"Our aim shall be to create a progressive tax regime, plug harmful loopholes, enhance the efficiency of collection and give the people a greater sense of responsibility in relation to their taxes."
"We shall also improve and significantly expand... efforts to generate revenue by reducing leakages in the financial system and create the enabling environment to expand the private sector initiatives... We will mobilise private sector investment, processes and people to raise the revenue profile of our great country and achieve our ambitious plans for the nation's rapid development." – Renewed Hope Manifesto, 2023
In line with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which mandates that the President of Nigeria serve for a maximum term of eight years (two terms of four years each), former President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR, handed over the Presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT), GCFR, less than twenty-four hours ago. Along with the powers, responsibilities and privileges handed over to BAT were the enormous problems, challenges and huge expectations of the Nigerian nation and its people.
Since returning to democratic rule in 1999, Nigeria has had four transitions and five Presidents. Each one of them came into office with the promise to make things better than they were when he resumed office. Whether they succeeded in doing so is a different conversation all together. With respect to BAT, he campaigned on the promise of renewed hope and released a detailed manifesto with his plans for Nigeria and Nigerians. This article does not aim to analyse or interrogate those promises. However, as a professional who has been engaged directly and indirectly in the tax and fiscal policy space of Nigeria for the last 20 years, I would like to lend my voice to the long list of unofficial (and unpaid) advisers of the new President. My advice in this regard is limited to the above quoted portions of the Renewed Hope manifesto, which state the intention of the administration to enhance efficiency in the collection of taxes, improve, and significantly expand efforts to generate revenue and increase the revenue profile of the country.
No doubt BAT comes into office at a time when, to borrow a cliché, Nigeria faces significant revenue headwinds and is probably on a fiscal cliff. This is based on our economic statistics which are freely available, but which I would not bother repeating here. There is therefore the belief, if not expectation in some quarters, that BAT will adopt "the Lagos Model" in tackling Nigeria's fiscal issues. In layman's terms, this may mean expanding the tax base, increasing tax rates, introducing new taxes and generally improving efficiency in the tax and fiscal system. There is usually nothing wrong with this "model", however, given our prevailing context, my unpaid advice to the President on this issue, is to first carry out a holistic review of the fiscal space in Nigeria before deciding on how to proceed. There must not be a rush to introduce new taxes or increase tax rates for now. Instead, the administration must take a pause and as the heading says, fix it before proceeding to tax it. The reality is that, fiscal and tax issues at a national level are far more complex and challenging than at the sub-national level and require a different or modified approach.
My advice to BAT and his incoming Minister of Finance is therefore as follows:
(i) Taxation must be embedded within the overall fiscal thrust of Government – In the last eight years, the tax system has for large periods been run as though it were a complement, rather than a component of the overall fiscal approach of Government. This is not a criticism of any person or institution, but a professional observation as has been buttressed by many other commentators. In this regard, the three pillars of the tax system (tax policy, legislation and administration) must be aligned to support the overall fiscal direction of Government. Fiscal policy should therefore be designed and communicated in a manner that allows stakeholders understand and support the ultimate outcome of the administration's fiscal approach.
(ii) Enforce synergy in the fiscal space – Nigeria has a number of revenue-generating agencies at the Federal level, each with powers to collect taxes and other revenue sources. While some are bigger than others, each has its own sphere of coverage and the potential to raise significant revenue for the Federation and the Federal Government. While the major revenue generation agencies that easily come to mind include the Federal Inland Revenue Service, Nigeria Customs Service, NNPC Limited1, Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission, Nigerian Ports Authority, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency and the Nigerian Communications Commission, there are over sixty other agencies2 (or more) that collect different forms of revenue for the Federal Government and the Federation.
The new administration must therefore find a means of ensuring all these agencies, work together and in line with the overall stated fiscal goal of the government. Too often in the past, revenue-generating agencies have worked in silos or isolation and have no central meeting point. If the government is to maximize its revenue potentials, there must be synergy by and amongst all its revenue generating agencies under the overall supervision of the Minister of Finance.
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