- Nothing is so simple that it cannot be misunderstood – Albert Einstein
Crises test leaders in more ways than most are prepared for. Those with responsibility to lead people under today’s circumstances could very well go down in history as the set that had the most difficult tasks in human history. They are having to lead populations long used to fairly predictable routines that are products of tried and tested systems and processes.
It is their lot to lead through crises that have no familiar solutions, no predictable and manageable outcomes, no practical options with costs and consequences and no timeframes. It is no exaggeration to say that humanity has never known any crisis that has challenged it so comprehensively as this pandemic is doing. But humanity was as varied in its pre-COVID-19 state as it is in its responses to this global enemy. Some segments of humanity will pay a much higher price for their exposure to this pandemic than others.
Many nations will put up a fight to the best of their abilities and with their best resources, and in the end, they will submit to an enemy whose most potent weapon is to shake the very foundations of the confidence garnered over centuries that mankind can cope with challenges, many of which it will invent itself. In the end, some clusters of humanity will come out relatively strong, and others would have gone under in a new order which make sense only in a bewildering array of conspiracy theories.
At this stage, most nations are grappling with options that will fight the pandemic and save economies and, by extensions, the glue that holds humanity together. Even the strongest economies will battle to squeeze huge resources from shrinking economies to fight the pandemic. The longer the pandemic lasts and the larger its toll in lives, the more it also damages economies. All countries are fighting an enemy that fights them from many fronts: it causes fear and induces panic, it causes illnesses among large numbers of the population and deaths that raise levels of fear and panic, it attacks the economy; crippling it and suffocating major lifelines, and it stresses relations between people and their leaders.
In Nigeria, our population size, poverty level and spread, the foundations of our economy and political frameworks all combine to make our fight against the pandemic one of the most challenging.
It is natural to expect federal and state governments to explore all avenues to improve resources needed to limit the damage of the pandemic, but leaders need to exercise informed caution and some courage in the manner they make choices among a range of policies that will keep the economy alive and resist the damage of the pandemic. For an economy and government such as ours which pillar and major source of revenue is crude oil, the current state of prices should be a major source of concern.
Nonetheless, the hints that Federal Government has agreed to implement the white paper on the Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Agencies and Commissions, generally referred to as the “Oronsaye Report” is worrisome mainly because, far from helping to ease pressure on managing the economy, it will substantially worsen it. It is conceivable that President Buhari may have been the recipient of very poor advise in this regard. This is the only explanation that would make sense in the light of the fact that even the administration of President Jonathan which set it up had dumped the report, and for its whole five years in office, this administration had maintained a healthy distance between from the report.
The dummy that came to be sold to the nation as the panacea to the “liability” of big government by vested, largely private interests and ambitious chief executives of agencies and parastatals that is, the Oronsaye Report, was actually a tear-away committee which sole term of reference was initially assigned to the much bigger committee headed by the highly respected former Head of Service of the Federation, Malam Adamu Fika. It was set up by the Jonathan administration to advise on a comprehensive review of the reform processes of the federal public service. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should state that I was a member of the Adamu Fika committee). The committee headed by Wazirin Fika was hounded by external, engineered hostility and internal subversion, ending up with a main report and a minority report. The Oronsaye committee was starved of integrity, drowned by narrow interests and deficient of knowledge and appreciation of the basic operations of a public service in a federal system that had been badly damaged by serial reforms which served every interest, but the public’s, and suffers, to date, a crippling split personality syndrome that denies leaders the best services of a most strategic governance institution.
A white paper drafting committee on the Oronsaye committee was set up under the chairmanship of one of the most influential ministers under the Jonathan administration, Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), and included two respected former Heads of Service, Ms. Amal Pepple and Alhaji Isa Sali. This committee rejected most of the major recommendations of the Oronsaye committee, and it was not difficult to see why. It was the proverbial butcher doing the surgeon’s job. Starting from the false assumption that mechanically collapsing, merging and scrapping organs of government is going to save money and improve efficiency, the committee set about with a single-minded devotion to vandalise the federal service and create entities that would merely have compounded the very problems they sought to solve. The scant attention paid to the legal and constitutional implications of many recommendations, mandates and relevance of MDAs, as well as the fact that many of the employees affected will move from salaried staff to desperation or expensive pensioners was breathtaking. Vital issues such as institutional efficiency, political considerations which informed establishment of certain bodies, increasing complexities of the economy and society and the necessity of avoiding prolonged disruptions were subsumed under the haste to impress the constituency that had decided that the public service was the major hinderance to the growth and development of the Nigerian nation.
President Buhari will soon be celebrating five years as Nigeria’s president. It is conceivable that he too had been advised that size, not professionalism and integrity, are the problems of the public service, but he has not made reform a major issue in his administration. What then, it must be asked, would the Buhari administration gain by revisiting or implementing a report that has been so thoroughly discredited even by the administration which set it up? Without a doubt, this administration and the nation have been dealt a really bad hand by this pandemic and its consequences. There were already major concerns around the management and performance of the economy. The crash in crude price and the certain recession which the global economy is heading for will worsen the prospects for a quick and sustainable recovery. For the government, payment of salaries and meeting overheads will be challenging, and a number of states have already announced plans to impose pay cut on civil servants. Funding capital projects will be virtually impossible, even with the radical review of the 2020 budget. Sourcing for fresh funds to shield the nation from the worst effects of the pandemic will tax the best managers and deepen the nation’s obligations to sources of credit.
Still, the Oransaye report is not a path. It is a short-cut to a booby trap that will deepen poverty, desperation and instability around vital institutions (including the legislature) and groups which should be on the same side with the administration. What the nation needs are arrangements that capture the essence of the huge problems we face. New thinking, fresh ideas and bold initiatives. We need a war mentality, a sense of emergency that should mobilise a nation to unite and face the same enemy with all the resources at our disposal. We need arrangements that suggest and operate as if we are at war, because we are; arrangements that allow the VP and trusted functionaries like the SGF and key ministers to focus on governance under trying circumstances, while professionals and others who are equipped with the expertise and experience to manage a crises of this nature assume key responsibilities. We need President Buhari out there keeping the two vital fronts safe: continuing the task of governing a nation in crisis and limiting the damage of COVID-19. We are a tough people, but we need to re-discover a common cause and generate an overwhelming support from all segments. We are in very deep trouble, and simplistic solutions are not what we need.