How Not to Reward a People

Muhammadu Buhari

Eddy Odivwri

Long before the February elections, I had predicted the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari. In most circles, I was often in the minority, as they will almost “mob” me for my avowed support for a man they see as having imported and implanted hardship among Nigerians. My standing argument was that the second term would be better and brighter for Nigerians. That the teeting problem of inheriting a near decrepit economy from the previous administration had a strong telling effect on the Buhari administration.

As it would happen, the catch lingo of the campaign was “Next Level”. While I argued that the administration was determined to advance Nigerians from a bitter level to a better level, the anti-Buharists insisted it would be taking Nigerians to a higher level of bitterness.

We did not stake any bet. But when President Buhari won, they simply shut their mouths, and as Bola Ige would put it, chose to siddon look. Four months after, there appears not much to beat a drum about. Our applause is dying down. There appears to be directional confusion over where the Next Level is pointing to: whether upward or downward.

Some of us had thought and argued, at the time, that having won after a hard electoral fight, despite the many thumbs-down occurrences of the first term, that President Buhari would even go out of his way to prove his rabid critics wrong by putting smile on the faces of Nigerians, especially those who supported his re-election. But sadly, what we have seen in the last five months is what looks like punishment, instead of reward.

Were it not so, how do we explain the fact that more than seven moths after the federal government approved the N30,000 (about $80) minimum wage, it is far from taking off? Nigerian workers are still groaning. It is the underpayment of workers that fuel corner cutting, otherwise called corruption. Nigerians are often eager to cite the developmental strides in Singapore, under the leadership of Lee Kwan Yu. He achieved his revolution in that coutry after he reviewed the wage structure and paid the workforce a realistic wage bill. Which worker being paid N18,000 will resist the temptation to “cut corners” when the opportunity arises in the civil service? How does the government realistically expect workers to meaningfully live with $80 dollars for 30 days? That amount is by no means enough to even feed a puppy in the Villa for one week. It is in the same country where the sum of N5.5 billion is to be spent for the official vehicles of 469 federal lawmakers.

And as if that dilly-dally is not bad enough, there are talks about raising Value Added Tax (VAT) from 5 % to 7.2%, allegedly to fund the minimum wage demand. If the new VAT is allowed, it will be like giving a gift with the right hand and taking it back with the left hand. Every day, the purchasing power of Nigerians is getting weaker and weaker. It is worrisome.

All the talk about the ease of doing business has not translated to anything substantial. Things are still as difficult and glitchy as they used to be. Recently, it took us about three weeks to clear our goods at the Apapa port, plus all the “settlements” that go with it.

The Finance ministry seems to have rolled out tons of offensives against Nigerians, in a desperate bid to fund the depleting vault of government. The foreign reserve recently dropped to $43,730m from $44, last month.

The Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) had been clamping down on corporate bank accounts, slamming arbitrary and ridiculous fines and charges on corporate citizens. In Lagos State, the Lagos Internal Revenue Service (LIRS) is literally squeezing everybody. Rather than widen the tax net, they choose to suffocate those who manage to pay with a litany of taxes. Yes, citizens should pay tax. But they should see the benefit of the tax they pay. Too often, we are not encouraged to keep paying the multiple taxes, seeing that we are almost a local government unto ourselves: we source our own water, our own security, our own education, our own electricity, our roads (sometimes) our own medicals etc. So what are we paying the taxes for, if we can’t feel or smell government anywhere near us?

The FIRS had recently announced that all electronic fund transfers will henceforth attract charges. Nigerians kept quiet.

Before now , the banks have been inundating us with al kinds of real and phoney charges: transfer charge (N52.50 per transaction), account maintenance charge (N1 per mill), card maintenance charge (even when they don’t maintain nothing– N52.50 monthly), stamp duty charge (N50 per transaction), notification charge (as much as possible) etc. The joke had once been made that if you deposit N20,000 in Nigerian banks, and you come back in five years, instead of the money growing, you will be lucky to meet N10 there, because of the sundry charges that bank deposits suffer.

What is worse, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), on Tuesday, announced the commencement of charges for bank deposits above N500,000, in what they described as “processing fee”. While individuals will be charged 3 %, corporate account holders will be charged 5% for every deposit and 3% for every withdrawal. Ironically, this is the same government that is talking about broadening the banking base wherein the bankable population should be grown. Yet, for bringing our money to the bank, we will now be charged. Even if we want to withdraw the ones we had earlier deposited, still we would be charged, all in the name of pursuing a cashless policy in just six states (plus FCT) of the country. I don’t understand these contradictions.

These are the same banks that declare humongous profits at the end of every trading year. It’s all at our expense!
Government seems to be struggling to do what it ought not and neglecting to do what it ought.

And all it translates to for the citizens is paying more and more into government coffers and getting less and less from government.
It is exactly how not to reward a people for voting a government into power.

Already, those who never gave Buhari a chance of redemption are standing by the corner, pulling their lower eyelids down, taunting and mocking: didn’t we tell you?