Tackling Diversions By Revenue-Generating Agencies

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Ring True with Yemi Adebowale, Email: yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com; Tel: 08054699539 (text only)

Ring true

Phone number 08054699539
Email: yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com

The situation at the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), as reflected in its recent presentation to the Senate’s Joint Committee on Finance and Planning, represents the corruption, mismanagement and ineptitude in virtually all federal revenue-generating agencies. The DPR, one of the agencies that have failed to remit good money to the Federation Account as expected, was queried by the Senate for sending a meagre N44.5 billion into the Consolidated Revenue Fund out of the N2.4 trillion it generated in 2019. The situation at the DPR is mind-boggling.

The agency’s Head of Planning, Mr. Johnson Ajewole, who stood in for his DG, Sarki Auwalu, during the enquiry at the Senate, confirmed the frightening gap between what was realised and what they remitted. The DPR management deducted N88 billion from the N2.4 trillion generated last year as 4 per cent approved collection fee. A monstrous N88 billion as cost of collection in one year? I wonder who approved this.

The DPR could not even convincingly account for the remaining unremitted collections, as it simply said overhead and operational costs swallowed the remaining money, without specific figures tied to them. We are talking about over N2 trillion balance here; that’s about 20 per cent of Nigeria’s budget 2020. The Head of Finance and Accounts of the DPR, Mrs. Lilian Ufondu confirmed that the agency had already collected N1.13 trillion in the first eight months of this year for the federal government and it is projecting N3.4 trillion as revenue for 2021. The bulk of these are usually diverted.

Also recently, a N7 billion under-remittance by the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) was confirmed. The agency collected the revenue and claimed it was spent on inspection of factories. Over N7 billion spent on inspection! The Chairman of the House Committee on Finance, James Faleke scolded NAFDAC: “In the past few weeks, we have been talking about Chinese loans when the money is there in the system. We have the money in Nigeria but we are not doing the needful. We are not remitting what we are supposed to remit. The private sector will not remit the taxes and you, government agencies, being paid salaries, will not remit. Where will the government get money to fund the capital projects when we have deficit budget every year.”

At the Securities and Exchange Commission, N10.3 billion is spent annually on the salaries of about 600 staff. That’s an average of N15.7 million per person. SEC is one of the most lucrative places to work in Nigeria. Revenue of N8.36 billion generated in 2019 could not even cover its salaries. So, SEC hardly remits anything to the Consolidated Revenue Fund Account. That was why it projected a revenue of N8.3 billion in 2021 while its expenditure was put at N14.4 billion.

At the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), good money is made from sold confiscated items and executive services rendered by its operatives. This money is never remitted to the Federation Account.

The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) is the biggest culprit when it comes to diversion and wastage of revenue. Last year, it deducted over N300 billion from revenue collected, under all manner of approvals – seven per cent cost of collection and another two per cent cost of collecting VAT. Customs expenditure in its approved 2020 budget is frightening. Personnel cost will gulp N98.61 billion while overhead cost will guzzle N15.95 billion while it voted N123.59 billion for capital cost. This year, the Nigeria Customs will consume N238 billion of the revenue it would collect for the FG.

I have persistently stated that this country has no business taking loans to fund its budget if the revenue-generating MDAs are well managed. With a good government, the corruption, mismanagement and ineptitude will be tamed, and these agencies will provide enough funds for our budgets.

The other day, I heard the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila raising the alarm over the continuous diversion of revenue by government agencies. He vowed that the House of Representatives would stop MDAs from diverting revenues they are supposed to remit to the Federation Account. Gbajabiamila also specified that the failings of the revenue-generating agencies pushed the federal government into seeking loans to finance infrastructural development.

He said: “We need to impose deep cuts in the cost of governance and improve internal revenue generation and collection so that we can free up resources that can then be deployed to fund policy initiatives that will enhance the lives of our people. The revenue-generating agencies of the Federal Government of Nigeria have a vital role to play in this regard. There has thus far been a consistent failure to adhere to the revenue remittance agreements to which many of these agencies have committed.

“We have credible reports that these desperately needed funds have in many cases, been diverted to finance unnecessary trivialities. At the same time, the Government is left scrambling for alternative sources to fund priority projects. We cannot afford this dynamic, and we will not tolerate it anymore.

The legislature remains the keeper of the public purse, with broad constitutional authority to act on behalf of the Nigerian people, to ensure that our collective resources are efficiently administered in service of the public good. Let no one be in doubt, the House of Representatives will not hesitate to act on our constitutional authority notwithstanding whatever objections may arise.”

Good that Gbajabiamila recognises that corruption in almost all the MDAs is depriving Nigeria huge revenue. It is not enough to just query these MDAs. The Speaker and his colleagues in the National Assembly should take pragmatic action to end this mess. They should back their tough talks with action, by putting pressure on the Executive to do the needful. A serious Executive, genuinely fighting corruption, would have ended poor remittance of revenue in weeks. Over five years after President Buhari commenced his so-called war against corruption, the story is the same in virtually all the MDAs. Yes, corruption in MDAs predates the Buhari government, but he told us that it won’t be business as usual under him. It was a sham.

