Please let us start by debunking certain myths in our country. First, “Nigeria is an oil rich country.” False, because oil revenue per person per annum in Nigeria in 2013 when crude oil prices averaged over US$100 per barrel was US$520. In Qatar and Kuwait, it was US$31,000 and US$27,000 per person respectively.
Those are the oil rich countries because there isn’t much that anyone can do with US$520 per person per annum.
Second, “Nigeria’s population is a strength.” False, population is only a strength if it is well educated, healthy, the economy has the capacity to provide them with employment and households have enough income to buy goods and services produced by businesses.
Thirdly, “Nigeria’s debt to GDP ratio is below 20%, one of the lowest in the
World. Therefore, we are not overleveraged and can continue to borrow to
finance infrastructure spending.” Again, false, measuring the level of leverage
as a percentage of national income is misleading for a country like Nigeria. This
is because the presumption is that a large national income generates a large
amount of tax revenues. This is untrue of Nigeria – we don’t pay taxes –
therefore debt as a percent of revenue is a more meaningful ratio for us. By this
measure, the local currency debts (LCY) of the Federal Government of Nigeria
(FGN) is 325% of her revenues. According to Fitch, the ratings agency, the
median for countries in Africa and the Middle East is 200%. Interest on loans is
50% of FGN revenues whereas Portugal, a country with a debt to national
income ratio of 130%, uses only 11% of her revenues to pay interest on her
loans. Of course, we are overleveraged!
Lastly, “Our problems cannot be solved.” Again, false! Of course, they can be
solved – with sincerity of purpose and presence of mind. We all know the
challenges facing our economy therefore the purpose of this paper is to set out
how we can return our country to the path of growth and prosperity.
SETTING THE SCENE
To set the scene, there are five key sectors in every economy
1. The central government, in our case the FGN, which levies and collects
taxes, spends the tax revenue to fulfil the purpose of government and if
it is still short can print money to fund her spending. Some of us call this
printing of money by a central government legal counterfeiting.
2. The external sector which covers transactions between a country
(Nigeria) and the Rest of the World. It covers trade, capital flows and
exchange rate policy.
3. The financial sector, largely the banking sector, whose principal role is
to take deposits and lend these to businesses to grow output and to
households so that they can become homeowners.
4. Businesses, who invest in new machinery & inventories and employ
people to grow their output and make profits.
5. Households, who buy the goods and services produced by businesses and
decide how much to spend on these goods and services and how much
The finances of the central government are of course managed by the FGN. The
central bank regulates the banking sector and usually determines the exchange
rate policy. The FGN and the central bank manage trade and investment
policies. The first three sectors should help businesses and households to
thrive. When they do this well the output of the Nation grows.
There are also three key prices in every economy namely inflation rate, interest
rate and the exchange rate. In my opinion, the rate of inflation is the most
important amongst the three because it drives both interest rates and exchange
rates. The annual rate of inflation is the rate at which the local currency loses
purchasing power every year. Margaret Thatcher calls inflation “the unseen
robber of those who have saved.”
Knowledgeable investors always take expected inflation into account when
making investments – they always want their return on investment to beat
expected inflation otherwise they will lose purchasing power.
The long-term rate of inflation is linked irreversibly to exchange rates. For
example, between the year 2000 and 2015, the average annual inflation of the
Swiss Francs (SWF) was 0.1% while that of the USD was 1.8%. In fact, in each
of those years except one, US inflation was higher than the Swiss inflation. This
means that, during this period, the USD lost purchasing power faster than the
SWF. The USD was thus the weaker of the two currencies. What happened to
exchange rates? At the end of 2000, you needed 62 US cents to buy one Swiss
Franc (SWF) but by the end of 2015 you needed US1.00.
The same principle applies to the Nigerian Naira vis-à-vis the USD. During the
same period, average annual inflation in Nigeria was 11.2% while US inflation
was 1.8% and the Nigerian Naira of course depreciated against the USD. A key
takeaway is that anyone who promises stable exchange rates without
explaining how he/she will deal with the difference in inflation cannot deliver
on this promise in the long term.
Nigeria is an oil exporting nation, therefore, we shall add a fourth key price to
these three – the price of crude oil.
