IFUEKO OMOIGUI-OKARO: AN UNUSUAL PUBLIC SERVANT
BY LES LEBA
Every year, Nigeria’s media traditionally celebrate persons adjudged to have distinguished themselves in their respective fields of endeavour or indeed, in their apparent dedication and commitment to their responsibilities as public servants; it is not unusual for international media houses to also celebrate such Nigerians. Indeed, in 2005, the Financial Times of London first celebrated Prof. Chukwuma Soludo as the best Central Bank Governor in the world. Surprisingly, not long after, the series of bank failures exposed the shallow depth of this award. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi also got the same award soon after succeeding Soludo.
Soludo and Sanusi’s awards were apparently the product of the London Financial Times’ alleged best practice management in Nigeria’s banking sub sector. Inexplicably, in spite of these favourable ratings, Nigerian banks are yet to demonstrate any commitment to meeting the financial challenges of the economy. Indeed, it is noteworthy that the performance of the Nigerian economy has remained unimpressive, when compared with the economies of those countries with uncelebrated Central Bank governors!
Incidentally, Soludo and Sanusi’s awards came at a time when cost of funds to the real sector remained generally above 20 per cent, an interest rate level that is definitely impossible to drive industrial development and economic growth or create increasing employment opportunities.
Furthermore, these awards were in spite of the paradox of the prevailing reality of government borrowings at rates of between 10 and 17 per cent with its bonds and bills issues, while inexplicably consolidating ‘surplus revenue’ or savings, which earned interest rate of barely three per cent. It is not clear why our CBN governors have sustained this template for poverty creation, since sovereign risk-free borrowings would normally attract rates below five per cent. Furthermore, Soludo and Sanusi have presided over a monetary model that induces double digit Monetary Policy Rates (MPR), in spite of the recognition that high MPR inevitably fuel high cost of funds to the real sector, and also ultimately drive double-digit rates of inflation, which deepen poverty nationwide!
It seems of no consequence that CBN's sustenance of high inflation rates constricts consumer demand and weakens industrial growth with adverse consequences on the level of employment. It is also unlikely that the London newspaper would have the temerity to celebrate the Governor of the Bank of England for any reason whatsoever, if such poisonous monetary indices prevailed in the UK!
Sanusi was celebrated for saving the banks by rapidly injecting over N5tn into the subsector. Although the banks may have survived and now post excellent profit figures, their benefactor, AMCON has conversely posted N2.5tn loss so far, and generations yet unborn will have to repay over N3tn loans raised by AMCON to keep the banks afloat! Indeed, the CBN has also played down the significant inflationary impact of the additional N2tn cash it created and similarly injected into the banks via AMCON!
Curiously, in spite of the comatose state of our economy in the last 10 years or so, the Minister for Finance and concurrently Coordinating Minister for the Economy, has in spite of the controversial quality of her fiscal performance, also been a popular beneficiary of local and foreign awards. For example, the huge imbalance between recurrent and capital expenditure and the sustenance of liberal financial leakages, duplications and the corruption engendered by poor fiscal management could not have influenced her awards.
Clearly, deepening poverty and steeply rising national debts, in spite of huge budget surpluses under her watch, do not justifiably support any award for quality service. Despite the preceding catalogue of challenges and failures in the economy, the amiable minister lately received the award of 'Man of the Year' from one of the prime media houses in the country; the award was apparently in recognition of her efforts to redress the 72 per cent fiscal imbalance of recurrent in favour of capital expenditure.
Incidentally, this unhealthy imbalance prevailed in federal budgets throughout the first term of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, and the recent award is apparently in recognition of the expressed intent of the Minister to increase the vote for capital expenditure in steps of 1 - 2 per cent annually; consequently, the 2013 capital vote has increased to about 30 per cent since the minister returned to office over two years ago!
Other media houses have also recently identified persons, who distinguished themselves as their 2012 icons. Invariably, the awardees are usually people from whom the respective media houses ultimately hope to get some patronage; thus, the otherwise impoverished ordinary Nigerian, who reported an unearned lodgment of N2bn in his account may never be a beneficiary of such awards. In similar manner, the excellent dedication and commitment of Ifueko Omoigui-Okaro, the former Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service has remained largely uncelebrated.
It is, however, fair to say that this fine model of Nigerian womanhood diligently carried out her duties without razzmatazz or fanfare, but ultimately delivered results, which will positively touch the lives of every Nigerian for many years to come. While most public officers excel in reckless spending and outright fraud, tax collection in the FIRS grew astronomically from slightly below N1.2tn to over N4.6tn in 2011. Indeed, year 2012 revenue collection may have exceeded the N4.7tn total expenditure projection in last year’s budget.
Incidentally, in spite of the trillions of naira at her ‘disposal’, her eight-year term at FIRS was not characterized by any scandal or controversy bordering on financial mismanagement. Under her tenure, the tax agency drafted a comprehensive legal framework for tax administration in Nigeria and in 2007, progressed the passage of five Acts, which include the FIRS (Establishment Act), the VAT and the Company Income Tax Amendment Acts. Omoigui-Okaro introduced the self-assessment regime and developed regulations on transfer pricing and Tax Payers’ Identification Number (TIN), and also enthusiastically embarked on massive reorganisation of the service, while creating one-stop integrated tax offices nationwide.
Ifueko Omoigui-Okaro received the MFR award in 2006, while her FIRS project was still work in progress; it is therefore surprising that the excellent quality of the finished article, when she left office in 2012 has largely remained uncelebrated. In my humble opinion, it should not be out of place to name the FIRS Headquarters after her, while she should also be awarded the highest order of the land. Omoigui-Okaro, was certainly a most unusual Nigerian public servant. Madam, may God bless you abundantly!
SAVE THE NAIRA, SAVE NIGERIANS!!