By Abiodun KOMOLAFE
In a nationwide address last Monday, President Bola Tinubu announced some palliatives to mitigate the impact of the high cost of living brought about by the fuel subsidy removal.
Great speech! Excellent delivery! So, kudos to Mr President! However, a section of Nigerians frowned at the speech because ‘it was one-sided’. According to this group, the president only pleaded with the masses to persevere without telling Nigerians what the elite and the privileged clique would be sacrificing to make Nigeria great again. Though Nigerians have never doubted Tinubu’s capacity to be to Nigerians what Prophet Elijah was to the widow of Zarephath, they had expected him to talk about, say, a certain percentage of the emoluments and the privileges of the ruling class – beginning with the president, to the governors, the judiciary and other politically-exposed persons – that would be going into a certain purse in favour of Nigeria’s rescue mission. “The president spoke eloquently to appease the masses; but what about the ‘elite of the elite’ who put us in this situation? Won’t there be a probe?”
Well, it is no longer news that the fuel subsidy removal has opened up many wounds, including the worms of scams and inefficiency in Nigeria’s governance system. All the same, that Nigeria is in dire need of an escape route from her present financial and socioeconomic predicament cannot be overstated. A situation where annual budgets are hugely dependent on foreign borrowings, always running on alarming deficits; and where monetary authorities only present unrealistic balance sheets is not healthy for a country that’s already on tenterhooks. Sad that our economic expertise no more generates predicted results, and Nigerians continue to gnash their teeth in deeper pains. Nigeria’s economy needs urgent surgery; otherwise, the future is in for a serious mess.
Tinubu is known as a revenue driver. He knows all the tricks in the business of governance. I have also argued elsewhere that Zacchaeus Adelabu, his Special Adviser on Revenue, is a man of unimpeachable pedigree. I stand by my words! As fate would have it, the Oyo State-born technocrat is the man chosen by the president to help him find reasonable solutions to that very important aspect of governance. The bitter truth is that the task before Adedeji and his team is as enormous as it is unenviable. But while our president expects Nigerians to empathetically persevere in the face of the agonizing pains, he also needs to bear in mind that, until the superrich are prepared to play major roles in this cause, the troubling chapter of Nigeria’s history will remain a tale too difficult to tell.
Living in penury amidst plenty! Nigeria is in trying times and all eyes can see it! According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), nearly 133m Nigerians are multi-dimensionally poor. Of this figure, 86.1m (i.e., 65%) live in the North while the rest (i.e., 35%) live in the South. Approximately 70% of Nigeria’s population is said to be living in the rural areas; yet, these areas are home to 80% of poor people. The intensity of poverty in rural areas is also higher, at 41.9%, compared to 36.9% in urban areas.
As if these are not enough, 4 out of 10 Nigerians are said to be experiencing monetary deprivations but “more than 6 out of 10 are multi-dimensionally poor”. As at June 2023, unemployment stood at 33.3%; underemployment at 22.8%; youth unemployment, 42.5%; and youth underemployment, 22.0%.
Once upon a time in Nigeria’s recent history, the social media platforms were awash with the videos of young men who, in their hundreds, were reportedly undergoing paramilitary training in insurgency in selected camps. Unfortunately, the government of the day watched helplessly as some misguided elements acted recklessly. Now, the chickens have come home to roost, with the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Eastern Security Network (ESN) as the culprits; and Nigerians are living with the consequences.
But Nigeria can’t continue like this! To get out of this mess, let there be a comprehensive and sincere economic summit. Let the leakages in our revenue generation be fully identified and solidly blocked. Let oil theft and smuggling be confronted with renewed vigour, without giving room for any sacred cows. Beyond the rules of engagement associated with the destruction of illegal refineries, let there be innovative ways through which seized vessels and their products can add value to the sources of revenue for the country. From Ilesa in Osun State, to Maru in Zamfara State, let all issues relating to illegal mining be decisively addressed and scapegoats made, where necessary. Most importantly, let the roles of non-state actors in the protection of our pipelines and mining sites be reviewed in the overall interest of Nigeria.
We need to fix our hospitals with adequate resources and cutting-edge medical technology that will help patients to diagnose diseases and get healed. Agriculture (mechanized farming) and food security must be vigorously pursued while education sector and skills acquisition programmes must be adequately funded.
At the heart of economic growth is electricity supply. With a population of 223,804,632, Nigeria’s power generation capacity is below 5,000 megawatts. South Africa, with a population of 58,048,332, generates 63.28 megawatts while Egypt, with a population of 109,546,720, has 60.07 megawatts to her credit. So, how did Nigeria arrive at this pass? Queen Elizabeth of England was once reported to have recommended an electric firm that would give Nigeria sustainable power supply, instead of paying the $12 billion reduced debt, which the Olusegun Obasanjo-led government said must be paid back as loans acquired by Nigeria. For reasons best known to him, ‘Balogun Owu’ never agreed to the Queen’s proposal. Instead, he went on a turbine-building expedition. And, since society couldn’t sanction him, the former president started pontificating, never to be satisfied!
Wait a minute, why has Nigeria become a dumping ground for electric generators? Again, what are the roles of estimated billings and what are the steps being taken by the government to put a stop to this despicable act? Until these and other pertinent questions are answered, improvement in electricity generation may continue to be a fantasy in Nigeria. Until all houses, even military and public institutions are prepared to do the needful, there will be no stop to hike in electricity tariffs.
According to experts in Tax Administration, tax evasion is a crime that can distort the overall economic, political, and social systems of a country. Economically, it affects fair distribution of wealth for the citizens. Socially, it creates different social groups motivated by tax evasion, thereby leading to unfair and unhealthy competition. So, it is a criminal offence in the eye of the law, and it is punishable by facing criminal charges bordering on money laundering.
In sane climes, tax evasion is another serious economic crime known as sabotage, which no law-abiding citizen would like to commit. In the USA for example, former President Donald Trump is still battling with it, in addition to several other offences hanging on his neck. But here in Nigeria, the rich and the powerful are deliberately evading tax without proportionate consequences. Starting with public institutions therefore, the focus should be on the rich while the middle and lower classes are expected to key into ‘pay-as-you-go’.
Lastly, with the new drive to raise revenue by making individuals and companies to be corporate responsible, fightback is imminent! Therefore, communication becomes of paramount importance to enlighten and educate those concerned to make them responsible.
May the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us peace in Nigeria!
*KOMOLAFE writes in from Ijebu-Jesa, Osun State, Nigeria ([email protected])