Declining government revenue amid leadership failure
The increase announced by the Federal Government on procurement of vehicles particulars and drivers’ licence may have been necessitated by the need to generate more revenue to execute development projects as the government had explained; but it is wrongly timed, coming as it were at a time Nigerians are going through a very difficult time economically. The decision clearly is not mindful of the depression in the economy, galloping inflation, and a serious dearth of jobs for the citizens.
Ironically, the government’s action, which has generated complaints of insensitivity by the average motorists, came amid revelation that government still indulges in extravagant expenditure, such as that on maintaining its large fleet of presidential aircraft, that is out of tune with the dictates of the economy. The two news items illustrate the lack of leadership by example on the part of the government.
First, the news was that the Federal Government had hiked vehicle number plates and driving licence fees by more than fifty per cent to the discontent of many Nigerians. Two days later, the second story broke: the government had spent N41.9 billion to maintain the Presidential Fleet, the same fleet that as a presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari had promised to trim to a minimum in order to reduce the cost of governance. Six years in government and two more years to go, the promise is yet to be fulfilled. Instead, the cost of maintenance continues to soar while the populace is asked to tighten their belts.
The Joint Task Board (JTB), the apex body for tax authorities in Nigeria had announced that standard private number plates and commercial number plates amongst others would cost N18, 750 as against the previous N12, 000. It also approved that drivers’ licence for three years and five years would now cost N10, 350 and N15, 450, respectively, as against the previous N6, 450, and N10, 450. It directed all state boards of internal revenue to ensure strict adherence to the newly approved fees.
Yet, the government had spent N41.9 billion to maintain the Presidential Fleet. This is hardly surprising considering that from 2011 to 2020-, the Federal Government budgeted Seventy-three billion, three hundred million naira for the presidential air fleet.
The allocation, captured under the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) comprises a recurrent and capital expenditure of N35.9 billion and N37.4 billion respectively.
Barely a year ago, the government put up A Hawker 4000 luxury aircraft in the Nigerian Presidential Air Fleet (PAF) for auction, reckoning it may cost as much as N8 billion ($20 million) for interested buyers. The relatively new aircraft had been underutilised, and its proposed sale was part of cost-cutting measures. Also, the Federal Government (FG), four years ago, but two of its 10 airplanes up for sale. The cutback measure was not unconnected with the estimated use of N5 billion on maintaining the PAF in 15 months. Nevertheless, the government is believed to have its 10 aircraft intact, despite mounting maintenance cost which includes personnel, utilities, materials and supplies, maintenance services, training, financial charges such as insurance among others.
In all, the government’s conduct has only sustained a perception that the leadership is unwilling to give up its luxuries while ordering the populace to so do. On one hand, government policies continue to impose a greater economic burden on the ordinary Nigerians, and on the other hand, Nigerians watch the obscene display of opulence by government functionaries both in their public roles and private capacities.
Leadership by example should be practised by Nigerians in positions of authority. It is only then can they convincingly mobilise for the goals of society. The situation where the government imposes economic hardship on the people and acts like Nigeria is buoyant is offensive to the populace.
In recent times, the government has either watched idly or been complicit in an increase in electricity tariffs, domestic gas prices, vehicle licence plates, and rates among others. In a dwindling economy, it is normal for governments to look into ways of shoring up the revenue base; but incessant increases in prices and imposing multiple taxes should not be the easy recourse as the government’s actions suggest. Against the backdrop of a dwindling disposable income amidst rising inflation, it constitutes multiple jeopardies for Nigerians.
A government confronted by a shrinking economy and a rising cost of governance has no reason for extravagant spending. That government has no business in sponsoring private religious pilgrimages. Strategies for reduction of cost of governance as recommended by numerous panels, notably the Oronsaye Report should be implemented to achieve same. Politicians and senior civil servants should trim the number of appointees and other hangers-on that serve them. The size of the entourage of public officials should be drastically reduced so that only a few people that are vital are taken along. The present jamboree is a negative optic for an economy in distress. Bogus offices including the office of the First Lady should be scrapped as it has no constitutional basis and yet serves as a conduit pipe gulping billions of Naira without any public audit.
Support for Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSMEs) is grossly inadequate, yet they bear the brunt of these incessant hikes. The greatest support that can be given to small businesses is an enabling environment. Adequate power supply, good roads, and a secure environment are imperative for businesses to thrive and generate economic growth. Government is not being imaginative enough to create that enabling environment. Instead, governments at all levels quickly turn to a hike in prices and taxes as a default mode.
What Nigerians need is leadership that is clear about the goal of society and that pursues that goal by examples that are exemplary. A situation where the leadership will pursue paths antithetical to societal goals is not acceptable. In spite of debate on whether leadership or followership is responsible for Nigeria’s failing status, it is clear from examples of nations deemed to be progressing at a particular juncture that exemplary leadership was the elixir that countries need to forge ahead in difficult times. There is no doubt that leadership by example is a greater and more enduring strategy than force and empty preachment.