Finally, I am not a fan of the current political structure. I believe it is too
expensive and gives too much responsibilities to and concentrates too much
resources at the center. However, I believe that it is unlikely that we make
significant changes to it in the near term. I have therefore assumed that the
current structure is what we are going to use to implement the reforms I have
outlined in this paper.
Now let’s delve into the work proper.
In my opinion, Nigeria’s biggest problem is uncontrolled population growth.
Let us put things into context. Every year, we add 5 million people to our
population. This is roughly the size of Liberia or Montenegro. According to
www.populationpyramid.net, in 1960, the population of the UK was 52 million
while that of Nigeria was 46 million, by 2015 the UK was 62 million while
Nigeria was 185 million and by 2070, Nigeria will be 550 million while the UK
will be only 80 million! This means that over a period of 110 years, Nigeria will
add over 500 million to her population whilst the UK would add only 30 million
and the UK was coming from a higher base. This is frightening!
The wealth of a nation is measured by the output of the nation (e.g. number of
tubers of yam produced) divided by the number of people going to eat yam.
Today, we are growing the number of people going to eat yam faster than we
are producing tubers of yam. This reminds me of the Yoruba adage “Plenty
children, plenty poverty.” The distribution of these tubers of yam (wealth) is
also heavily skewed in favor of the rich. What should we do?
Population control must enter our political agenda irrespective of religious
beliefs. Before we enact policies, we should study what China, India and
Singapore have done in this respect and tweak to reflect the realities of our
The least we must do is to encourage families to just replace themselves by
having a maximum of two children. There must also be incentives to encourage
people to comply and penalties for those who fail to comply.
GOVERNMENT – THE CENTRAL GOVERNMENT – THE FGN
What should we expect from the government?
1. To levy and collect taxes from all of us
2. To use her tax revenues to
a. Secure life and property
b. Act as an independent regulator of businesses
c. Improve infrastructure
d. Help the poor and weak in society to access basic services
3. To maintain very sound financial condition and therefore borrow at very
low interest rates
The current situation is that non-oil taxes collected by all the three tiers of
government represent about 4% of national income. In Ghana, Kenya and South
Africa they are 16%, 17% and 24% respectively of national income. Tax rates
in these four countries are not materially different except for VAT of 5% in
Nigeria which is less than half of what obtains in these other countries.
According to OECD Revenue Statistics, tax revenue averages 34% of national
income in these rich countries of the World. This makes me conclude that we
can boost tax revenues significantly in Nigeria simply by improving tax
The federation account receives less than =N=10 trillion annually which is less
than 10% of national income. This translates to about =N=50,000 per person
per annum and Nigerian voters believe than this is enough to provide free
education, free healthcare and indeed free everything for them! The joke is on
us – we voters.
Currently, the FGN earns about =N=4 trillion every year, spends =N=2 trillion or
50% of her revenues on interest payments and another =N=2.5 trillion or 62.5%
on salaries and unfunded pensions. This means that obligatory spending is
more than 100% of her revenues! This severely constrains the ability of the
FGN to spend significant sums on social services and infrastructure. Capital
expenditure by all the three tiers of government in Nigeria during the last five
years was 2.2% of national income. In Ghana, Ivory Coast and Kenya, capital
spending was 4%, 5% and 6% of their respective national income. Even the
little spending that we do is spread over many projects and we rarely complete
anyone of them.
Because of the high level of obligatory spending, the FGN borrows Naira and
USD to fund infrastructure spending. At the end of 2017, FGN’s LCY debt was
=N= 13 trillion or US$ 36 billion at current exchange rate. In 2006 when Nigeria
repaid US$ 32 billion Paris Club debts, Naira debts were under =N=2 trillion.
We have replaced Paris Club Debt with Abuja Club debts, the principal holders
of these debts are the banking system, the pension funds and foreign private
investors. They do not forgive debts and they charge high nominal interest
rates because they want to beat inflation!
The finances of the FGN are broken! We need to fix it, if we don’t, the FGN will
not be able to fulfil the purpose of government set out above. This is, in my
opinion, the second most important challenge that Nigeria has.
