I shall begin today with a very short story. You see, the gorilla, which today lives in the jungle was once part of organised human settlement. He however took to the bush when the cost of living among humans became an unbearable burden on him. As we all know, to keep the society running and organised, money, which comes by way of taxes, levies, fines and sundry payments is required.
In truth, the gorilla had tried to meet up but the frequency and intensity of these payments were such that his best efforts remained inadequate. What to do, he voted for liberation and ran with his entire household into the jungle where nothing is paid to nobody. And so, besides the science of evolution, which connects man with apes, the gorilla was actually a man at one time. He could not rise up to the challenge of taxation in the normal human setting and simply backed out to become part of the freedom in the jungle.
The Urhobos call gorilla ossia. If in the course of deliberations that border on the need for more revenue for whatever purpose and an Urhobo man drops the reminder that ossai was a man, do get his message right. He is saying the quest and drive for more money within the given circumstances could drive some people to the jungle like ossai. By error or design, there is no Urhobo man or woman in the federal cabinet and so there is nobody to drop that line – ossai was a man – to caution on the Federal Government’s excessive quest for money through taxation.
The speed at which the revenue vehicle is driving is too much. It is the kind of speed that sent the gorilla to the bush and I don’t want what happened to gorilla many, many, years ago to happen to any Nigerian. In fact, it could be worse in the event of a fatal crash as men and women would be forced beyond the jungles into early graves.
Penultimate week, PMB was in London to continue the lamentation of paucity of funds to run a successful government due to the same overbeaten reason – the stealing of all there was in the national treasury by the immediate past regime. He even regretted coming in as president at these fiscally perilous times. He spoke as if good leadership is about coasting home in good times and tides. He came close to throwing up his hands in the air in absolute helplessness. Sincerely, I am tired of reminding Buhari that the star shines only when it is dark enough and not when the day is bright and fair.
He is fixated on money and not ideas. That is the real problem and I do not know who to approach to refocus him. The man has successfully pushed and sustained the fallacy that good governance comes with good money and not good ideas. Thus, instead of searching for big ideas, the President is obsessed with looking for big money to make his mark as a leader and the London lamentation is part of the gimmick to raise big money to govern Nigeria.
It is a native logic that puts money before vision and strategy. That is why President Buhari is crowing to high heavens of the miracle of a TSA (Treasury Single Account) that has mopped up over two trillion naira for safe keeping in the vaults of the Central Bank (CBN), while the banking system, the manufacturing sector and the economy generally edge towards extinction from the resultant liquidity squeeze.
In the journey to economic prosperity, it is vision and strategy that show the way all the time. It is a clear walk to doom if the profiling changes and money stays ahead of vision and strategy. A demonstration of that is the huge mess that is the 2016 budget. No vision or deep thinking went into the preparation of the document. As it were, the motivation was to appropriate monies into whatever capital and recurrent sub-heads and then raise a huge invoice of about N6 trillion in anticipation of an unguided public spending.
Consequently, the 2016 budget has lost its essence as a documented guide to development within the time specified. It is looking more like a proposal by a group of individuals to raise funds for self help. And we are all being co-opted into this fund-raising effort through taxation. In this regard, Babatunde Raji Fashola is doing far better than others. He comes across as a better tax master than he does as a super minister in charge of works, power and housing.
For instance, while Buhari was lamenting the absence of funds in London, workers under the aegis of the Nigeria Labour Congress were in the streets in Nigeria protesting the 45 per cent hike in electricity tariff announced by Fashola. The workers complained that Nigerians were being asked to pay even more for darkness. Fashola did not say anything about visible and quantifiable improved supply of public electricity that would warrant the huge hike. Instead, he went further to drop hint that tolls may return on federal highways in continuation of a suffocating tax regime to keep government liquid.
At the level of doing business, the driving speed is even more breath taking. There are overlapping tax descriptions, all bordering on multiple taxation to squeeze money from the private sector for government. I will not be able to state things as they are but importers who wear the shoes can tell better the experience at the ports where payment of duties has become almost boundless. In the face of declining oil revenues, the Nigeria Customs Service now has an onerous mandate to over reach itself in revenue collection to bridge the shortfalls. Waivers have been cancelled pushing manufacturer into an unprepared and hurried search for creative ways to engage the challenges. It has not been too smooth and it is beginning to appear more profitable to stop doing business altogether. It explains the dwindling industrial capacity utilization and the attendant loss of jobs.
It is also beginning to sound nice to retain money outside the banking system since banking has become one big burden on people. Sundry bank charges have been rationalized into a tax policy to take money from the people to government. Everybody – business people, workers and ordinary Nigerians – is choking yet there is no corresponding buoyancy in the economy to cushion the incidence of taxation.
This is the contradiction in the Buhari’s approach. He is over taxing an economy that is almost comatose without first spending big to stimulate production. Somebody among those milling around should introduce him to John Maynard Keynes and also tell him that in macroeconomics management, government does not save but spend big when the economy is moving southward. As it is today, Buhari is seeking to reap without sowing. In plain terms, the government is over taxing a population that is not producing and therefore not earning. That is voodoo and it has no slot in a scientific macroeconomic order where things are measured and predictable.
Enough to say if the heat continues, all options shall evaporate, leaving everyone with the gorilla option – vote for self-liberation and take to the bush. I kindly advise that instead of sounding sanctimonious and claiming to have all the answers, Buhari should seek help outside himself. The ugliness surrounding the preparation and presentation of the 2016 budget shows clearly that the President does not have in place a substantive or even shadowy team to drive recovery for the economy. The federal cabinet is just a bunch of persons working most times at cross purposes because each has a different understanding of CHANGE.