Mustapha Bello was Commissioner for Resource Development, Katsina State, and one of the commissioner-nominees by Governor Aminu Bello Masari, in this interview, he said the 2020 budget recently presented to the National Assembly would be difficult to implement, even up to 50 per cent.
Any politician, either in appointive or elective position, is privileged to serve the people and it comes with a lot of responsibilities. When I heard the news, I did self-reflection and I realized that I have to do more to help deliver on the Governor Bello Aminu Massari’s campaign promises to the people of Katsina State. Yes, as expected, a lot of people called to congratulate me. So, my take is that any position one finds himself is not a time for congratulation, but it is a call to do more. We did our best to improve the Ministry of Solid Minerals. However, it is worthy to note that since the creation of Katsina State, it was during my tenure as commissioner for Resources Development that licences were issued to registered companies to mine. We also made the ministry a revenue generation organ of government. Suffice to say that we did very well considering the limited resources at our disposal and huge expectations from the people. So, my re-appointment calls for prayers for me do more now that Governor Bello Massari deemed me fit to continue as a member of his cabinet. It is a big burden because you have to be accountable even hereafter.
It is the discretion of the governor to assign portfolios to his cabinet members. One thing I know is that I did not lobby to be nominated by the governor and I’m willing and ready to serve in any ministry because I have no preferred position. If the governor, in his wisdom, found me worthy to come and serve the people again, I believe he knows where I fit in and it is an honour to be singled out of millions. Hence, to me, no ministry is better than the other. Therefore, wherever Governor Massari deemed me fit to serve the people of Katsina State, I will do my best in order to leave the ministry better than I meet it.
There are certain things which I found positive in the budget and also have reservations in some areas. First of all, I’m glad that the budget circle will now start from January to December because the President presented the budget on time. And because the relationship between the executive and legislative arms of government has been cordial so far, I’m sure the budget will be passed on time. On this part, I’m very happy. Secondly, I am happy with the attention given to infrastructure in the budget especially, in the area of power. The president affirmed his government’s readiness to ensure steady power supply in the country with the recent signing of six-year electricity roadmap agreement with the German company, Siemens, which is aimed at achieving the administration’s target of 7, 000 megawatts in 2021, and 11, 500 megawatts by 2023 up to the phase one and two respectively.
Therefore, the president knows that if Nigeria must attain 25, 000 megawatts of electricity in 2025 when the contract is expected to end, power supply must increase even though I had wanted it higher. President Buhari realised the importance of steady power in economic growth because no matter how you want to raise revenue or improve the economy, steady power supply is the key that will open up the economy. Also, I have certain reservation about the budget, especially the budget size. We have raised the budget from N4trillion to N6trillion, N7trillion, N9trillion and right now is N10trillion. I would have preferred we reduce the budget to a point we will have 95 per cent implementation. So, it is too early to criticise the budget, let’s wait and see how it goes. Above all, I am against increment of Value Added Tax (VAT).
I won’t say it was deliberate because the solid minerals sector can access fund through the Natural Resources Development Fund just like the agricultural sector. The solid minerals sector has become a major revenue generation organ of government with the understanding that whatever is due to the Federal Government will be used to further develop the sector. There is need to develop a database in the sector just as we did in Katsina. So, solid minerals sector can generate more revenue to the country if properly harness even though the revenue is shared among the three tiers of government. However, the Federal Government can make it in such a way that whatever accrues to the sector will be used for further exploration. There are a lot of areas through which the sector can generate revenue for the country. For instance, companies that utilise mineral resources like cement manufacturing companies, government must have access to their production capacity and how much they remit to the Federation Account whether they pay the exact amount to the Federal Government coffers. I have always insisted that we tax companies less, especially in the solid minerals sector. I believe that the sector can contribute to our revenue more than the petroleum sector. So, I don’t think it was deliberate for President Buhari not to mention the sector in the next year’s budget.
There is nothing wrong with taxation provided it is used to better the lives of Nigerians. My only reservation concerning tax is the timing. Remember we have just come out of recession and once you are coming out of recession as a country, government must look for ways to improve the lives of her citizens. I think with timing, it will have adverse effect on vulnerable Nigerians. Yes, a lot of people don’t pay tax in Nigeria. Because of hardship in country, this is not the appropriate time to increase VAT even though people should be made to pay their tax. There are many other ways the three tiers of government can generate or improve on their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) to fund infrastructure and service their economies. I want you to bear in mind that immediately the National Assembly passes the budget, automatically they have approved the VAT increment because as it is, the VAT is a loan and the budget itself is a loan also. Like I said earlier, I’m not against taxation or increment of VAT, but the timing is what I’m against. I want a situation whereby our companies will pay less tax and employ more people. In other countries that came out of recession they use interest rate not tax so that companies can grow the economy and guarantee employment. It is when the economy grows to certain extent you can increase taxation
I agree with you that most Nigerians are skeptical to pay tax and this is because they believe that their tax is not properly used. Hence, majority feel reluctant to perform this aspect of their civic responsibility. Notwithstanding, let’s take Lagos as an example, Lagos State right now does not rely on what it gets from the Federation Account. They have made judicious use of money realized from tax and people are willing to pay their tax. It is just now that the Nigerian government is making effort towards making people pay their tax. If you look at the previous budgets we had from 2016 till date, we have expanded the budget and the revenue aspect of it is not forthcoming. In the budget speech of Mr. President, he expanded capital project and gave directive for N600billion to be released for capital project. So, I don’t know if this budget can be implemented up to 50 per cent. Even the states have increased their budget size which I doubt if they can implement up to 40 per cent. I want us to have budget that can concentrate on projects that can add value to the lives of Nigerians. For example, there are social intervention programmes of this government which to me does not make sense rather, I would have preferred that these monies goes into power because you cannot eradicate poverty without steady power supply. But if you steady power supply, it has a multiplier effect because it will remove a lot of people out of poverty. I insist that it is better to have a budget of N4trillion that we can implement up to 90 per cent instead of a budget of N10 trillion that we cannot implement up to 50 per cent.