How do we fix the finances of the FGN? We need a government that will do
unpopular things – control population, cut costs, enforce tax compliance and
relinquish government control over infrastructure spending.
To fix the finances of the FGN we need to do four things
1. Generate more non-oil tax revenue
2. Reduce costs, principally interest payments and the wage bill
3. Grow infrastructure spending in a manner that will not increase debt
4. Shift more responsibilities from the FGN to the States
To improve tax compliance and consequently tax revenues, the government
has embarked upon a Voluntary Assets & Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS).
In my opinion, the bulk of the benefits of this Scheme will go to the States and
not the FGN. This is because the greatest tax evaders are individuals and the
relevant tax authorities for the administration of Personal Income Tax in
Nigeria are the States.
The major federally collectible non-oil taxes are VAT, Companies’ Income Tax
(CIT) and Import Taxes. States and Local Governments receive 85% of VAT and
import taxes are contingent upon ability to find USD to fund imports. With weak
crude oil prices, the supply of USD is short. CIT is contingent upon profits, the
economy is struggling and corporate profits have suffered. Some might argue
that small and medium-sized companies pay little or no taxes, “Let’s go after
them”. A recent research showed that, in the UK, 1% of companies pay 80% of
corporation tax. In my opinion, the concentration in Nigeria might be higher. I
believe that the top 1% of companies in Nigeria are largely compliant with
respect to CIT. This means VAIDS is unlikely to generate significant additional
sustainable revenue for the FGN.
Although improved compliance will improve FGN revenues as well, she still
needs to cut her costs. In a country of 200 million people, is it fair that over
60% of FGN revenues is paid to about one million public servants as salaries?
The FGN needs to reduce the number of her employees. This should be done
by offering employees early retirement on fair financial terms and the
severance pay should be made promptly. Nigeria can borrow to fund this onetime
payment. If enough people do not take the offer, it should be made
obligatory. This should not have any significant adverse impact on the economy
if the retirement benefits are paid promptly and most of the retirees employ
the funds to generate economic activity. A lower wage bill should also improve
the capacity of the FGN to spend on infrastructure and generate economic
The FGN should also sell down some of her oil and gas assets and use the
proceeds to partner with the private sector to
1. Link every state capital to Abuja and our ports by modern rail
2. Improve the capacity and efficiency of the National Grid
3. Reduce the local currency debt burden
The railway sector should be unbundled into infrastructure and rolling stock.
Investment in both railways and electric power sectors should be done in
partnership with the private sector and the state governments with the private
sector investors as majority shareholders. Government should regulate these
industries ensuring there is fair trading. In agreeing tariffs, government should
negotiate subsidies for the poor and weak in society whilst ensuring that tariffs
allow efficient players to cover their costs of capital. Subsidies provided in this
way will not blow big holes in the national budget. Minimum equity capital
requirements should also be set for players in these industries.
In summary, the focus of our fiscal reforms should be on improving tax
compliance (particularly PIT), reducing the rate of CIT and increasing the rate
& base of VAT. These revenue initiatives should be complemented by cost
cutting and growing infrastructure spending in two principal areas – railways
and the national grid.
GOVERNMENT – THE STATES OF THE FEDERATION & LGAs
According to the Office of Management & Budget in the USA, personal income
tax has averaged over 45% of fiscal receipts during the past 50 years. In 2017,
it was US$1.9 trillion or 49% of total receipts. In the USA, tax revenue averages
about 26% of national income which means that personal income tax is 18%
of the same base.
Even if we assume that personal income tax rates in Nigeria are half of that in
the USA, it means that potential personal income tax revenue in Nigeria is
about =N=10 trillion, currently we collect less than one trillion. Nigerians, wake
up, if you don’t pay taxes services are not going to improve! Who gets a
dividend warrant without buying shares in the company?
This means that our State governments are still scratching the surface with
respect to revenue generation from personal income tax. For example, Lagos
State, the local champion, has a population of 20 million, 8 million taxpayers
and annual tax revenue of NGN300 billion. This translates to NGN37,500 per
person per annum. According to the Lagos State Internal Revenue Service, 932
people pay more than =N=10 million in PIT annually and only 210 people pay
more than =N=20million. The annual income of residents of Lagos State is
=N=30 trillion and the State collects only 1% of this sum as taxes. This, in my
opinion, is serious underperformance.
