Nigeria is facing a crisis of monumental proportions in the management of its fiscal affairs. It is simply that the books are not balancing. Our revenue is not keeping up with what is required for our minimum expenditures. We are heavily indebted, and we do not have the resources to service our debts if we do not borrow to do so. We have been borrowing from the Central Bank of Nigeria through ways and means and without repaying as stipulated by law. Furthermore, this borrowing from the CBN is in excess of the prudential and convergence requirements set by law. Indeed, we have a revenue problem, a debt problem and a capacity deficit in dealing with these challenges.
But the foregoing is one part of the story. We are not supposed to be facing these challenges. There are gaps and craters in our collection, accounting and management of federal resources. The challenges are products of the deliberate mismanagement of the fiscal system, refusal to do the right things and insensitivity on the part of the leadership over the years. The leadership failed to plug the leaking pipes of waste and corruption so that available resources can be deployed to our areas of need. They have failed to create new sources of revenue and foreign exchange for the country. The implication of this mismanagement is the closure of local industries, loss of jobs, devaluation of the naira, overwhelming poverty and misery, crime and the current hopelessness pervading the land.
A majority of Nigerians have been robbed. Yes, directly robbed by leadership ineptitude and greed. Imagine a worker or ordinary Nigerian who has been saving money in a retirement account and had a N1m in 2013 at a time that the naira was N160 to the United States dollar. That N1m amounted to not less than $6000 but under the current regime, the money has been depreciated to not more than $2,200. This is a robbery in the sum of $4,800. Depreciating life savings in the most cavalier of manners is totally unacceptable. This discourse will show that the failure to enact certain laws and policies and change the decision making of the leadership have led us to this bind. Two areas of national life will demonstrate this.
First, a country that is dependent on petroleum resources, especially the mining and sale of crude oil has deliberately failed to reform its oil industry through the enactment of Petroleum Industry Reform Bills. Unpardonable rent-seeking and stealing are still the order of the day in the industry. The bills and their enactment have been on the agenda of the executive and legislature for close to 20 years without a result. The Olusegun Obasanjo presidency set up panels after panels to no avail. The Goodluck Jonathan presidency did not fare better. The Muhammadu Buhari presidency decided in its first five years to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. Such bills were supposed to come from the executive in view of the importance of oil – over 60% of budget revenue and 90% of foreign exchange. The presidency sat back and allowed the legislature to present and enact a reform bill only for the President, for specious reasons to refuse assent. Furthermore, the President and his assistants and advisers sat back and went to sleep, only complaining about low revenue and refusing to lift a finger. They are just promising and contemplating the presentation of petroleum industry reform bills five years after taking power! Other African countries have since reformed their petroleum industry but we are in no hurry.
We have got to a situation where we do not refine a drop of crude oil at home and the refineries continue to incur losses and the authorities pretend all is normal. Pray, refining crude oil into petrol and other products is not rocket science. It is being done in other African countries with very limited oil resources and some of the refineries have been built in the last couple of years. Getting the refineries to work under government control is an idea latched with impossibility in the minds of our leaders while getting the private sector to either manage them or take them over completely is an anathema. So, we have refineries where their employees are very handsomely paid without doing anything. For so many years, the leadership in the opposition played politics with oil sector reforms, especially on the pricing of petroleum products. Now, the fiscal crisis has brought it to a decision time.
Go through the reports of the Auditor General of the Federation over the years and you see the same set of fiscal felonies. Monies due to the Federation Account meant for the three tiers of government are perennially withheld in a way and manner depicting nothing but impunity while no agency calls the withholding agencies to order. It is a case of aggravated authoritarian stealing while the anti-corruption agencies pretend, they see and hear no evil. Over N5.876tn is outstanding from three key agencies over the period 2014-2017. A sum enough to finance the 2020 federal budget deficit. But it is not an issue. Everyone moves on. The guiltiest of the agencies withholding the money is the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, the same agency that should be subject to reforms under the petroleum industry bills. While the President and the finance minister champion new borrowings which we have lost the capacity to repay, they are silent on a reform that ideally should provide new revenue for the country or stop the leakage of available revenue into private pockets. So, entrenched interests of a few Nigerians hold to ransom the collective good, economic growth and prosperity of the majority.
The audit regime is in dire need of reforms and there is overwhelming evidence of the need for a new law. Successive legislatures have passed the bill for audit reform especially the Federal Audit Service Commission Bill but successive presidents from Obasanjo to Buhari have refused to give assent. The last refusal to give assent is indeed a very repulsive slap on the face of Nigerians, coming from a regime that mouths anti-corruption to the high heavens. There was not even a letter back to the legislature to state the reasons for refusing assent. Thus, the Presidency pretended that bill fell through the cracks. Audit recommendations for recovery of various sums of money, penalties for defaulters and persons who refuse to give an account of their management of public resources go unheeded.
The last audit reform bill was passed by the Bukola Saraki-led National Assembly. The ninth National Assembly has reintroduced the Federal Audit Service Commission Bill. The same executive that refused to ensure assent to the bill has started another set of games by stating it now wants to send an executive bill. This is just asking the legislature to step down their bill until the executive bill arrives. Surely, this is a ploy to make sure that audit reforms do not see the light of the day. In which sane jurisdiction do auditees draft audit reform bills? They want Nigeria to stand still and wait at their pleasure. This is the height of arrogance and insensitivity. The National Assembly is advised to ignore them and proceed with the bill while ensuring that they have the opportunity to state their views at the public hearing.