When I first contemplated this write-up, the word that kept nudging at me was OSTRICH. I therefore decided to look up what constitutes the OSTRICH SYNDROME on the Internet. One of the descriptions I got states as follows:
The Ostrich Syndrome “Refers to an affliction that some people exhibit when they are confronted by social, political, or controversial issues be that in their personal life or outside; they would just rather ignore it or as the ostrich does, bury his head in the sand when confronted by danger hoping it will go away.”
Like every other person who has been following the “dance-in-a-china-store” drama clips of the outgoing administration, I read with absolute bemusement, an online report of the most prominent arrowhead of that administration, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, in a forum in far away United States of America, advising the incoming administration of Gen. Muhammad Buhari, on how to boost the revenue. Indeed, I just could not understand if this was a “Diyaed” report or if she actually said those things credited to her, or the words were being “formed and forced into her mouth” and she did not know when the “wicked” were taking them out. For the sake of space, I would be referring to the out-going Coordinating (read “CONTROLLING”; “COMMANDING”) Minister of the Economy henceforth in this article as “NOI”.
I am wondering whether NOI remembers that throughout the life of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s administration, the economy of Nigeria was in her hands and she had the powers, fully delegated to her by the President, to “make or mar” it. She obviously chose to do the latter. From all available records, as the administration is busy rounding up and putting finishing touches to ministerial hand-over notes, it is clear that the nation’s economy took a turn for the worse under NOI’s supervision, lending credence to general belief that Jonathan’s TRANSFORMATION Agenda was a negative one. At least, it ended up negative. While it is not the preoccupation of this writer to audit the nation’s economy under NOI, his experience as an all-round stakeholder, sometime a contributor to the administrator, then as concerned player who organised what is still believed to be the only plausible alternative to Nigeria’s self-imposed woes of oil-dependency, the Nigerian Non-Oil Export Conference, Exhibition and Awards, an advocate of a non-oil export-driven economy over the past three decades, have all added up to spur this chronicle of very obvious steps that NOI could and should have taken but deliberately ignored. This write-up, will, as a starter, dwell on the death of Nigeria’s non-oil exports under NOI’s coordination of the economy.The Export Expansion Grant (EEG) is a fiscal policy of the Federal Government of Nigeria. This means that it is a contract between the Government and the non-oil export sector. As Coordinating Minister of the Economy, and Minister of Finance, NOI’s principal mandate was to ensure the full and proper implementation of Government’s policies, especially those that are critical to the attainment of the central Agenda of Transforming the nation’s economy. Unfortunately, NOI constituted herself into the strongest obstacle to that policy that she claimed a mandate on. Assumedly with her knowledge, her then Minister of State, Dr. Yerima Ngama, sat on the Inter-Ministerial Implementation Committee and effectively frustrated the smooth operation of the scheme.
For instance, while NOI religiously paid out several hundreds of billions to the oil-importation cartel, religiously on a monthly basis, no Nigerian exporter was able to redeem the Negotiable Duty Credit Certificates through which the EEG is paid, for upwards of two years. The result is that non-oil exports, which grew astronomically between 2008 and 2010 when the scheme supported Nigeria’s competitiveness in the international market, has, as of today, petered to near-zero significance in the nation’s revenue earning sources. As part of her supervising role in the administration, NOI had visited exporters in Kano and Lagos at separate times in 2012, and in both locations commended the exporters for the visible contributions to national GDP ad foreign exchange earnings, while promising that Government would ensure continued smooth implementation.
To the utter bewilderment of the exporters, it was the same Federal Ministry of Finance that subsequently truncated the review and introduction of the implementation guidelines as well as orchestrated the sacking of the supervising Consultants, Messrs. PWC, without engaging a replacement. While the uninitiated would place the blame for the near-total collapse of the non-oil export sector at the feet of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, those who understand the intrigues can now attest that it was NOI who orchestrated this fall. It is therefore bemusing, to say the least that the same CME, can now seat in an international audience and advise Nigeria’s incoming Government on how to boost revenue.
Some of the questions that I am sure Nigerian exporters would want NOI to answer before she leaves include:
1. Why is the Government, under her advice, refusing to allow the Negotiable Duty Credit Certificate (NDCC) to be used for duty payment since January 2014. Is it not contrary to the extant policy of the same Government? Should Government contravene its own rules and policies?
