Nigeria: Working on the Change that Leads to the Next Level

Nigeria: Working on the Change that Leads to the Next Level

By Joni Akpederi

OPINIONS on the tenure and achievements of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration in the fading days of his reign as Nigeria’s leader are as divergent as they were when he won his re-election for a second term back in 2019. Quite a number of critics had written off his performance in the first tenure (2015 – 2019) and so, weren’t happy he had gotten another mandate to run the affairs of the country.

Apparently aware of this, President Buhari, rather uncharacteristically, less than a couple of months to the expiration of his second term as Nigeria’s head of state and government, humbly asked the Nigerian people for forgiveness from those he believed might have been hurt by his administration’s actions in the course of discharging his duties. This was in the spirit of this year’s Muslim holiday to end the holy, fasting month of Ramadan.

The President read the mood of his compatriots correctly, what with the slew of socio-economically disruptive reforms and initiatives that have become the hallmarks of the Buhari eight-year second stint as Nigeria’s head of state and government. Many analysts now believe the reach-out was in order, especially as his administration’s Change Agenda and Next Level politico-economic blueprints produced results he and his administration’s top functionaries list as roaring successes in the face of push backs from critics.

To demonstrate his concern with the direction of the initiatives, President Buhari assumed control of the recently inaugurated National Economic Council. He got somuch more aware of the policy initiatives than any of his ministers and aides that, late in his tenure, he found it necessary to address the populace on the state of the nation and in his words, “to render account on the efforts of the administration to sustain and strengthen our economy, enhance the fight against corruption and sustain our gains in the fight against terrorism and insecurity which has, undoubtedly, been impacted by several internal and external factors.”A deep look into the legion of initiatives in all spheres of the political economy clearly bear the President out that it has scored rather well on some “efforts”.

A legion of bold initiatives
It is common knowledge that the administration came after successive governments who failed to institutionalise reforms and ensure the sustainability of those they managed to piece together. It inherited an archaic set of corporate, banking and capital market laws; drafts of, but un-enacted, bills to reform the critical petroleum sector; an unimplemented Oronsaye White Paper to reform the Nigerian Civil Service, well as other embarrassing failures and evidence of lack of political will to promote development.

Therefore, committed, at the onset, the Administration’s Good Governance and Fighting Corruption Reforms, focused on the much-neglected area of law reform. The most historically significant legislative interventions include:

• Critical corporate and financial laws to enhance Nigeria’s global competitiveness, including the repeal and re-enactment of Companies and Allied Matters Act (‘CAMA’) 2020 – the first comprehensive reform since 1990; enacting the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) Bill, the first legislation in Nigeria’s history focused on curbing anti-competition practices; establishing the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission; re-pealing and re-enacting the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act (BOFIA) 2020; enacting the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria, AMCON (Amendment) Acts of 2019 and 2021; enacting the Credit Reporting Act (CRA) 2017 and Secured Transactions in Movable Assets Act (STMAA) 2017.

 Fundamental anti-corruption, anti-money laundering and financial intelligence laws, such as the Nigeria Police Act, 2020 (being the first comprehensive reform of Police legislation since the Police Act of 1943); the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit Act 2017 (which resolved the longstanding impediments to Nigeria’s full participation in the global efforts to combat illicit financing of terrorism and crime under the auspices of the global Egmont Group); the Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Act, 2022; the Terrorism (Prevention and Prohibition) Act 2022, Proceeds of Crime (Recovery and Management) Act, 2022; Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act, 2019; Nigerian Correctional Services Act, 2019; Suppression of Piracy and other Maritime Offences Act, 2019; amongst others.