Nigerians are agitated by the rising debt profile of the country, with many raising concerns over external loan agreements between Nigeria, global bodies and countries, especially China. Clearly, Nigeria does not need to seek external borrowings, especially from China, if the MDAs fully and honestly remit revenues collected on behalf of the federal government.

State governors should also show interest in the activities of federal revenue generating agencies because they are co-owners. These agencies belong to all the three tiers of government; not just the federal government. This is the truth. Governors must insist on full remittance of revenue collected to the Federation Account. All manner of crooked expenditure must also end.

The Good News from Zangon-Kataf

The most soothing news for me came last Saturday when the Atyap Chiefdom, Fulani and Hausa communities in the troubled Zangon-Kataf Local Government Area met and brainstormed on a lasting solution to the persistent killings in Southern Kaduna. The over 40-year old attacks took a dangerous dimension under Governor Nasir el-rufai, with people killed almost on a daily basis in Kajuru, Kauru, Jema’a and Zangon-Kataf LGs. It was heartwarming seeing the Agwatyap, Dominic Gambo Yahaya, discussing with the leaders of the Hausas and Fulanis at the Yakubu Event Centre in Ungwan Wakili, Zango-Kataf LGA.

Kudos to retired Air Vice Marshal Stephen Shekari and Dr. Salim Umar, who co-chaired the peace summit. A communiqué at the end of the meeting called on all residents of Atyap Chiefdom not to take laws into their hands and instead submit all grievances to the lawful authorities. The communiqué “appreciated the fact that all Nigerians have the constitutional or fundamental right to move and reside anywhere in Nigeria, including Atyap Chiefdom, without any fear, molestation or harassment from anybody or any source whatsoever.”

The diverse communities in Southern Kaduna must learn to live in peace with each other. For years, I have been advocating for this. Forgiveness, reconciliation, community healing, roundtable negotiation over land and neutrality of government/security agencies are essential. That’s how to end killings in Southern Kaduna. This peace summit should be expanded to include all the leaders of communities in the entire Southern Kaduna. As for the Commander of Operation Safe Haven, Major Gen Chukwuemeka Okonkwo, he must ensure that his boys operate dispassionately.

Aisha Buhari’s Medicals in Dubai

The First Lady, Aisha Buhari returned to the country extremely excited after her 21-day medicals in Dubai. It was for the treatment of a neck pain. In this clime, those in government, who should put our medical facilities in shape, run abroad for all manner of medicals. What a country! Hospitals in mother Nigeria are still not up to the standard that could take care of ordinary neck pain. That is what Aisha has demonstrated. I thought the First Lady would return to chastise her husband, who after over five years, has failed to raise the quality of healthcare in Nigeria. Rather, she came back telling Nigerian healthcare providers to take advantage of Central Bank’s N100 billion healthcare facility to expand the frontiers of the health sector. Over five years after the Buhari government assumed office, Aisha is still talking about “building/expanding the capacity of the Nigerian health sector and ultimately reducing medical trips and tourism outside the Country.”

This First Lady is obviously just showboating. Her son was flown abroad for medicals after his bike accident. Her husband, until the COVID-19, was also persistently on foreign medicals. I am horrified by the First Family’s persistent medical trip abroad. Unfortunately, there is no law stopping them from doing this. The burden on them is more of a moral one, considering that President Buhari had doggedly preached that we should look inwards for our needs to strengthen the Naira and save our limited forex earnings. My foremost issue with the first family is that they are spending public money abroad for medicals; more so in a recessed economy.

This must not be allowed to continue in a country where millions of Nigerians are wallowing in abject poverty. The other day, our President spent about $50,000 treating ear infection. That was after he clearly stated that taxpayers’ money would not be used to pay for foreign medicals of public servants. As a reminder, Buhari announced in April 2016 that his administration would no longer provide allowances for medical trips by government officials, unless the case can’t be handled in Nigeria. He stated this at the opening ceremony of the 56th Annual General Conference and delegate meeting of the Nigeria Medical Association in Sokoto. The President, who was represented by the then Health Minister, Prof. Isaac Adewole said: “The government would not encourage medical tourism with the nation’s resources. While this administration will not deny anyone of his or her fundamental human rights, we will certainly not encourage expending Nigerian hard-earned resources on any government official seeking medical care abroad, when such can be handled in Nigeria.”

With focused investment in equipment and manpower by a forward-looking government, I doubt if there is any health challenge that can’t be handled in this country. Five years is more than enough for any serious government to put healthcare in shape in our dear country.

Wike and Rivers Pensioners

About three weeks ago, pensioners in Rivers State appealed to Governor Nyesom Wike to pay their four years arrears and gratuities to help them change their “pitiable living conditions”. Nothing has changed 19 days after. The pensioners, in a statement by their spokesman, Lucky Ati, said some of them had not received any kobo from the state government since 2015. “We have written several letters to Governor Nyesom Wike to no avail,” said the pensioners. Yes, four years of unpaid pension and gratuities. That’s the situation in Wike’s Rivers State. It has been four years of pummeling hapless pensioners. This is man’s inhumanity to man. This garbage must not be happening in a state that has been spending billions of Naira on flyovers. Rivers state Governor should show some respect to these senior citizens.