2. Is it the policy of this administration to pick and choose which existing policy to implement and which ones to ignore? Is such a practice consistent with proper Governance? If she was at the World Bank as its Managing Director, and in her global status as a world-renowned economist, would she have endorsed such inconsistency and anomaly?
3. There are two files on EEG claims that have been sitting in the Finance Ministry since the past several months. In addition, the Implementation Committee has sat about three times and made approvals, during the year 2014. Not one of these has been paid. Is this in consonance with NOI’s oath of commitment under Servicom? To keep files without explanation?
4. Under NOI’s supervision, there emerged a group of exporters best-tagged as the “untouchables” who always had their way. For this group, EEG claims have been cleared and processed up to 2013 exports while several exporters are still being owed for exports as far back as 2006. Does this conform to good/corporate governance? Is preferential treatment a pillar of economic coordination?
5. The Ministry of Finance proposed and secured approval for N100Bn to be provided in the 2014 budget for import duty collection through the NDCCs. As at the end of 2014, the Nigeria Customs Service, under NOI’s supervision, received less than N10Bn in NDCCs. What happened to the remaining NB90Bn that was appropriated?
6. How much did NOI provide for in 2015 budget? We are now one month gone into the second quarter of 2015 and whatever little NDCCS has been utilised have been through a compromised arrangement with NCS. What is the Finance Ministry waiting for before issuing the directives for the acceptance of NDCCs? Is non-implementation of budget, as approved by National Assembly not a violation of the law?
7. As stated earlier, as Coordinating Minister of the Economy, NOI met with exporters separately in Kano and Lagos. On each occasion, she emphasised the recognition by Government, of the contribution of non-oil exports to the economy. She further stressed that EEG is crucial to the ability of exporters to continue to carry this economy. However, the supposed review of the EEG has been going on since the beginning of this administration with NOI in control of the economy. Why has the review not been completed? And now that she is leaving, would she honourably admit your FAILURE publicly, at least as far as the EEG policy is concerned?
8. While exporters are waiting for the new guidelines to be released, why has Government seemingly stopped the incentive? No new meetings, approvals of previous meetings not released to exporters. What is responsible? If she really feels concerned about this economy, is it proper that a coordinating Minister continue to fold her hands and watch this stalemate?
9. There is no official statement from the coordinating Ministry on the fate of a policy as important as the EEG since the beginning of 2014. We have only one month to the end of the administration! Does this measure up to the standards of good corporate governance and best practices that NOI has been preaching?
I had a chance meeting in Oakville this past weekend with a passionate and patriotic Nigerian industrialist in whose house we both read the report of NOI’s presence in that “Beyond Oil” and her angelic advice to GMB. While we both expressed the same ridiculous chuckle at her holy advice, what my counterpart shared with me had no semblance of a joke at all. He had had the unpalatable situation of sacking one hundred and eighty-six workers and shutting down his factory (an assembly plant for air conditioners) towards the end of last year, all because the file to renew the Company’s Bonafide Assembler status had sat in the Ministry of Finance for over six months and when it eventually came out, the NCS started its own arm-twisting game thereby forcing this patriotic Nigerian to shut down! And yet, this same NOI can sit in the comity of self-respecting publics anywhere in the world and dish out advice?
In any case, I soon got the answer to me sheer confusion. Someone opined on my Facebook page that NOI was actually preparing her CV to re-launch her international profile ahead of a possible recall to her job at the World Bank. No wonder Madame Minister, Coordinating Minister, must reemphasise the great feat in rebasing the Nigerian economy. Please note however, that it does not matter how many times you rebase the economy, rebasing is not reality. The current reality is that Nigeria’s exports have nosedived dangerously and can only be salvaged based on deliberate strategies that you certainly do not have ample knowledge of, or deliberately suppressed.
The most noble thing for Madam CME, really, would be to chronicle all of the policies that she truncated into her hand-over notes so that right-thinking change agents in the new administration can take immediate critical look into.
And, of course, I must conclude this piece by expressing my absolute conviction that no one is listening to the self-serving advice of a self-styled World Bank expert who only supervised effectively, the total collapse of a sensitive sector of Nigeria’s economy. But, in the words of an Edo-born musician of yore, “Nigeria Go Survive”
We will, in our next write-up be periscoping Madam CME’s emphasis on tax as replacement for the revenue loss from world crash in crude oil prices, a solution we consider as lazy and inappropriate for the Nigerian economy at this time…
Olufemi Boyede, CITP|FIBP
Certified International Trade Professional
3885, Stardust Drive
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
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