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Stand and deliver: Nigeria’s civil servants given their marching orders by Buhari

Nigerians protest high fuel prices in Abuja. © NEXT24ONLINE.NURPHOTO/AFP

After President Muhammadu Buhari halved the number of ministries and sacked several permanent secretaries, he told civil servants he was determined to reform the bureaucracy and stamp out corruption.

Fulfilling the grand hopes for prosperity and security that greeted Muhammadu Buhari’s accession to the presidency last year will rest as much on his ability to galvanise the civil service as on high-table political deals with the bumptious national assembly and 36 state governors. The grim landscape of crashing oil prices and approaching recession has made the government all the more dependent on effective public administrators to eke out scarce state resources.

From the start, Buhari warned his officials that he would insist that the government’s more than 500 ministries, departments and agencies – which employ more than 250,000 Nigerians – are fully accountable in terms of implementing policy and managing its finances. One of Buhari’s first decisions as president was to cut the number of ministries from 42 to 25; he also dismissed all but two of the permanent secretaries that he had inherited from the previous government. According to an insider in the presidency, Buhari’s imperatives for civil service reform could be summed up as « lean, mean and effective ».

But now is the time to hang tough

But those reforms have to be implemented amidst stark economic conditions, complicating the government’s planned shift to capital and development spending. Federal and state officials have been petitioning Buhari this year over funding; within months of coming to power last year, Buhari had agreed to a bailout for cash-strapped state governments.

But now is the time to hang tough, according to Lamido Sanusi, the Emir of Kano and former central bank governor: « Nigeria must drop the habit of borrowing to pay salaries and service recurrent expenditures. » On a visit to Kaduna on 25 August, Sanusi argued the current economic tribulations were more about government failure than market conditions: « We are not being sincere when we say we are in a recession because of the oil prices. What happened to the other sectors? »

Read the rest of this article on The Africa Report, a publication of Groupe Jeune Afrique.

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