Next Mergers after Oronsaye




Hot on the heels of last week’s decision by President Tinubu and the Federal Executive Council to fish out former Head of Service Steve Oronsaye’s report from the file cabinets, dust it up, preen its pages from the ravages of fungus and moisture and, if possible, implement it within twelve weeks, human rights lawyer Femi Falana called for a merger of the Senate and House of Representatives instead of Executive agencies.

Falana said many other things, including that the report is outdated because Federal Government created many more ministries, departments, units and agencies since the report was written. In a way, government is lucky that it is dealing these days with Femi Falana. If it were Gani Fawehinmi, he would have by now gone to court to, among other things, find out why a report was lying on the shelves for 12 years, why government issued two white papers on the same report, why it lumped agencies created by the Constitution with those created by ordinary laws and slated them for merger, and also why this earth-shaking decision to scrap, merge and return some agencies to their former abodes should come in the midst of economic turmoil.

However, none of that is my worry on this occasion. My worry is that the Nigerian national scene, public, private, economic, social, political, security and even criminal can do with a lot more mergers in order to sanitise it, reduce costs not just of governance but of everything else, and enable our school children to be able to memorise the names of ministries and key national agencies.

I agree with Mr. Falana, for example, that Senate and House of Representatives should be merged. Not only will it save costs, but it would also avert national embarrassment such as happened in 1981, when President Shehu Shagari was billed to address both chambers in a joint session. It so happened that there was misunderstanding between the two chambers over some issue. When a joint session is holding, senators move into the larger House chamber and, since the Senate President is the chairman of the joint session, the Speaker steps down from his ornate chair, to a smaller one nearby, and allows the Senate President to sit on it and preside over the session.

But on that occasion, the Reps told their Speaker, Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, not to yield his chair to Senate President Joseph Wayas. When the senators walked in, Ume-Ezeoke refused to yield his chair, to loud ovation from the Reps! Wayas had to sit on a lower chair but proceeded to preside over the joint session. Today’s Senate President, Godwin Akpabio, may not be as gentle as Wayas. If the Speaker were to refuse to give him the seat, he may easily shove him aside!

Look here, Oronsaye’s report itself should first be merged with other reports. There are many other reports like it in the last 50 years that reviewed the structure, rules and personnel of the civil service. There were also many reports that studied specific agencies and made very important recommendations, which were never implemented. The Babangida regime commissioned many studies of the civil service, implemented some of them, such as having Directors General instead of permanent secretaries and making ministers the accounting officers of ministries, only to have them reversed at a later date. Even Abacha began his tenure by commissioning probes into NNPC, Central Bank, Customs and the $12 billion Gulf War oil windfall. All those reports should be unearthed and merged with Oronsaye’s.

The way Nigerian mobs are increasingly helping themselves to passing food trucks and food stores these days, it is time to merge our Blue Economy with the Red Economy. In the past week alone, mobs looted foodstuff from trucks at Minna Junction on the Abuja-Kaduna highway, looted a BUA truck carrying spaghetti in Zaria while other mobs looted a NEMA store at Gwagwa in Abuja. If looting in the name of hunger becomes the order of the day, a Federal Ministry of Red Economy may be more appropriate than Blue Economy.

Listening to what Central Bank chiefs are saying these days about who is responsible for the serial crashing of the naira, it is time to merge banks with Bureax de Change, BDCs. CBN said the former were holding excess dollars while the latter were speculating in forex under trees. FCT Minister Nyesom Wike, who does not take allegations lightly, promptly sent bulldozers to Abuja’s Wuse Zone 4 BDCs’ market to demolish all their stalls and even the trees under which forex traders used to sit. The way CBN is hitting left, right and centre these days at banks, forex depositors, NNPC, BDCs and Binance, some people are already  demanding that CBN be merged with World Bank and IMF in order to save the naira. Other people are saying that Wike’s FCT Ministry should be merged with Julius Berger, since both of them specialize in earthmoving vehicles.

Maybe government is already considering a merger of the Army and the police. In the olden days we were told that it is the police that fight crime whereas soldiers defend the country’s territorial integrity. Somebody must have quietly changed those roles. In the 1970s, after Federal Government built barracks all over the country for soldiers returning from the Civil War, soldiers became a rare sight in the streets. Now they man check points, guard some civilian installations and escort INEC sensitive materials. The Army and Police Acts should better be amended to merge the two institutions for cost-cutting purposes.

Not only Executive and Legislative branches, the Judiciary too could so with some cost-cutting mergers. What is the idea behind going through litigation at several levels, from magistrate court to High Court to Appeals Court and to Supreme Court, spending a lot of money at each level, lawyers brandishing the same fat law books and blowing the same jargon, while a litigant suffers many adjournments at every level, when at the end of the day all matters must go to God Almighty for final judgement?

If we really want Nigerian society to make savings, we should merge MTN and Glo. The two of them were fighting recently, one saying that the other owes it money for interconnectivity, and so it will not allow a subscriber to make a call to the other network. It is also time to merge social media with beer parlors, since both of them trade in gossip and rumour mongering. It will be a huge cost-cutting measure for Nigerian society as a whole. We used to think that gossip flourished at beer parlours because alcohol is intoxicating. That was before social media came along. Have you seen anything as addictive as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, where people block their ears with earphones, push away their school books and forget about prayer times in order to chat and post their own pictures for others to “like”?  Which beer parlour gossip ever went as far as a Facebook post in damage potential? Please merge the two of them under one regulatory agency, in case anyone can regulate them.

After the judiciary and security agencies, Nigerian criminals should also consider a merger in order to cut costs. Boko Haram, ISWAP, Ansaru and the bandits, for example, could streamline their operations, standardize their weapons sources, improve internal communication, reduce inter-service rivalry and reduce the number of people who negotiate ransom on their behalf. Right now, they suffer income haemorrhage in the hands of ransom negotiators. Our criminals must soon adopt a Single Treasury Account where all gate takings must be deposited.

In some parts of the country, our criminal gangs have evolved. Instead of raiding homes and highways to kidnap people and demand for ransom payment, bandits have studied old case files of the American Mafia and have started demanding “protection money” instead. They will collectively levy a  protection fee on a town or village. Once it is paid, everyone can move about freely. It is a cost-cutting measure for both  bandits and townsfolk.

Nigeria’s political scene can also do with Oronsaye-style cost cutting. I think it is time to merge APC and PDP. One of them boasted that it will rule for 60 years and ended up ruling for 16; the other has ruled for 9 years and may be aiming for another 50. Since both of them no longer hold National Executive Committee meetings, since their Working Committees have been reduced to Chairmen, since it is now normal for the leader of one to intervene and resolve disputes in the other, since the governors of one thank the leader of the other for helping them to resolve their disputes and since politicians move in and out of both as easily as they enter a goods store, I think a merger is badly needed in order to reduce costs.

If we really want to save costs, many states should be merged. 50 years ago when we had 12 states in Nigeria, none of them had more than ten ministries. Commissioners were so few in the 1970s that, as a school boy, I used a slim exercise book and made an album of them out of newspaper cuttings. I divided it into states and under each state, I had a picture of the Military Governor, the Secretary to the Military Government and Head of Service [SMG], Commissioner of Police and all or most of the state’s commissioners. Today, if a school boy tries to do such an album, the commissioners, special advisers and special assistants of one state alone will require a book as fat as an encyclopedia.

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