â€œA man who canâ€™t tell where the rain began to beat him cannot know where he dried his body.â€- An Igbo epigram
It comes as a pleasant coincidence. Just a few days after the Ogun State governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, cleared the air on the stateâ€™s debt profile, drawing plaudits from the vast majority of residents and stereotyped censure from a few opposition elements, the Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, has equally cleared the air on the financial position of the Federal Government, especially the debt profile. From what I have read in the papers, there is no doubt the vast majority of Nigerians will applaud the minister, and of course, criticisms must be expected from a few.
Constructive criticism is the oil of democracy while destructive censure constitutes a clog in the wheel of progress. No government, the world over, will get everything right. There must always be room for improvement. But when opposition elements and some commentators stand before a skyscraper and still claim what they see is a bungalow, all in the name of â€œPull him Downâ€, then we are in the realm of disruptive politics, which is fatal to the socio-economic progress of any society.
Debt is an emotive issue in every part of the country. Nigerians know that borrowing is an aspect of economic measures. But they are averse to borrowing because of the mismanagement of the past. In the past, a government would claim they borrowed one humongous amount for one project or the other. You ask, â€œWhere are the projects constructed with the money? Where are the roads built? Where are the classrooms or school buildings erected? Is there any improvement in the health care delivery?â€ They have practically nothing to point to; little or nothing to show for the resources. So when any new government comes on the scene and talks about loan, Nigerians simply donâ€™t want to listen. And that is why responsible governments must keep up the dialogue with the people, so that they donâ€™t become victims of transferred aggression.
Before you talk of borrowing, Nigerians at least expect certain measures to be in place. First, you block loopholes inherent in the old system, raise your revenue generation and ensure financial discipline. I recall one of the major steps taken by the Amosun government in 2011 was to streamline the accounting system and put an end to the proliferation of government bank accounts by the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). Electronic payment was introduced to ensure that government revenues would no longer end in private pockets. As a result of these measures, the income generated by the Ministry of Commerce suddenly rose from the average of N45 million per annum under the previous administration to N550 million per annum (representing 1,122% increase) within a space of one year! Of course, the governor is a reputed expert in financial prudence. There are no free monies in Ogun. Amosun insists on value for money for every project executed. From a paltry sum of N750m per month inherited Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), the Amosun government has moved the IGR to N6 billion monthly; the administration is doing everything possible to raise the figure to N10 billion in not too distant future.
Reading the article by the Minister of Finance on the debt debate on Monday jogs my memory on my piece in early 2015: â€œIt would seem an understatement for President Muhammadu Buhari to speak of inheriting an empty treasury. I think we should thank God that the President even met a treasury at all. With the monetary bonanza, bazaar and lottery that characterized the electioneering of the ruling party in the last general elections, we should be grateful to the almighty that both the purse and its contents had not disappeared altogether.â€
I also recall another intervention in the fall of that same year, â€œI believe we also need prayers in this country. Why is it now that we have a President Muhammadu Buhari that is committed to good governance and accountability that we are confronted with paucity of cash? Why has the price of oil chosen this momentous time to plummet to this level? Even if the new government achieves complete diversification of the economy, will it fructify overnight, in one, two or three years? Why should it be at this time that we have a highly conscientious and honest central government that we should have this kind of financial situation as a country? So we need prayers in this country.â€
I think what Minister Adeosun has done is to remind us of the road we had marched as a people in recent years and the sedulous efforts the Buhari administration is making to turn things around for the country. And the hard work is yielding positive fruits. To quote an Igbo epigram, â€œA man who canâ€™t tell where the rain began to beat him cannot know where he dried his body.â€ For instance, it is so easy to forget that about 28 states could not pay salaries before Buhari came to power. Mass sack of workers loomed large in the horizon. Yet, the President released bail-out funds, Budget Support Fund and Paris Club Refunds to all the states irrespective of party affiliation. As Adeosun pointed out, â€œThrough the implementation of the Efficiency Unit and enrolment of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies on the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System, we have successfully saved N206bn in payroll costs using technology to drive the cleansing process, with the removal of 54,000 fraudulent or erroneous entries. This was attained without the negative social impact of retrenchment.â€ Two hundred and six billion naira is up to the budget of a state government in Nigeria!
The non-oil revenue drive of the Federal Government is producing results, some in an unprecedented manner. Just recently, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) remitted about N8 billion to the Federation Account without any increase in fees payable by candidates, whereas the highest it ever paid under the previous government was a meagre N3 million! The Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) remitted only a paltry N4.95 billion to the Federation Account in 2015 but the figure rose dramatically to N24 billion within a space of one year under the Buhari administration! Major revenue-generating agencies are turning in fantastic figures to the Federation Account.
The Almighty, of course, answers prayers. As the Buhari administration intensifies investment in agriculture, solid mineral resources and other non-oil income sources, the price of crude oil in the global market appears promising once again. All this shows that better days are ahead for Nigeria.
The article by the Minister of Finance is stirring and most affecting. â€œThe administration has always been transparent and the reward for transparency should not be consternation but rather, patient and informed analysis.
The administration has expended more on capital projects than any previous one, despite tight fiscal conditionsâ€¦ is working harder on revenue generation than ever before. Blocking leakages, demanding efficiency and even breaching previous â€œno-goâ€ areas like tax compliance for our higher earners. All these efforts are aimed at ensuring that Nigeria has an economy that distributes wealth and opportunity fairly among her citizens.â€
â€“â€“â€“Soyombo, Special Assistant on Media to the Governor of Ogun State, sent this piece from Abeokuta via email@example.com