In addition to improving compliance on PIT, States can levy and collect
property tax and they will benefit significantly from an expansion of the base
and an increase in the rate of VAT.
States also need to cut their costs so that they can place less reliance on
borrowing to fund infrastructure.
If they can boost revenues, cut costs and partner with the private sector States
• improve intra-city roads
• 1mprove outcomes from spending on education
• police their States better
• buy health insurance for the poor and weak
In managing their financial affairs, the benchmark for every government (state
or federal) should be that obligatory spending (payroll & unfunded pensions,
interest payments, and statutory transfers) not exceed 50% of revenues. This
ensures that there will be free cash flow for infrastructure spending and if
governments partner with the private sector in this respect they will be able to
spend even more on infrastructure without contracting debts.
GOVERNMENT – PARTNERING WITH THE PRIVATE SECTOR
How should this partnership work? It should be based on three pillars namely
Government should divide infrastructure projects into two buckets and allocate
a percentage of their capital spending to each. The two buckets are
1. Projects with strong economics and strong social impact
2. Projects with weak economics but strong social impact
They will then identify projects with strong economics and strong social impact
(e.g. the Lagos State Light Rail Project) and prepare these projects for private
sector participation. Secondly, they will provide their equity contributions and
identify local investors, international development agencies and foreign
businesses who will invest with them. Finally, they will agree with their
partners on how each project will be governed and honor these agreements. If
practical, I always recommend a company incorporated under the Companies
& Allied Matters Act as the vehicle for doing business because it triggers
certain corporate governance rules – annual accounts, independent audits, tax
returns and accountability to the shareholders at annual meeting.
On every project, government should be a minority shareholder.
Government can then focus on spending the remaining percentage of their
budget on projects with weak economics but strong social impact. This way
government can do more infrastructure spending without incurring significant
THE EXTERNAL SECTOR
What should we expect from the government?
1. NGN/USD exchange rate that reflects purchasing power parity
2. Policies that will improve the competitiveness of goods produced in
Nigeria and will encourage the Rest of the World to trade with Nigeria
3. Policies that will encourage foreigners to set up businesses in Nigeria,
employ Nigerians, use locally produced raw materials because they are
available and competitively priced, ensure fair trading and allow
investors to repatriate their profits
Successive managers of our economy have been obsessed with providing
Nigerians with a stable NGN/USD exchange rate. However, they make little or
no efforts to reduce the 10% difference in the long-term rate of inflation
between the two currencies. They of course fail woefully. What then happens
in reality is that, as long as our central bank has a few dollars in reserves, they
use them to shore up exchange rates. When they are short of USD, mostly when
crude oil prices fall, they are forced to allow large devaluations. This was how
NGN/USD exchange rates moved from 1:1 to 4:1 to 10:1 to 22:1 to 80:1 to 120:1
to 150:1 to 200:1 and to 360:1 in our lifetime.
What this means is that when we fix our exchange rate relative to the USD, the
Naira price of imported goods rise by 2% (average inflation rate of the major
countries we import from) but because domestic prices rise by 12%, locally
produced goods become expensive and uncompetitive relative to imports. This
is the reason why Nigerians seem to prefer imported goods to locally produced
ones – “Human beings are economic agents; they react to incentives!” If our
incentive structure makes it cheaper to import toothpick instead of producing
them in Nigeria, people will continue to import them.
If our exchange rates better reflect purchasing power parity and we are able to
make electricity and railways work, we can improve the competitiveness of
domestic production significantly.
In managing exchange rates, a country has three principal policy options
1. Peg to the USD
3. Crawling peg
I recommend that Nigeria adopts the crawling peg option. This means that we
start from a NGN/USD rate that is close to market and the CBN then allows the
NGN to appreciate or depreciate against the USD by close to the difference in
inflation between the two currencies.
I don’t believe that pegging the NGN to the USD is a viable option because we
don’t have sufficient reserves to back this up and the 10% difference between
NGN inflation and USD inflation makes this option unsustainable in the
medium term. Most importantly, it makes domestic production uncompetitive.
