Oshiomhole: The Practical Economist
On this colunm last week, I attempted to advance some reasons why Edo State can survive without crude oil, given the expositions from those who are in a position to know. I mean those who man key ministries and agencies of government in the state. Check them out: Chief Oseni Elamah, Chairman of the state internal revenue board represented by an executive director, Barr Emmanuel Usor, Comrade Abdul Oroh, the man who has been in government since inception in 2008, oscillating from one ministry to another but may have finally berthed at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry as part of the #finishingwell team, Arch Frank Evbwonwan, Commissioner for Housing and the chief marketer of the new land use charge, whose lot is to make sure they yield as much revenue as possible to the state’s coffers and of course, Taiwo Akerele, Coordinator of World Bank’s projects in Edo State, who also serves as the bridge between the bank and the Edo State government.
It was an aggregate of their strong views and convictions as managers of critical areas of Edo State’s economic architecture expressed at a roundtable discussion that really gave the hope that no matter how oily the matter is Edo State will not slip. The icing on the cake came a week later at a lecture delivered by the man at the driver’s state, the comrade governor himself, Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole. The governor held everybody in the hall spell bound at the colloquium put together by Edo State correspondent chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ. In his down- to- earth lecture delivered extempore, the governor touched on the heart of the matter, our survival as a state in the face of dwindling federal allocation, a direct consequence of the global oil glut. Unlike the typical Nigerian economist who tries to propound alien solution to solve our unique economic problems, the Comrade spoke in the language of the common man to make his audience buy into his home-ground solution to our dwindling financial fortune. He gave practical examples that have direct bearing to the day- to-day lives of the people. His verdict was a confirmation of the assurances given by the aforementioned speakers at the roundtable discussion. Hear the ever confident governor: “Even at zero level oil revenue, Edo must survive. The question is not whether we will survive or not as a state but the question is how do we go about it. We must do something differently to meet all our commitments and obligations in the face of this dwindling revenue. We must wear our thinking caps now and come out with fresh ideas, be bold enough to implement. God forbid that Edo joins the league of states that owe workers salaries.”
Hear the shocker from the man who wears the shoes and who should know: “When we assumed office in 2008, the governor and the deputy governor were excused from paying tax. Top government officials who were paying, were not paying the correct tax. The judiciary and the legislature were equally guilty. All arms of government defaulted. And I said, those who are expected to make the law and execute the law cannot be seen to be breaking the law. I said I was not going to demand arrears but henceforth, everybody must pay the correct tax. It was a tough battle, but today we are better of as a government and as a people with a monthly IGR hovering between #1.5billion and #2billion.”
Moving from there, he said those charged with the responsibility of managing our lean resources must be creative, proactive and think differently from the ordinary manager out there if we must remain afloat in the face of the harsh times. He did not mince words, he told Edo people what many hate to hear: Pay your tax and be faithful with the correct payment! Not just that, Oshiomhole charged the people to closely monitor government to ensure that the taxes paid are judiciously utilized for the common good of the majority. ” Those who genuinely pay tax should be concerned how the money is used. On his part, government must demonstrate high sense of integrity and responsibility in the management of tax revenue.”
I must say here that the ambitious leap from a meager #250million monthly IGR inherited in 2008 from the People’s Democratic Party, PDP administration, to about #2billion did not come that easy. The sweet story was a result of combination of many factors. These include diligent planning by a team of dedicated managers of state affairs, high level of fiscal discipline on the part of government, determination to make a huge difference in governance without being bugged down by the antics of god fathers even in the face scarce resources and above all, the courage and political will to harness the untapped resources that abound in the state. Again, for all these to yield the desired results, he said the state internal revenue board had to be given the teeth to bark and bite where necessary. The governor used the occasion to salute the people of Edo State for their cooperation, support and belief in the All Progressive Congress, APC, government despite the despirate attempts by the opposition party, the PDP to incite them against his administration, assuring that he will remain connected to them through the execution of projects. It is however instructive to know that the PDP was in Osadebey Avenue for close to 10 years, yet, they were bereft of ideas as to what to do to boost resources and improve the socio-economic development of the state.
The Oshiomhole administration came to office at a time oil price slumped from about $100 to less than $40 per barrel, yet, through share determination, the government could make a huge difference in the lives of the Edo people.The various infrastructure developments across the state are not products of idle brains but focussed and visionary leadership determined to leave a legacy of time-tested developments and a buoyant economy for this generation and those yet unborn.
The governor however regretted that only 160, 00 persons pay tax out of a population of about 4million in the state. This, he said was unacceptable because he was hungary to do more for the people and the sure source of revenue was tax, given the consistent drop of the state’s share from the federation account, a direct consequence of the global oil glut. Payment of tax, he said, was not punitive, saying that even in developed countries, tax is an issue in election campaigns.