At face value the measure look alright because our borders are porous hence, it was targeted to reduce smuggling as we march towards self-sufficiency in food production. If you remember, sometimes in the past we ban importation of textile so that we can be able to produce it locally. There was an intervention to help grow local production of textile, but we could not produce enough cloth for our people. In fact, most of the textile industries are moribund. So, my take is, if it did not work then, why can’t it work now? It is not good for us as a nation to have open or porous borders. On the other hand, instead of border closure, government should impose higher tariff on certain goods and make sure that officials of the Nigerian Customs Service are well remunerated. If you look at the men of the Customs Service, they generate the highest revenue for the country, but they are least paid. So, there is lack motivation and it encourages corruption. We should improve wages and working conditions of the men of Customs Service and also put huge tariff on the smuggled items. Government should encourage local manufacturers through low interest rate, less taxation and other incentives. We have to look for ways to encourage irrigation in order to improve the agricultural sector through merchandised farming hence, most farm lands are underutilized. So, there are a lot of things we need to do to be self sufficient in food production because the Anchor borrowers’ progreamme is not enough. Today, the price of rice is sky rocketed because the one we produce is not enough for our consumption. Security challenge could be another reason the border is closed, but the closure has negatively affected not only on Nigerians, but neigbouring countries. It can also worsen security situation because if businesses are not functioning crime will increase
A lot of economists have contrary views about the 2020 budget. The Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi whom I respect a lot, came out and said that he was in support of the border closure. But like I said, I have a contrary view to that. I’m glad that Mr. President has appointed renowned economists into his Economic team. One good thing about the appointment is that, it is not political because he appointed people from other political parties. I urged the economic team to take a second look at the budget and fine tune it in order to ameliorate hardship faced by Nigerians through advising the President appropriately. I’m sure the economic team must have a blueprint because one thing I know about President Buhari which is his strength and his weakness is that if he gives a responsibility, he expects you to deliver and he will not interfere in your operation. It is strength if he has the right persons, but it can also be a weakness if the persons fail to perform and the President will be blamed. Therefore, the present cabinet is better than the immediate past one. A lot of politicians who made sacrifices and had worked for the success of the ruling APC are accommodated in the present cabinet and this is a step in the right direction by the President. However, because much is expected from these ministers, they have hit the ground running by helping President Buhari to present the 2020 budget on time and urged them to support the President to implement the budget up to 50 per cent
The security situation is disheartening and the responses of the security agencies have not helped matters. As Nigerians, we are supposed to be protected because the primary responsibility of government is to protect lives and property of her citizens. But what is disheartening is that the security agencies will come out and tell us one thing when the reality on ground is another thing. Just recently some teachers and students were kidnap along Kaduna/Abuja highway and their parents paid ransom and the security agents came out and lied to Nigerians that they rescued the kidnapped victims. Here in Abuja a lecturer who is a colleague of my brother was kidnapped and he paid ransom and the security agents came out and said they rescued him from the kidnappers. So, the security agencies have being compromised. A typical example is the case of Taraba State where soldiers killed our gallant police officers who we all know were among the best we have in the country. They were at the forefront of rescuing kidnapping victims and they were gunned down like common criminals by soldiers and a kidnapper kingpin, Wadume was let loose. So, it is really shameful and disgraceful. What it means is that the head of the security agencies and the Service Chiefs have failed and the President instead of extending their tenure should relief them of their positions and appoint fresh hands. By allowing incompetent Security Chiefs, President Buhari is demoralizing the competent officers in the rank and file of the security agencies. The last time I travelled by road was in December when I lost my sister, I had no choice, but to travel to Kaduna from Abuja by road and my driver and I were afraid until we arrived Kaduna.
Well, I won’t call it sabotage, but incompetent on the part of the security chiefs. Like I appointed out, the Service Chiefs whose tenures have elapse, but have been extended many times have not done what they ought to do. Just as I mentioned, if President Buhari gives a responsibility, he will give the person the tools with which to work and free hand, but if you fail, you take the blame and if you succeed, you take the glory. Unfortunately, in this case the blame is put at the door step of the President and his government.