BY SIMON EBEGBULEM, Benin-City
Political leaders, royal fathers and academicians gathered on Wednesday, February 10 to listen to Governor Adams Oshiomhole, who proffered solutions to the economic crisis facing the nation, particularly the dwindling revenue from crude oil at a lecture organized by the Correspondents Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Edo State.
Dignitaries at the occasion include two-time former governor of old Bendel State, Dr Samuel Ogbemudia; Prof.Gregory Akenzua; foremost journalist and the Esogban of Benin Kingdom, Chief David Edebiri; the Enojie of Opoji, Ehidiamen Aidonojie 1; a former Minister of Science and Technology and former Vice Chancellor of University of Jos, Prof. Emmanuel Emovon,; Vice Chancellor of University of Benin, Prof. Faraday Orunmwense; and Chief Medical Director of the University of Benin (UBTH), Rasaq Bello Osagie.
After dealing with the lecture entitled, “Dwindling Revenue from Crude Oil: The Challenges for State Governments”, Oshiomhole took questions from journalists, during which he stressed that the only way Nigeria can survive in the face of its economic crisis is for Nigerians to pay their tax. While using Edo as case study, he urged the media interrogate those scrambling to succeed him, saying it is not “ about seeking for political power but having the ideas, the wherewithal to lift the state in the midst of nothing”.
Ogbemudia, who was the father of the day at the occasion, agreed with the governor admonishing the people of Edo to back whoever is the choice of Oshiomhole as his successor ahead of the forthcoming governorship election in the state, Ogbemudia said: “ Oshiomhole is a man who is a square peg in a square hole; a man who is wearing the proverbial shoes that knows exactly where it pinched yesterday, is pinching today and likely to pinch tomorrow; a man who has the courage to call a pot black even in the presence of the catering master. We have a man who is prepared to stake all he has for our state; let us follow him, use him, talk to him and listen to him because we know he will never lead us astray”.
However, Oshiomhole gave reasons the current economic situation may get worse just as he insisted that taxation is the solution.
“Every government after government preach the need to diversify the economy. If you read several budget speeches since 1960, every President, every Head of state, at the end, we are assured that the economy will be diversified,”the governor said. He continued: “These are issues that we have discussed over the years. The more we talk about diversification the more we remain dependent on oil. Never before have we experienced the impact of a very very sharp drop in our national revenue, with such profound negative consequences on the lives of our people. Reducing government to a level that some of them if they were to run like a business enterprise, many states can be described as totally insolvent.
I think the confusion we are in, we focus more on the fact that salaries are not being paid. But the primary purpose of government is not to pay salaries. The primary purpose of government is not to employ people. The primary purpose of government is to deliver services and provide infrastructure. However to deliver these services, you need to employ people men and women to deliver those services. Things have become so bad that nobody is even having any conversation whether the states, local and federal governments are still able to deliver on our primary purpose which is to deliver on the welfare of the people, through the provision of social infrastructure, human capital development and security and every other thing that is the responsibility of every modern state to provide for its citizens.
We must interrogate Edo guber aspirants properly
“We in Edo must open and sustain the conversation, in the face of dwindling revenue from the only product that the nation relied on over the years, how do we survive?
And that is why we must interrogate those who want to govern us properly. If oil becomes zero, Edo has to survive. So the challenge for us is to put on our thinking cap, arising from the reality that oil money is no longer available and we must give services to our people, we must govern ourselves and lay foundation for the future. We once held an Exco meeting which started at 9am and we adjourned at 7am the following day. And that was 22 hours none-stop. In the course of that meeting, I asked all the commissioners to bring their revenue sub heads and we looked at them one by one. And we discovered that people were cheating government in the payment of theirs. People charged so much in private schools but paid peanuts to government and we said that will not work. We discussed with the Chief Judge, our lawmakers and we all agreed that we must all pay taxes to meet up with our demands. I think we had to fight all sorts of battles in Edo in order to re-invent the concept of the tax payer because, everywhere around the world, governments are run on taxes not on crude oil money. We grew up our IGR and at a point it got up to N2billion.
“I think we have started the foundation and I believe the next government will widen it if this state will be able to remain afloat because our population will continue to grow, we will need to build more schools, employ more teachers, provide more laboratory equipment. We will need to sustain our urban renewal programme, we will need to sustain the fight against erosion in our cities, all of these requires huge financial output. So, if we do not do something differently to widen non-oil based revenue accruing to Edo, at a point, you will get to a level where the payment of basic services including salaries will be a huge burden. I have done my thinking, I have done my plans, up till the end of my tenure, I will never join the club of states that cannot pay salaries. The real reason we must deepen taxation is to make Nigerians critical stakeholders. To be a stakeholder is to have a stake and how can you have a stake if what is being managed or mismanaged, you can’t connect your sweat to it. If you pay so much tax, you will worry about how it is utilized. In Nigeria, we see it as government money and so long as we see it as such, it is not our money and if we don’t change that, good governance is far away”.