 Historic reforms to Nigeria’s Constitutional and other public laws, including the first ever amendments to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to support the engagement of young persons in the Nigerian politics by passing Not Too Young to Run legislation, as well as to improve the funding and independence of States’ Legislatures and Judiciaries; enacting overdue reforms through the Electoral Act, 2022;

 Finally enacting into law the Petroleum Industry Act, 2021 after close to two decades of drafting, debates and delays – leading to the commercialization of NNPC Limited, and other much needed reforms to Nigeria’s energy sector. This important law also complements other landmark legislations such as the Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contracts Act, 1993 (Amendment) Act, 2019, to increase oil and gas revenues accruing to the Federation;

 Enacting annual Finance Acts of 2019, 2020 and 2021 to support Nigeria’s annual Budgets and respond to emerging tax, fiscal and economic issues, including:
(i) Reducing headline corporate tax rates for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises;

(ii) Reforming archaic tax legislation in line with global best practices to combat Base Erosion and Transfer Pricing;

(iii) Reforming the taxation of securities lending and real estate investment trusts to spur increased investments on our capital markets;

(iv) Empowering the Federal Inland Revenue Service and the Nigeria Customs Service to optimize their use of technology to more efficiently collect taxes and levies; and

(v) Increasing value added tax(VAT) revenues predominantly to support our States and Local Governments’ precious finances during and after the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the economy;

Furthermore, the Buhari administration issued 11 Presidential Executive Orders on a range of important issues, including the Promotion of Transparency and Efficiency in the Business Environment, 2017;
(i) Promoting Local Procurement by Government Agencies, 2017;

(ii) the Submission of Annual Budgetary Estimates by all Statutory and non-Statutory Agencies, including Incorporated Companies wholly owned by the Federal Government of Nigeria, 2017;

(iii) Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme, 2017;

(iv) Planning and Execution of Projects, Promotion of Nigerian Content in Contracts, Science, Engineering and Technology, 2018;

(v) The Voluntary Offshore Assets Regularization Scheme (VOARS), 2018;

(vi) Open Defecation and enhanced sanitation, 2019;

(vii) The innovative Road Infrastructure Development and Refurbishment Investment Tax Credit Scheme, 2019; and

(viii) The National Public Buildings Maintenance, 2022.

Revenue collection and expenditure management reforms are yielding positive results, with recent significant improvements in non-oil revenue performance even as the nation is seeing improvements in revenue administration reforms and collection efficiency.

Cleaning up finance
The good governance initiatives would not make much sense without the cleaning up the nation’s over-indulged finance sector, making imperative the signing into law on December 31, 2021, the Finance Act 2021. The Act was designed to improve the government’s finances and cash flow, especially through revenues from non-oil sources, and thereby reduce dependence on oil sales and excess borrowing to fund future national budgets.

Taking a cue from the operations of the US’s Internal Revenue Service, the Finance Act has transferred the power and responsibility for tax and levy collection from diverse agencies of government to the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS). All non-compliant public servants and errant are liable to jail terms of various lengths or/and fines. The passage of the Act demonstrated the Buhari administration’s resolve to improve the fiscal framework that will enable the attainment of its goals of palpable economic growth and sustainable development.

A quick read through the Act’s provisions reveals the administration’ realization of how previous governments’ left huge holes that enabled players in the economy to get away with all manner of subterfuge and tax dodging schemes. Now, government insists that:
 Capital gains tax on shares worth N100million and above in any 12 consecutive months is 10 percent unless the proceeds are immediately reinvested in the stock market in Nigeria.

 All educational institutions are subject to corporate income tax regardless of how they parade or promote their activities ie, public, religious, or otherwise.

 Education tax payable by all corporate bodies in Nigeria raised from 2 to 2.5 percent.

 All firms in the business of banking, mobile telephony, ICT, oil and gas, aviation, and maritime who post a turnover of N100 million and above must pay 0.25percent of profit as science and engineering tax. They are also to pay a levy to be determined by the FIRS, into the Police Trust Fund along with other Nigerian companies in the country.

 Beverage manufacturers (non-alcoholic and sweetened drinks) are to pay an excise duty of N10 per litre of drinks.

 All foreign digital companies whose platforms are accessed by Nigerians are to pay tax on content since they collect revenues on adverts, streaming services, etc. They are also to collect VAT from their clients for onward transmission to FIRS.
Massive investment in infrastructure upgrade

The administration’s footprint on the nation’s infrastructure stock is perhaps its most visible achievement. It established the Infrastructure Corporation of Nigeria (‘InfraCorp’), in 2021, with seed capital of N1 trillion from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), and the Africa Finance Corporation (AFC). Leveraging finance through the NSIA into the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund, it ramped up work at the Second Niger Bridge, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and Abuja-Kano Road to most Nigerians’ delight.

