‘Why Tinubu should revisit Oronsaye report, reform civil service’

Professor of Political Science, Gbade Ojo, was the Chief of Staff to former governor of Oyo State, Abiola Ajimobi. In this interview with ROTIMI AGBOLUAJE, Ojo spoke on how best to measure the performances of current ministers and the need to revisit the Stephen Oronsaye Report to orchestrate the much-needed reform of the Federal Civil Service.

At a recent retreat for ministers, President Bola Tinubu hinted at assessing their performances and threatened to sack under-performing cabinet members. What is your reaction to this?
The words of President Bola Tinubu to his appointees that they would be regularly assessed to measure their performance is not strange. If your appointees are not conscious that they are being watched or that they can be removed for non-performance, they will be docile in office. But when they know that Mr President has a mechanism to measure their performances and determine their stay in office, they will sit tight.

However, as a political scientist, I would like to look at the sincerity of the president. It could be a political statement to make Nigerians love him more. It may be a way to buy legitimacy for his government. It’s a fact that there is no room for buck-passing in a presidential system, if ministers did not perform, he is the one who appoints them, the buck stops on his table. So, he doesn’t need to give the appointees such public warning. Nigerians would rather appreciate a cabinet shake-up on the ground that some of them fail to perform well.

Now that he has given them public warning, they will try to avoid embarrassment. I can easily recall that the Minister for Power, Mr Adebayo Adelabu equally gave the same warning to the civil servants under his ministry. He warned them to perform, saying he didn’t want the president to remove him for not performing. The issue is that ministers are political heads of ministries. A minister may be ready to perform, but he may eventually turn out to be a failure if civil servants at the senior cadre did not cooperate with him. The level of achievement of ministers is dependent on the performance of the civil servants. They will give the ministers orientations and ideas of what to do and if ministers perform well it will rub off on the President’s achievements.

It’s the first time such a marching order would be given in public. Sometime ago, a former minister in the former President Buhari’s cabinet, Adebayo Shittu, said: “Buhari doesn’t care whether he sees you for four years or not.” That’s a lackadaisical attitude to administration. That’s what has led Nigeria to where we are today. How could you appoint someone and not care about his performance? That’s why some governors couldn’t embark on cabinet reshuffle or dissolution for eight years. That’s why, at the federal level, you didn’t see any meaningful shake-up. This is due to the fact they are not being watched, monitored, and evaluated periodically.

I can recollect when I was in government, and the former governor, who appointed us, asked us to sign our resignation letters in advance. The governor said if we didn’t perform, he would just announce that we had resigned. It will be hard to deny because the appointee had already signed the resignation letter. Though it wasn’t made public, we realised that failure is not an option. Those that didn’t perform well weren’t returned in the second term.

It’s good that the President has warned them, whether the warning is political or not, it’s not the business of Nigerians. We are only interested in seeing the President we voted for perform by physical evidence of good governance across all sectors of the economy.Hence, the issue that the education or power minister does not perform is not our business because nobody voted for the ministers. We voted for Tinubu.

How feasible is the objective of the marching order?
Public opinion is there. The media can hold them accountable by looking at the policies of the government in various sectors. For instance, on education, aside from the student loan that has not taken off, what are the other policies on education that are on the government manifesto?

In the Ministry of Works, the minister floats the idea of using concrete to build roads instead of asphalt. We will wait to see whether that’s implementable and cost-effective. But what we know is that land texture determines whether you want to use cement, asphalt, or other materials. The truth is that it is a policy. What are the policies and programmes of other ministries? By now, each ministry ought to have done stakeholders’ meetings to draw up a road map to aid their performance and service delivery. For instance, what is the policy on primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions?

In the Second Republic, one could not easily forget the four cardinal points of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). Against this backdrop, we should be able to know the policies of the government through each ministry. It’s the summation of the performance of each minister that will determine the success of the president.