I have also not recommended a float because I don’t believe that our
government has enough faith in the markets to allow this to operate.
In reality, when a country is a chronic net importer, she borrows from the rest
of the World to finance this. A lot of African countries are in this situation –
many mouths to feed and domestic production is uncompetitive and unable to
keep pace with demand. For example, Ghana has been a chronic net importer
since 2004. When she was granted debt forgiveness under the HeavilyIndebted
Poor Country Initiative (HIPC) in 2006 her foreign currency debts fell
from a peak of USD8.0 billion in 2003 to USD2.2 billion. Because the chronic
net import situation did not change, the FCY debts had grown to USD18.0
billion at the end of 2017!
In my opinion, Nigeria’s strategy on the external side should be to
1. complete the electric power sector reform,
2. open the railways sector to private sector participation, and
3. adopt an exchange rate policy that will make domestic production more
competitive even if it may be inflationary in the short-term
MONEY & BANKING
The principal government agency that manages this sector is the Central Bank
of Nigeria (CBN). Because of the importance of this sector, Nigerians highlight
the importance of the Governor of the CBN when they say that “Our most
important Governor is the one we have not elected!”
What do we expect from the CBN?
1. Keep inflation low, in my opinion below 3% p.a., to protect the value of
the NGN relative to the major international currencies.
2. Work with the FGN to implement measures that will aid growth when the
economy is slowing down and ones that will restrain growth when the
economy is growing too rapidly.
3. Ensure that the banking industry is healthy and is able to lend to
businesses to grow output and households to create homeowners.
4. Lend to the FGN within statutory limits.
Ideally, central bankers like to implement monetary policy that will deliver
growth and employment in a low inflation environment. The reality is that in a
country like Nigeria with a fast growing population where aggregate demand
outstrips domestic production, it is very difficult to achieve low inflation. Under
these circumstances, politicians are always tempted to spend more than they
earn and with the aid of central bankers print money to partly fund the
spending and fuel inflation.
France has helped Francophone African countries deliver low inflation by
guaranteeing their exchange rates in return for removing their power to print
money. Although pegging their currencies to the Euro helps Francophone Africa
to combat inflation, it constrains the ability of these countries implement
measures that will aid growth when the economy is slowing down or restrain
it when the economy is growing too rapidly.
The current reality is that the rate of unemployment and underemployment in
Nigeria is close to 30%. If we could get most of these people to produce,
Nigeria’s output will grow significantly. Economists will say that the potential
output of Nigeria is significantly higher than the actual output. I believe that
Nigeria needs to prioritize growth and employment above inflation in the short
to medium term. If we control our population and grow domestic production
significantly, shortages will thin out and inflation will begin to drop.
Our central bank has prioritized price stability over growth and employment.
They have chosen to bring down inflation by stabilizing exchange rates. One
of the key measures they employ is to make it obligatory for banks in Nigeria
to keep 27.5% of the deposits they mobilize at the CBN sterilized and interestfree.
This translates to 13% of the total assets of the banking industry. Banks
are also obliged to keep 30% of their total assets liquid in order to meet their
demand obligations. The annual budget deficit of the FGN averages =N=2-4
trillion and is financed largely by domestic borrowing. Banks like to hold these
government securities because they are risk-free, qualify as liquid assets, bear
interest at commercial rates and the interest income is exempt from tax
whereas interest on loans to businesses and households are subject to tax.
Again, the incentive structure favors lending to the FGN who uses the money
to pay salaries and interest on loans instead of lending to businesses to grow
the output of the nation.
The long-term rate of inflation is about 12% p.a. and the short-term rate is even
higher. Banks and pension funds that lend short-term money to the FGN seek
to beat inflation. This means that they want to lend to the FGN at inflation plus
a premium. This is reflected in the yield on FGN 90-day treasury bills an
important benchmark rate in the economy currently about 12%. No other
person should be able to borrow for a similar tenor at a lower rate because the
FGN can print money to repay! Businesses will therefore borrow for similar
tenors at this risk-free rate plus an appropriate risk premium.