Through the Road Infrastructure Tax Credit Scheme pursuant to Executive Order #7 of 2019, it incentivised responsible companies to invest billions of Naira in constructing over 1,500km critical roads in key economic corridors. Under this Scheme, the Dangote Group has substantially completed the reconstruction of 34km Apapa-Oworonshoki-Ojota Expressway and the 43km Obajana-Kabba Road. Similarly, Nigeria LNG Limited is on track to complete the 38km Bodo-Bonny Road and Bridges Project by the end of 2023.

Taking advantage a forward looking Sukuk Bonds scheme, over N600 billion has been raised and invested in 941km for over 40 critical road projects nationwide to complement the Ministry of Works and Housing’s Highway Development and Management Initiative and other interventions;
To restore operations in the nation’s rail network, the government has opened up the newly upgraded 156km Lagos-Ibadan Standard Gauge Rail (and its 8.72km extension to Lagos Port); the 186km Abuja-Kaduna Standard Gauge Rail; and 327km Itakpe-Warri Standard Gauge Rail. These completed projects complement ongoing investments in Light Rail, Narrow and Standard Gauge Rail, Ancillary Facilities Yards, Wagon Assembly Plants, E-Ticketing infrastructure as well as the training and development of rail engineers and ancillary workers.

New Airport Terminals at Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt, and the reconstructed Abuja Airport Runway have greatly improved aviation services in the country. More so, there have been other investments in airports safety facilities and aeronautical meteorological services. The airports complement ongoing development of seaports and ancillary infrastructure at the Lekki Deep Sea Port, Bonny Deep Sea Port, Onitsha River Port, as well as the Kaduna, Kano and Katsina Inland Dry Ports to create the beginnings of a truly multimodal transport system.

Bringing power to the people
While much still needs to be done about Nigeria’s chronically under-resourced embarrassingly epileptic power sector, the Buhari administration made the first solid steps in decades, to address the malaise. Through bespoke interventions, such as the Siemens Power Programme in concert with the German government over 2 billion US Dollars will be invested in the rickety Transmission Grid.

The country is already working on billions of US dollars in concessional assistance and other funds from development partners such as the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, and JICA, without prejudice to interventions through the CBN, to support the power sector reforms.
The Bank has also been impactful in its interventions to roll out over a million meters to on-grid consumers, creating much needed jobs in assembly and installation. The Buhari administration’s financing interventions have recently been complemented with the takeover of four electricity distribution companies and the constitution of the Board of the Nigeria Electricity Liability Management Company, which has not been effective in carrying out its function.

On the power generation side, significant investments have been made to in add 4000MW of power from such generating assets as Zungeru Hydro, Kashimbila Hydro, Afam III Fast Power, Kudenda Kaduna Power Plant, the Okpai Phase 2 Plant and the Dangote Refinery Power Plant.

Furthermore, generation efforts are making the transition from a reliance on oil and diesel, to gas as a transitional fuel, as well as environmentally-friendly solar and hydro sources. Under the Energising EducationProgramme, solar and gas power solutions have begun operations at Federal Universities and Teaching Hospitals at Kano, Ebonyi, Bauchi and Delta States. Similarly, the Programme has taken clean, sustainable power solutions to the Sabon-Gari Market in Kano, Ariaria Market in Aba, and Sura Shopping Complex in Lagos.

Securing life and property
Perhaps, the single most challenging problem the administration has been confronted with is the security of life and property in the country. Many voters have openly told pollsters that they had given their ballots to Buhari because they felt he would do a better job of quelling the various security threats confronting the nation than his predecessor. The President himself had openly named security top priority for his administration.
As he winds down his service to the nation, however, the jury is out on his performance on this most delicate issue since news of banditry, kidnappings and wanton pillaging of properties in rural communities still top media offerings amidst accounts of ethnic tensions in parts of the country.

