Which federal agencies deserve to be scrapped?

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The current high level of insecurity in Nigeria notwithstanding, her citizens still manage to relax and engage in humorous debates in parts of the country. No wonder some researchers once said Nigerians were the happiest people on earth! Two days ago, I witnessed a free for all debate, with no chairman and no moderator.

It was so exciting and engaging that a report on it as the topic of today’s piece, easily displaced what I had thought was trending in Nigeria and which I had worked on all week. When i arrived the venue of a seminar where I was to serve as guest speaker, I met an intriguing debate on how poorly some federal agencies were and are still performing.

Public power supply outfits, airlines, banks, universities, law enforcement etc. were on top of the list and there was ample time for each of them to be assessed because, top government officials who were expected to grace the occasion were yet to arrive for the opening ceremony two hours after the advertised take-off time.

In order to follow the debate, i tried to ascertain the real boundary of the discussion. What I first heard on arrival was about some federal agencies leaving me to wonder why private bodies such as banks werealso being harshly criticised. I was then informed that the debate had expanded to include all “useless” societal institutions both public and private adding that the reason it started with federal agencies was because of a media report during the week that government was about to implement the Oronsaye report which had recommended among other things, that some public agencies of the federal government be scrapped.

But would that really happen considering the culture in government whereby some two to three more committees would be successively constituted to review, rework and harmonise Oronsaye’s work before a white paper team would emerge? As if I invited trouble, one of the chaps politely requested me as an elder to name one entity that I felt always performed below average. Taken aback, I quickly stabilized and called one name which not less than four speakers jointly rejected with an indication that they were talking about poorly performed organizations, not those that don’t perform at all. I understandably spent the next 20mins just listening.

Expectedly so much was said about our federal legislature. One popular view was that lawmakers ought to be the first to be called out because of their bogus remuneration. Here, the consensus was that Nigeria does need two chambers of the National Assembly (NASS) and that members of the House of Representatives alone are sufficiently widespread enough to represent all constituencies.

In fact, it was argued that legislators should work on part-time basis. The only lady in the debate was opposed to an expansion of the NASS in order to reserve a seat for a lady per state. Instead with the current arrangement of 3 senators per state, she called for at least one to mandatorily be female.

These sentiments were based on the feeling that legislators were not a plus to the nation as many were known for extorting money from government agencies during oversight functions. As for the Judiciary, it was argued that all heads of court should kick out ‘injunction judges’ that are soiling the majority of persons of integrity in the judicial arm of government. In particular, magistrates who sign blanket warrants of arrestthat are used to intimidate otherwise innocent citizens were condemned. Some other organizations were so battered that I tried hard to not include them in this article.

As the debate progressed, I only intervened againwhen one of the speakers directly called for the scrapping of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). I thought the criticism was misplaced in view of the excellent performance of the current Registrar of the institution, Prof Ishaq Oloyede. Indeed, in the last five years or so, Nigerians have come to know JAMB as an agency which stands higher than almost every other in revenue generation.

It is useful to at this point recall a shocking investigative report bythe media in 2017 which revealed that before Oloyede’s tenure, JAMB was only able to remit a paltry total sum of N50million for a combined period of 7 years. The report indicated that in the same year 2017, Oloyede remitted N5 billion to government.

This seemingly eye-opener pushed government to order a probe into the administration of the past heads of the agency and those of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency NIMASA which was also noted to have performed well below expectations. Anyone who has followed the activities of JAMB since then would readily testify that it has maintained a consistent record of high degree of accountability. If so, how can anyone call for its scrapping?

While the huge sums garnered by JAMB from candidates for the purchase of its UTME forms may justifiably be used to call for a reduction in the cost of the forms, it is wrong to chastise an organization which faithfully returns to the coffers of government unspent revenue. The call for abrogating or reducing to the barest minimum, JAMB exams fees is an idea government should directly handle because she is the one that has a duty to provide affordable fees of any type in the education sector.

In any case, only a handful of persons would do what Oloyede is doing in an environment where the elites are busy maximizing personal gains from political offices, the bureaucracy and elsewhere. The other day, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC recovered 304 houses from two public officers in Abuja.

The chairman of the Commission, Prof Bolaji Owasanoye revealed that officials of the Federal Capital Development Authority FCDA were collaborators in the scam; a trend which actively facilitates the use of real estate investment as a vehicle for hiding ill-gotten wealth and money laundering in the country. Based on this, I did not hesitate in also rejecting the mentionof ICPC among agencies that allegedly perform poorly.

It is noteworthy that the ICPC has just partnered the security agencies to arrest 48 lecturers, and parents for their alleged illegalities in the conduct of the Joint Universities Preliminary Examinations Board (JUPEC). The arrest of the suspects is particularly commendable because it was reportedly done through sustained period of surveillance and undercover investigations spanning several weeks.

During the period, the active connivance of parents, students, lecturers and management of some universities were exposed. So far, three current vice chancellors have been invited by ICPC for their roles in the massive malpractices reported. When law enforcement takes this form, criticisms of human rights abuses would hardly be made. Instead, many honest citizens would provide helpful information all the time which would not be the case with the so-called sting operations. In addition, the ICPC assignments progressed without being subjected to media trial.

We must however not be misled into believing that the scrapping of some agencies would automatically resolve our unwieldy governance structure. That won’t happen if we do not aggressively rework the compositionof state actors in Nigeria to establish that we mean business. It is ridiculous for example,to hear our police force crying on a daily basis of a grossly inadequate numerical strength, yet the little she has is dissipated on ego assignments of guard duties/escorts to VIPs to the detriment of effective policing of society.

Each time the police says it is withdrawing its personnel from unentitled principals, the visible outcome is that the attachments increase in real terms. In truth, the high cost of governance is not attributable to a large work force alone; often, underperformance may be more substantively due to incompetence and lethargy in the framework for policy formulation and implementation.