By Odumegwu John
There are many reasons Nigeria appears not to be moving forward administration after administration. Besides the poverty that reflects in the stare of the common man on the street, more worrisome is poor leadership, which has accounted for the majority of Nigeria’s problems; from mismanagement of the country’s enormous resources to insecurity and injustice. However, of all these problems, corruption has been an albatross on Nigeria’s advancement, and it will continue to cause regression if the government does not take a stronger approach to plug leakages and enforce accountability in every sphere. This is the only way the country’s wealth can translate into meaningful development.
One of the few things, if not the only thing, the president Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has reinforced into the consciousness of Nigerians and the international community is its war against corruption. The chant for change heralded Buhari’s administration, and more than anything Nigerians wanted to change, a rescue from the pit of corruption the previous administration sunk Nigeria into, was top on the agenda.
Perhaps, the most commendable effort of Buhari till date has been the enforcement of the World Bank’s Treasury Single Account (TSA) recommendation, which Jonathan’s administration allegedly lacked the willpower to push. The TSA has saved the country in a lot of ways; it controlled the existing haemorrhage in the economy and not too long ago, Nigeria fragilely came out of an agonising recession caused by oil slump. However, it is bewildering to realise that three years down the line, despite the seeming enforcement of TSA, large scale corruption remains the order of the day and leadership hasn’t done much to rid agencies of deep-rooted, old and shady practices.
Although the TSA policy demands that all revenues from government agencies be paid into a unified account, recent investigations revealed that revenues generated from stamp duties over the past five years, estimated at N20 trillion cannot be accounted for.
Stamp duty is a tax that is levied on financial transactions and on documents. For instance, every Nigerian with a bank account is charged a stamp duty of about N50 for bank transactions over N1,000. This stamp duty, which goes to the Central Bank of Nigeria was introduced by the government to take care of deficits caused by Nigeria’s huge reliance on crude oil amidst the rising and falling oil price jolting the economy.
The presidential directive that all revenues including stamp duty be remitted into the TSA seems to have been continually met with utter disregard. The federal government presented about N8.6 trillion for its 2018 budget, and the TSA itself has only recorded an inflow of N8.9 trillion as revealed by the Accountant General of Federation, Ahmed Idris in March 2018, yet, a whopping N20 trillion generated from stamp duties is being withheld from the treasury and details of its whereabouts are shrouded in a web of controversies.
The federal agencies indicted in this mind-boggling allegation are the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST), and the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS) PLC. These agencies have refused to provide useful information on the missing revenue, despite the Freedom of Information (FOI) request filed by The ICIR since July 2018, and subsequent reminders in September 2018.
In October 2017, the federal government authorised the School of Banking Honours (SBH) a consultancy agent, alongside the International Investment Law and Arbitration, to recover stamp duty revenue that has not been remitted. However, since SBH commenced this recovery process, there has been a lot of dilly-dallying and lack of cooperation from both NIBSS and CBN, while FIRS and NIPOST relentlessly engage in a power play.
The level of breach of the TSA policy so far shows that winning the war against corruption is still far-fetched, and it is not yet time for the government to rest on its oars. Celebrating the TSA as very successful is premature considering the magnanimity of corruption still going on especially with the regular offenders, Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Nigerian Customs, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), and the Police Force.
The country’s revenue is still being heavily bled if the N20 trillion is missing from a TSA that has only recorded an inflow of N8.9 trillion in the past three years. Even though the government already has an upper hand with willpower and the efficient technology being used to drive the TSA, it must consolidate the little success recorded so far with stronger measures against erring agencies. It is time for President Buhari to urgently look into the matter to prove his anti-corruption campaign is not a charade and to protect his own integrity as election approaches. Nevertheless, the TSA remains a game changer in the history of anti-corruption policies in Nigeria.
Odumegwu is Warri-based socio-economic analyst.