President Buhari acknowledges all these but downplays the severity. At the opening ceremony of a three-day strategic communication conference for State Commandant and Public Relations Officers of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) late last year, he said: “While insecurity is not gone, it is not rising. To a large extent, there is control over the security situation in the country. This is irrespective of what the western nations said about the security situation; we know that is not exactly the truth”.

He was clear about his administration’s success in managing the crisis so far. “Our security agencies have a firm grip and control of the security situation in the country. The fight against insurgency in the North East region has continually recorded very clear wins in the past year. I oppose the (term) ‘rising insecurity’ in the country, it is not rising, it is under control and it will further be under control till it is completely checked.”

He pledged to step up assistance to the nation’s security forces while asking the populace at large for cooperation. “It is our collective responsibility to ensure that Nigeria remains safe and peaceful for us all. Therefore, we have a duty and obligation to support our troops and intelligence agencies by being alert and reporting anything suspicious”.

The Commandant General of NSCDC, Ahmed Audi, echoed the President. He said the Federal Government was leaving no stone unturned to eradicate insecurity in the country and urged Nigerians to turn deaf ears to utterances meant to discredit the effort of the Federal Government in the fight against insecurity. “Securing the country”, he noted, “requires the cooperation of the security agencies and the citizens”.

Giving a few instances of the successes, he revealed that the Federal Government and the Borno State government have started the journey of returning internally displaced persons to their ancestral homes earlier taken by the insurgents, while over 82,000 insurgents with their families, had willingly surrendered to the Nigerian military. President Buharireassured that “insecurity, especially banditry and kidnapping, will be significantly curtailed before the end of this Administration”, vowed to “redouble (our) efforts to ensure we leave a legacy of a peaceful, prosperous and secured nation”.

Parting shot
In a move that has been described as a great parting shot by some analysts of Nigerian’s political economy, President Buhari, a couple of weeks ago in the nation’s capital, Abuja, launched a new long-term national development plan, the Nigeria Agenda 2050 (NA 2050), with the ambitious goal of chalking upa Per Capita GDP of $33,328 per annum and placing the country in the ranks of top middle-income economies in the world by 2050.
The Nigerian leader envisions a dynamic, industrialized and knowledge-based economy that generates inclusive and sustainable development for the country, which succeeding administrations will find it useful in the delivery of electoral promises.

The administration had approved the development of earlier successor plans to such as the Nigeria Vision 20:2020 and the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), 2017-2020. The NA 2050 is that successor.

As President Buhari, gets set to relinquish power, he hopes the plan covers all shades of opinion and would ensure even and balanced development, as well as put in place necessary legislations for continuous implementation of plans even after the expiration of the tenure of successive administrations.

Commending the National Steering Committee, led by the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed and the Minister of State, Budget and National Planning, Clem Agba, for delivering yet again, on this important national assignment, the President described the unveiling and public presentation of NA 2050 as another milestone in the ‘‘annals of Nigeria’s planning experience, post-independence’’.

The Minister of Finance stated that it was not only participatory and consultative but inclusive; involving all critical stakeholders such as all Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory as well as the representatives of Local Government Areas (LGAs).

She listed other stakeholders as the Organised Private Sector, youth organisations, labour unions, traditional and religious institutions, major political parties, women’s organisations, and people with special needs, among others.

Hope reigns eternal
Demonstrating a clear understanding of the chronic economic and social challenges facing the country, including low, fragile and non-inclusive growth, insecurity, high population growth rate, limited concentric economic diversification and low productivity, the President said that citizens at large must continue to cooperate and collaborate to ensure fiscal sustainability, macroeconomic stability and smooth transition to the incoming Administration.

Implacably keen to live the Change his Administration sold to the electorate back in 2015; President Buhari insists that he remains resolutely committed to the grand goals of improving the living standard and effective delivery of public services, all things considered.
His sombre but hope-building words continue to ring out: “Although no single government can solve all the problems of a country during its own tenure, I have no doubt that (all Nigerians) share our aspiration that the 2023 transition budget and other initiatives (are) designed to address critical issues and lay a solid foundation for the incoming Administration”. A foundation that, hopefully, will lead Nigeria to the Buhari administration’s much-touted Next Level.

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