Victor C. Ariole
The lamentation out of the current IMF/World Bank gathering is that $50trillion frozen capital exist, no yield, seeking for trustworthy environment for investment and Nigeria is wallowing in anaemic budget that is below $35billion and it accounts for 200million people about 1/5 of Africa. Whether as emerging economy or as tagged by IMF low income economy, it seems not to deserve the trust of creditors to be an investment destination like they do to Cote d’Ivoire of 25million people but attracts the highest in west Africa and can boast of $11billion agric export returns as to warrant creditors investing in that sector without making it a national budget issue.
It is either Nigeria decides to work on the philosophy that sees ‘Government as not having any business in doing business’ or ‘Government to use its strength to fight against injustice’, like the socialists see it. Or toe the line of the Chinese that have taken to alternative left and alternative right(alt-left/alt-right) in order to balance Taoism and Confucianism so as to curb the strong, support the weak, and promote justice.
The latter seems to be what the current government claim to be doing, hence quite counter-productive as it seems to be curbing the avenues where the poor could find means of livelihood like in distributive trades that cut across borders. Meanwhile there are about 2million registered companies in Nigeria whose worth and tax payment is not completely captured, no fewer than 50,000 Nigerians who appropriate most of the credit facilities in the banks, and no fewer than 100,000 politicians across party lines since 1999 who operate known or unknown businesses that can be taxed to raise government revenue.
When you listen to former governor of Cross River who never planned to go to either Senate or House of Representative but prefer to contest for presidency or remain a businessman, you know that he could only be one of the honest ones and worthy of sympathising with as a businessman trying to add value to Nigeria’s economy. He does not see anything wrong in his owing over 350million naira to a bank or AMCON as long as he had not declared himself bankrupt, for it is still business in Nigeria either failing and needed infrastructure leveraging so as to pay tax as against going bankrupt or find a way of evading tax. I agree with him as he could be seen as a patriotic Nigerian still investing in Nigeria and needed to be supported. He could easily pay for 50million naira tax if all is well with his business. After all people like him are known to have squandered their ‘goodwill’ in banks that have since gone under and nothing happened to them and they are still seen as investing in countries where fiscal heavens exist; untaxable profit countries. Someone was asking on Chanel TV why NSE is having a business memorandum agreement with the stock exchange in a small country that is not up to one million in population – Luxemburg – and the knowledge of tax holiday country is not factored in.
Recently I witnessed pasting in some great business malls directives informing people doing businesses either as tenants or contractors there that the place is about falling to the hammer of the tax collector and I got worried as it is a way of discouraging even genuine business people who use such places to start running away. It discourages investment and loss of employment. Other means could be used to collect tax instead of scarring people away like that former governor must have suffered to an extent that he is finding it difficult to pay his debt. Imagine people like JJ Okocha and other self-made artists being harassed in the name of tax evasion while those keeping empty houses in Abuja, Kaduna, Sokoto, Lagos, etc with offshore business that earn no harassment in Nigeria are sleeping well in Nigeria. Some of them are board members of Nigerian companies where proxy shareholdings overwhelm the visible majority you see in any AGM; that is, you watch the screen detailing shareholding positions and almost the whole people in the hall say ‘No’ to a proposal and the result on the screen says ‘Yes’ as par block shareholding rights overriding that over the ‘poor’ nominal holders in the hall. If a company I assume to be the weakest among the over 160 quoted in the NSE could boast of posting 240million naira income tax out of 14billion naira profit before tax and could even admit one billion tax benefit, then why should Nigeria be boasting of only 10billion naira budget.
All I am saying is that Nigeria deserve 50trillion naira budget unless the government wants to be known as a government to be sympathised as it places Nigeria as a low income country. Cote d’Ivoire that produces oil like Nigeria and has per capita GDP greater than Nigeria, does not use oil benchmark to create its budget like Nigeria does. It collects taxes and encourages investors to bring already made equipment and implements to create value in the system as it turns cocoa bean to bar of chocolate as well as coffee bean to coffee powder. Nigeria always boast of what make people or investor ridicule the Nation like Hadiza Usman claiming she has raised the ports revenue from 18billion naira to 30billion naira for a facility that can make a trillion naira and a facility under her that has created both social and economic deprivation to both individuals and state government as well as contractors who rely heavily on timely evacuation or loading of their import or export goods or machinery.
The port alone can give Nigeria one trillion naira while other areas like companies and individuals no fewer than 10million can pay tax worth of 20 trillion naira coupled with courting Nigeria in the Diaspora with over 25 billion dollars remittance to “RECAPITALISE” Nigeria so as to win the trust of the current IMF boss, Kristalina Georgieva who admits that frozen capital and trade wars do not help anyone and that synchronised slowdown of world economies must be arrested and that central banks must maintain low rates so as to reflate economies like that of Nigeria.
She is welcome on board and Nigerian government should learn from governments that are performing like that of Cote d’Ivoire, Rwanda and even Gabon that earned a great carbon credit recently, so as to earn her sympathy as well as that of her predecessor, Lagarde who is manning European Union Central Bank.
Ariole is Professor of French and Francophone Studies, University of Lagos