What should be the criteria and key performance indicators (KPIs) for evaluation and appraisal?
Key performance indicators should be good governance in all ramifications and physical evidence of topnotch performance in key sectors. In agriculture, is there any improvement in food security since he comes on board? In education, is there an increase in enrollment in schools? In the security sector, are Nigerians better secured? Can Nigerians move from Ibadan to Oyo town by 7.00 p.m. without fear? Can they sleep in their rooms with two eyes closed? In the power sector, how many megawatts of electricity are being generated beyond propaganda? In the economy, specifically, in fiscal and monetary angles, has the naira become stronger? You look at the price index. How much was a bag of rice, and how much is it now? How much was a bag of cement by the time his government came and now? It is about the ability to drive the economy to be productive. If you are producing more, prices will go down. But if supply doesn’t meet demands, prices will be going up.

So, good and impactful governance in all ramifications that will lead to poverty reduction and improved welfare of Nigerians should be the key performance indicators.

Experts have identified bureaucracy and red-tapism as the bane of effective civil service, which may hinder performances of ministers. What is your take on this?
Ordinarily, bureaucracy should not hamper performance of any good administrator. Naturally, civil servants would be pushing files, making the same comments from one officer to another. The truth is that if the minister gives the bureaucrats an assignment, they must deliver within a time frame. They are aware that if they refuse to deliver within the timeline, there will be consequences; they will work hard to meet the deadline. Civil servants have no option but to do their work, knowing full well that there is a penalty, such as transfer to remote areas.

The only thing that can slow down an administration is legislative ineffectiveness, where a public policy that requires the parliament to legislate upon is not being attended to expeditiously. As it stands now, the Tinubu administration of the APC has the majority and the key officers of the National Assembly who are cooperative. Then, there’s no excuse for legislative hindrance and failure.

What happens if there is a budget approval but no financial backup for ministers to execute their projects?
From my experience in government, I know that budgeting is one thing, while budget performance is a different ball game. A ministry might have budgeted a sum of N100 billion for a project, but if there’s no cash backing, there’s nothing the minister can do. With subsidy removal on petrol by this administration, however, trillions of naira they were spending before has been converted into savings. This means that the government is making more money than double what they were making before. Nigerians should wait to see whether the money will really be converted into savings to enhance the value of the naira or repayment of loans or to better the lot of the citizens.

Don’t forget that in the eight years of Buhari, a lot of Abacha’s loot was repatriated to the country. Now, another $150 million has been promised by France to be repatriated. So, we want to see the impact of such money and what such money will do. For instance, if I’m to give the government an idea, $150 million today if that money comes as cash, the government could use the money to build four world-class teaching hospitals and equip them to curb medical tourism. This will reduce the rate of ‘japa’ by medical experts.

Eight years of Buhari saw no minister sanctioned for not performing, why?
Don’t forget that former President Goodluck Jonathan made the same tactical error. When Jonathan appointed ministers, some of his appointees were accused of corruption, but he didn’t care, nor did he bother to investigate them. You cannot imagine the level of allegations of corruption against Diezani Alison-Madueke, who was petroleum minister under his watch. What about his Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, to mention a few.

Another one that is still fresh in memory was at the twilight of former President Buhari administration when the then minister of aviation went to hire aircraft from Ethiopia, repainted it and claimed it is Nigeria Air. Buhari commissioned it. How does a country run a national carrier with only one aircraft? That means the ministers were not well monitored for proper accountability and probity.

How will you advise the new chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission, Prof Tunji Olaopa?
Prof. Tunji Olaopa is a well-known technocrat and scholar wearing two caps. He’s an experienced administrator, having served in the federal civil service and retired. All those things should count in terms of performance. In Africa, it’s amusing that some people are vast writers and social critics, but when they come to public office, their terms are replete with excuses. So, I want to say that the case of Olaopa will be quite different. Again, Prof. Olaopa and President Tinubu must revisit the Stephen Oronsaye Report to reform the federal civil service for optimum performance.

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