in the presidency and I believe should form part of the hand-over notes/briefings he will get from President Goodluck Jonathan.
Experience shows that it is easier to prevent corruption than investigate, prosecute and punish infringements. The government must commit to implementing and strengthening the existing mechanisms for preventing corruption, to reduce the level of corruption. This includes ensuring that proper audits are carried out when due and the reports of such audits implemented. PMB must work closely with the legislature to do more with the reports of the Auditor-General, to ensure that sanctions are carried out as appropriate.
It also follows that the Auditor-General’s office has to be reformed in a way that builds the confidence of the head and all the auditors, that their professionalism would not be compromised or they made to suffer for whistle-blowing. This above should be done along with the proper prosecution, to its logical conclusion, of all cases of corruption that have remained in court for many years. We need to speed up and conclude the prosecutions for corruption that started in 2007 against many of the former state governors.
Still on the issue of cost of governance, the new president should show leadership by ensuring a drastic reduction in the budget of the presidency and by extension the executive arm, so as to be on the right moral platform to request similar reduction from the other arms. PMB can start by reducing the number of aircraft in the presidential fleet. Reports indicate that there are currently between nine and 11 such aircraft. I opine that our country does not need more than three of such aircraft. He must see to the offloading of the excess aircraft and pay similar attention to the number of other facilities such as vehicles of government as well as those assigned to government officials.
A situation where the government provides too many vehicles to an official, such that some of the vehicles are put to the use of the official’s family members, as though they were state officials, must stop. Let every paid official and worker be responsible for organising their families and their transportation needs, and not pass such the public coffers.
I have severally canvassed against government getting involved in the private affairs of citizens. One of such is the issue of pilgrimages. While citizens should be allowed the right to practise their religions and while government can do well to protect the welfare of their citizens wherever they are, I believe that can still be done without government getting involved in pilgrimage arrangements. This is because, currently, the country is being haemorrhaged through the pilgrimages by both Christians and Muslims. What is more, this has become a colossal waste of state resources on the elite class or for currying political favours by those in government.
(End of part 1 published in The Niche on May 24, 2015 http://www.thenicheng.com/my-change-wish-list-1/)
As I was saying last week and now that President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) has been inaugurated, I wish to continue with my change wish list. I am excited to hear that some of the suggestions contained in my last week’s wish list may be implemented by the new president, especially the one about a leaner government in terms of cabinet appointment. The decision we heard of not taking or working with a list from the state governors for the composition of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) is a welcome one. It is a political masterstroke to save the country from the clutches of the governors who constitute one of the most powerful political cabals.
The new government must take adequate steps to reform the criminal justice system to allow for speedy prosecution for crimes. Happily, the vice president is not only a professor of law and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), but was for some years the attorney-general in Lagos State, where he drove some reforms in the justice sector.
Agreed that there are peculiar situations that warrant the entering of plea bargains, we suggest that even where such is entered into, the minimum the state should ensure is the recovery of stolen sums/proceeds of such corruption and a conviction which would therefore disqualify the criminal from certain privileges. On no account should this new administration consider granting state pardon, whimsically, to convicts whose only seeming qualification for such consideration is the fact that they are politicians and as such part of a ‘family’. The cases of the pardon and active involvement of Salisu Buhari and Diepreye Alamieyeseigha in the public space should never be used as precedent and must be seen as an embarrassing milestone of our political history.
To provide the basis for driving development, we need data for proper planning. The government should immediately strengthen and expand the national citizens’ registration system to ensure that every citizen from birth is captured in the database. It should be very easy to register new-borns in hospitals and during the monthly immunisation exercises, and such registration should feed directly into the national database. There should also be a harmonisation of every other citizens’ data capture such as from the voter registration, international passport, telephone SIM registration and the bank customers’ registration.
There is no doubt that our country and the component units are broke! Much of what led to the present situation include corruption, greed, poorly thought out projects with poor funding architecture and, very importantly, the failure to make savings.
PMB and team must commence a process of getting all stakeholders to buy into and approve a legal framework for saving a percentage of our earnings for the future. They need to revisit all issues associated with the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) and the Excess Crude Account (ECA) and address all obstacles. If well managed, it is even possible for states to also set up similar savings and wealth management schemes at their levels.
My other wish is for the PMB government to immediately commence a thorough audit of government agencies which currently operate in an opaque manner, detrimental to the wellbeing of Nigeria and its citizens. These include the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). It is clear that there is something fishy and faulty about the financial DNA of those agencies that make them perpetual cesspit of corruption, while a few crooked citizens benefit from it.
We also need to review the budgeting system to ensure citizens’ involvement in a bottom-up approach. This would ensure that citizens’ needs are addressed in the budget. This would save the country the burden of government officials mortgaging our future through white elephant projects that do not have positive effect on generality of citizens, even as many of such projects get abandoned after huge sums of money have been splashed on them.
We must take every step to end impunity. This means that PMB must not only live by example (and I have no doubt he can) but he must lead his government to ensuring that every breach of the law and regulation is punished. On this account, the new government must re-open investigation and ensure appropriate sanctions for certain glaring cases of impunity in the recent past. Of particular note is the bungled recruitment into the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) where money was extorted from applicants and the process was mismanaged, leading to the death of about 20 citizens and injuries to many others across the country.
There are certainly a lot more things too wish for. But I would leave them at these few, knowing that many others also have their wish list. It is left now for President Buhari to consider the list and address them. It is a new dawn for the country and we all must work hard to make this work.
(Concluding part published on May 31, 2015 http://www.thenicheng.com/my-change-wish-list-2/)