Govt’s unwieldy size, wasteful expenditure killing Nigeria, says Emeka Anyaoku

Struggle for political power fanning the embers of religious and political crisis and disunity.

A former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Emeka Anyaoku, wants the Federal Government to take immediate steps to cut down on its structure and size as well as the recurrent expenditure if the country is to achieve any meaningful development.

Mr. Anyaoku was speaking at the public presentation of the book, “Reforming the Unreformable: Lessons from Nigeria,” written by the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. He also identified the struggle for the control of political power at the centre as responsible for the spate of political and religious upheavals that have engulfed the country in recent times.

“The country’s chances of realising its rightfully desired development objectives would be greatly enhanced if the country adopts a major restructuring of its present governance architecture,” Mr. Anyaoku said.

According to the former Commonwealth scribe, with the existing unwieldy political structure and bureaucracy, the country cannot significantly reduce the level of its recurrent expenditure, currently averaging 74 per cent, despite indications in the 2013 budget of plans to reduce it to about 68 per cent.

“When one looks around the world, particularly developing countries that started the same way like Nigeria, one would find that their recurrent expenditure budgets have been far less than what we have been spending, which has continued to leave the country with too little for capital development that the country needs.

“As long as the country maintains the existing structure of 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, with all the paraphernalia of the institutions for administration, we are not likely to achieve the level of reduction in the cost of administration that would enable the country develop as we ought to.

Mr. Anyaoku held that the Nigeria’s existing system of federal governance discourages healthy competition among states in terms productivity and encourages destructive competition.

“It is this destructive competition for the control of power at the centre that exacerbates the primordial instincts in our people, and also fans the flame of religious and ethnic differences. With this result, rather than being a source of strength, our pluralism has become a harbinger for division and disunity.

Mr. Anyaoku said Nigeria made better progress when it ran a federal system of “three initially and subsequently four federating units called regions at the time”.

He blamed the military for eroding true federalism in the country, adding that only true federalism will lead Nigeria to development.

The author and her book

Mr. Anyaoku, described Ms. Okonjo-Iweala as “Nigeria’s rarest female achiever on the world stage”. He said the book confirmed why she is one of Nigeria’s most cherished adverts in the global community.

Mr. Anyaoku praised Ms. Okonjo Iweala’s book, holding that it captures the country’s ugly face of underdevelopment and poverty that the vast majority of Nigerians live in and provides incisive analysis of the state and scope of the reforms needed to turn the national economy round, by exposing the impediments to the reform programme.

Paul Collier, Professor of Economics from Oxford University, who reviewed the book, described it as an appropriate prism for understanding Nigeria’s economy in the present and the future.

He said that a decade ago, Nigeria was largely perceived as resource-rich, but policy-poor country, adding that though the country still has a long way to go, it has made significant progress in building a good foundation for economic prosperity. Mr. Collier said the country it still requires a critical mass of understanding among the people to grow.

In her speech, Ms. Okonjo-Iweala said the inspiration to embark on the book project is to enable her acknowledge the work of the second Economic Management Team under the Obasanjo administration, whose biggest achievement culminated in the rescheduling of Nigeria’s huge foreign debt at the time as well as to help preserve the effort to transform and reform the economy by telling the story from an insider’s point of view.

“Many times, when we do things in Nigeria and Africa, we don’t ever tell and capture our story. Other people tell our story for us. I thought it’s about time we begin to tell our story, particularly on the extraordinary achievement of Nigeria at the Paris Club about the debt relief we got.

She challenged Nigerians to learn from the lessons of the past achievements to know where improvements are necessary to move forward, pointing out that the book is telling younger generation of Nigerians that the country is able to change and transform, and that they should not allow people to infuse a sense of hopelessness into them.

“It is not true Nigeria cannot change. Nigeria can, will and is changing,” she assured.

She spoke of the effort to establish the crude oil benchmark price rule in the budgeting process in the country, urging players in the different arms of the political system to eschew politics in handling the issue in the country’s interest.

“We must depoliticise the issue of oil benchmark price in our national budget, considering that the price of oil that the government prepares the budget is not a political issue. We must emulate Chile over what their government is doing on the price of copper for their budget, by setting up a group of experts who are mandated to appraise the situation and tell government their recommendation of the appropriate benchmark for the good of the economy,” Ms. Okonjo Iweala said.

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