by Joachim MacEbong
Much has been said about the size of government and the cost of governance at every level, and many continue to wonder if Nigeria gets value for all the money that goes into maintaining its public service every year, which is the lion share of the budget. A lot of this money goes to our federal ministries, and what follows is an attempt to summarise their activities and impact as the year draws to a close.
We proceed in alphabetical order.
Agriculture: A major push for Akinwunmi Adesina has been the promotion of cassava, especially cassava bread. Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava in the world, and the aim is to make it the largest processor of the crop globally as well. So much so, in fact, that it has been decreed that 40% of cassava should be used in bread, and the import duty on wheat has been raised as well. Similar interventions are on-going for rice, sorghum, cocoa, cotton and oil palm. Fertiliser is now sold directly to farmers, eliminating middle men and rent seekers.
Aviation: It has been a controversial year for Princess Stella Oduah, as the state of the sector once again came under intense scrutiny. The Dana crash on June 3rd and the handling of the aftermath cast further doubts over the safety of Nigeria’s airspace, and the decision to briefly shut down Arik Air over debts owed to the Federal Government led to accusations of corruption against her by the airline. The row with the British government over landing slots at Heathrow, and with British Airways over disparity in fares paid by Nigerians in relation to other West African countries, was a successful attempt to play to the gallery and ignorance of the issues.
Communication Technology: Omobola Johnson’s ministry has been focused on creating an enabling environment that will accelerate the penetration of broadband technology in Nigeria, crucial to liberating the creative potential of young people all over the country, as well as putting together a new national ICT policy. The extent to which she has succeeded or not is a matter for some debate, but it is safe to say that based on her credentials on assuming office, the past 18 months have not been the success many hoped it would be.
Defence: The ministry which gets a large chunk of Nigeria’s budget, has been without a minister since June 22nd, when President Jonathan removed Bello Mohammed in a reshuffle of security agencies. That reshuffle also saw the now late former National Security Adviser, Owoeye Azazi, make way for Sambo Dasuki, but the President has not seen it fit to replace Bello Mohammed. There is nothing to suggest he should be in a hurry to, neither is there any suggestion that the trillion naira security budget delivers anything other than insecurity. Boko Haram divides Nigeria into two, one attack at a time, and not even the Finance Minister’s mother is safe from kidnap.
Education: To be perfectly honest, Ruqqayatu Rufai has a thankless job, trying to stem the tide of decades of educational neglect at every level. With greater than 80% of school leavers unable to attain the minimum requirements in national exams in recent years, the chickens have well and truly come home to roost. The start of the Almajiri education programme, which should comprise 400 schools by 2015, is a first step to reducing the ranks of the next generation of militants. Capacity building for teachers at all levels has been prioritised, and new changes in the curriculum have been pushed through. It will take years to see the fruits of these measures, but there is no substitute for action.
Environment: Given the increased environmental challenges Nigeria is beginning to face from climate change, desertification and floods, this ministry will become increasingly important in the years ahead. For now, however, it doesn’t appear to have the funding it needs to carry out its duties. Notwithstanding, the fight against desert encroachment continues with 6 million new trees planted in Northern states, and several steps are being taken to address issues of climate change, like the development of a National Policy on Climate change, guidelines for the implementation of a Clean Development Mechanism, and the upgrade of the Special Climate change unit to a full department. A lot more needs to be done in the area of preventing and cleaning up the several oil spills which occur in the Niger Delta, and preparing for floods, which are more and more common.
Finance: When she is not battling to reduce the high recurrent expenditure at Federal level, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is battling to reduce the graft in the subsidy process, or battling to save some of the nation’s oil receipts for a rainy day. It has been a year of battles for the former World Bank VP in her second coming. Shorn of the staunch support she got from her first principal, she fights an increasingly lonely battle to keep the treasury from falling completely into the hands of those who would finally empty it. It is a battle that has come at a personal cost, with the kidnap of her mother earlier this month, and while not all her decisions have been popular, there is little doubt that things would be much worse in her absence. Reforming the unreformable indeed.
Foreign Affairs: The diplomatic spat with South Africa over yellow fever cards is just the most visible sign of a more aggressive foreign policy under Gbenga Ashiru, in which Nigeria is less likely to take perceived slights lying down. Hopefully, this attitude is extended to the many badly run Nigerian embassies all over the world.
Health: This ministry claims some improvement in child and maternal mortality rates, but diseases like polio, measles and yellow fever still give cause for concern. There is more private money coming into healthcare especially at tertiary level, so the hope is that one day our elite will not have to go abroad every time they need medical treatment.
Information: If defending every government policy, no matter how indefensible, is the job of the Minister of Information, then Labaran Maku has done well. Enough said.
Justice: Bello Adoke has followed the footsteps of Michael Aondoakaa, in terms of a non-existent fight against corruption. His role in the near cancellation of the Manitoba contract, which is critical to the power reform agenda, clearly marks him out as an enemy of Nigeria’s progress.
Labour: Emeka Wogu was heavily involved in the negotiations with labour unions during the subsidy protests in January, often with negative results, as his comments showcased the arrogance of the average government official. He was put in charge of the white paper committee to look into the report of the Task Force headed by Nuhu Ribadu, and it has been revealed that one of the companies that took fraudulent subsidy payments – Pinnacle contractors – amounting to N2.7 billion has himself as a director, along with members of his family. Why is Wogu still in office?
Lands and Urban development: Nigeria’s housing deficit is put at 17 million homes, and the job of this ministry is to reduce that figure, but the pace at which the units are being built can barely make a dent in the demand. Also, without the widespread use of mortgage facilities and a review of the Land Use Act, it is difficult to see how the majority of Nigerians can become home owners, especially with the cost of these ‘low cost’ houses. Perhaps Ama Pepple can take a few pointers from this article by Nasir El-Rufai.
– We shall continue with the concluding part of this review.