ORONSAYE REPORT: Rethink the Decision to Merge AFIT with NDA
By Chidi Omeje

Mixed feelings have continued to greet the Federal Government’s decision to fully implement the ‘Oronsaye Panel’ report on public sector reform. The reform that the panel sought was the restructuring and rationalization of Federal Government parastatals, agencies and commissions, in order to cut the cost of governance.

It was submitted about 12 years ago and the major highlight of the recommendations was the reduction of statutory agencies from 263 to 161. This would involve the abolition of 38 agencies, the merger of 52 and the reversion of 14 departments in ministries.

In essence, the panel report was to strengthen fiscal responsibility by ultimately eliminating overlaps, duplications, and redundancies in the functions and mandates of government entities and improving service delivery and performance. It also sought to optimize the human and material resources of the government and enhance productivity and efficiency.

As unassailably relevant as the panel recommendations are, in view of the persistent economic downturn in the country, the report has been gathering dust on the shelf for 12 good years and has seen two dispensations in-between. The inability of the previous administrations, including the one that set up the panel, to implement the report, speaks to its sensitivity and/or volatility. So, it is apropos to give kudos to the President Bola Tinubu-led Federal Government for its courage in deciding to implement the very audacious report.

Be that as it may, it is important that a closer look be taken at some of the identified pitfalls of the panel recommendations before we take a dive into their full implementation. Apart from the legal and constitutional hurdles that may require amendments to the enabling acts and laws to scale through, there are some of the recommendations in that report that, when or if implemented, will be irredeemably counterproductive.

Take the popular Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT), Kaduna, which was recommended by the panel to be subsumed by the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) for instance. According to the panel report, AFIT is to become a faculty in NDA! The report, in like manner, recommended that Nigerian Army University, Biu (NAUB), Borno State, should also become a faculty in NDA. This is not tenable.

Established in 1977 in response to the growing need to keep pace with technological development through an increase in manpower capacity building, the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) is a military institution approved by the National Universities Commission to run undergraduate and postgraduate courses. AFIT supports the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) and civilian communities by providing basic training on aeronautics, aerospace engineering, mechatronics engineering, and avionics.

The institute was also affiliated with Cranfield University, United Kingdom, for post-graduate studies in aerospace, vehicle design, and related fields, and it later became evident and necessary to effect a change in the nomenclature to reflect the expanded role of the institute.

Known as NAF Technical and Supply School (TSS) at inception, the institution was renamed Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) on 12 March 2008 and granted university/polytechnic status in 2017. Currently, AFIT comprises 5 faculties, each consisting of various departments. The faculties include Air Engineering, Computing, Ground and Communication Engineering, Social and Management Sciences and Faculty of Sciences. There is also a School of Postgraduate Studies (SPS). All the basic course curricula are structured to meet the minimum requirements for MSc in the aerospace sector. The institute has so far graduated over 5,689 persons, including personnel of the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Navy and NAF as well as civilians. This number includes foreign students from the Republic of Benin, Zimbabwe, Niger, Ghana and Sierra Leone.

Now, apart from its robust history and well-established academic curriculum, AFIT as a military-cum civilian institution, hardly fits into the proposed merger with the Nigerian Defence Academy.

To start with, the purposes of establishing both institutions are not in any way related, apart from the fact that they are run by the military. While AFIT is focused on bridging the gap in aerospace and allied technology in view of the much-needed technical skill development in the country, the NDA is a special institution with a unique responsibility of training cadets to become officers in the Nigerian Armed Forces. As a specialized establishment dedicated to producing future military leaders, the NDA’s curriculum and operations are tailored towards the specialized needs of military training and education.

Yes, the cost-cutting purpose of the Orosanye Report is well established, and we agree with it, but care must be taken not to wittingly or unwittingly destroy key sectoral institutions that have played and continue to play an important role in our march towards industrialization and ultimately rob the country of the unique contributions of specialized institutions.

Excellence and professionalism must not be sacrificed on the altar of vaunted cost-cutting measures. In any case, have we really considered the administrative and logistic nightmare that will attend the implementation of the proposed merger of these two distinct institutions? Have we considered the fact that the merging exercise could dislocate and ultimately diffuse the core essence of a specialized institution like AFIT?

If we take all the above constraints and pitfalls into consideration, the government ought to rethink, take another look, and indeed perish the idea of merging AFIT and NDA. Going ahead with that proposal without reviewing some of the identified inaccuracies will not only throw up unintended consequences but will definitely be counterproductive.

Chidi Omeje is Editor at Security Digest and Zagazola Media Network