Recently, there have been consistent radio adverts urging Nigerians to accept deregulation as the magic wand invented by our team of expert economists for solving our national problems. Deregulation simply means non-direct involvement of government in the deregulated sectors. It could also be called privatization.
It might help to recall that privatization has been around for some time now. Towards the end of the Obasanjo administration in 2007, a lot of our national assets and “liabilities” were privatized. Notable among them were the oil refineries. There was controversy and rumour that the federal government colleges alias “unity schools” were also to be privatized. The reason was that private operators are more efficient in running these companies adn can check corruption more easily. Following the outcry, the Yar’Adua administration reversed the “sale” of some of the corporations and from the probes that followed, we learnt that “due process” had not actually been followed. The privatization “thing” rested a while. But the Goodluck Jonathan “transformation agenda” transformed it to deregulation.
Nigerians woke up on the wrong side of the bed on New Year day, not only because Boko Haram had destroyed the spirit of the season, but also because the federal government had removed the fuel subsidy. Two excellent “reasons” were “given” for this. One was that the excess funds “saved” from the subsidy could be “ploughed back” into other “productive” aspects of the economy to create jobs and develop public infrastructure. The second reason that the corruption in the subsidy rigmarole made it more beneficiary to oil traders alias “cartels, than the ordinary people.
Opponents of the second argument said another way to let the subsidy die a natural death was to make local refineries work at full capacity. The government argued that it could not run the refineries because the process was is expensive and liable to corruption. Now the subsidy debate has “ended” or at least, gone the Nigerian way. But I have an issue with the federal government’s confession that it could not run the refineries. Not that it was new knowledge, but it is a reality that transcends every aspect of Nigerian life. The “inability” of the federal government to “run” anything is evident in our daily lives. The federal government is not only “unable” to “run” the oil refineries; it is also unable to run quality schools, good roads, hospitals or stable power. There could be many reasons for this inefficiency. One is corruption, the virus that paralyzes the hands and feet of government. Two is the lazy and unserious attitude towards “government thing” that both our leaders and we, have developed over the years. The must culpable reason however, is the over-politicization of the process of governance. Political appointments have to be made to “stakeholders” or “party elders”. Serious cases of indiscipline are treated as “family affairs” and so the system continues with “business as usual.” Meanwhile, the attainment of leadership is not by merit or popular vote, but by a “sharing formula” called “zoning” where old school politicians are lined up, waiting patiently for their “turn”, while others have jumped the queue and have made the nation “ungovernable” for themselves as a result.
There is abundant evidence that running the federal government is the most expensive and unprofitable business ever embarked upon by the people of Nigeria. From the executive to the legislature, huge sums of money are “invested” that neither return any profit, nor are themselves recovered. For instance, this year, the President alone would feed himself with one billion naira! Of course, the Vice President , the Senate President and Speaker or the House of Reps as well as their colleagues would also “feed” themselves. This is in addition to all kinds of “allowances” and “entitlements” that accrue to them. With this quantum of “investment”, are Nigerians not justified in asking for “dividends” on their share units? Yet everyday, we shout “NEPA” many times as a result of interruptions in the supply of power. We cannot “get” admission into schools and our graduates cannot “find work” to do.
Now that the “transformation agenda” is deregulation, why don’t we deregulate the federal government? A feat like this has many advantages. First, it will drastically cut the cost of governance since private operators cannot condone absentee “Honorables” or Senators who spend time attending to their private businesses and yet “cut” the greates chunk of the “national cake”. Second, it will trim down the over-staffed executive and legislative branches and “free” more “resources” for national development. Third, it will promote merit against mediocrity and help retire some of our “elder statesmen” who remain “kampe” many years after they have “left” power. A private operator like Aliko Dangote, with his team of partners who have a history of extreme profitability will certainly turn round the fortunes of this liability called federal government.
Finally, “deregulation is embraced by many countries of the world, and Nigeria cannot operate in isolation.” So let us deregulate the federal government.