Individuals are typically riskier than businesses and if they want to take a tenyear
mortgage, an appropriate pricing will be about 25% per annum. Put this
on an excel spreadsheet and you will see that the borrower will most likely
default. The rich World is therefore obsessed with keeping long-term inflation
below 3% so that households can borrow long-term at 5-7% p.a. to own their
homes. This is the way they create homeowners; government cannot afford to
build subsidized homes for all its poor people.
Today, monetary policy provides short run exchange rate stability but impairs
the health of the banking sector by reducing industry profitability through high
mandatory non-interest bearing cash reserve requirements. Agusto & Co.
Limited estimates that the high CRR and the AMCON levy of 0.5% of total assets
reduces that ROA of the banking industry by about 2%. If the CBN were to
reduce CRR to 10% and abrogate the AMCON levy, banking industry after-tax
ROE will jump from the current level of 14% to about 24%. What these
negative regulations mean is that banks are unable to grow their capital by
making and retaining profits neither are they able to attract investors because
their ROE is less than the yield one year FGN securities. No wonder most listed
banks are currently valued below book value and maybe only two or three can
successfully raise money from the market. Remember capital is what cushions
depositors’ funds against losses.
Monies that banks could have lent to businesses and households are either
sitting at the CBN as non-interest bearing cash reserves or have been lent to
the FGN because the after tax return on this risk-free investment is higher than
what the bank will earn giving risky loans. This is another example of a
situation where the incentive system hurts the economy. Government should
not exempt interest on government securities from taxation.
The CBN and the FGN are pulling the economy in different directions, the CBN
pursues a monetary policy that restrains growth in a weak economy; while the
FGN is trying to stimulate growth by “spending her way out of the recession”.
The FGN and the CBN need to work together implementing policies that will
promote growth and employment even if this means some inflation in the short
to medium-term. This means that we shall allow a weak Naira that will make
domestic production more competitive relative to imports. If this is
accompanied by electric power and railways it will boost domestic production,
reduce our import dependence and ultimately bring down inflation.
How can government help businesses thrive? Government needs to
1. Allow the private sector to own and manage the key sectors of the
2. Allow producers of goods and services to set their prices but they should
negotiate subsidies for the poor and weak in the society.
3. Regulate private sector businesses ensuring there is fair trading and
service/product quality meets minimum expectation. Government should
be independent of these businesses and should not institute price
4. Provide legal and fiscal incentives to industries she wants to grow
5. Encourage (not force) players in these industries to list their shares on
the Nigerian Stock Exchange
In my opinion, the key industries that the FGN needs to promote are
1. Oil and gas
2. Electric Power
With respect to oil and gas, the FGN needs to sell down its equity stake in the
Joint Ventures, become minority shareholders in these JVs, encourage the
shareholders to incorporate them and list these companies on the Nigerian
Stock Exchange. This means that the annual report and accounts of these
companies will be audited by independent accountants, made public and the
directors accountable to shareholders at annual general meetings. This
proposed change in ownership structure and vehicle for doing business will
1. improve transparency and accountability in this industry
2. improve the access of these businesses to capital
3. end dependence on the FGN and other partners for cash calls to fund
working capital and capital investments
4. increase PPT revenue of the FGN
5. ensure that the FGN no longer lifts crude which may not be accounted
for in a transparent manner
The proceeds of sales should be used to
1. provide the FGN’s and State Governments’ equity contribution to build
2. provide FGN’s additional equity contribution for improving the capacity
and efficiency of the national grid
With respect to the midstream oil industry, government investment in this
industry appears obsolete. Recently, an oil and gas executive told me that
refineries have a finite useful life and this is about 30 years, if you maintain
them well. All our refineries are over thirty years old and I doubt if they were
well maintained. Government should not try to sell them as this will create
unending political problems; they should simply scrap them. Before they do
this, they must be willing to allow the markets to determine the pump price of
PMS. Given that we are emotionally tied to this subsidy, it is best done after we
link all the State capitals to Abuja and our ports by modern rail. Then we would
have delinked the price of food and inter-city transportation from the pump
price of PMS.
Downstream, government needs to let Nigerians know that she has little or no
control over the price of crude oil and that this is the biggest driver of the pump
price of gasoline. Nigerians must therefore learn to live with the volatility in
the international price of crude oil. Also, every Naira spent propping up the
pump price of PMS is a Naira lost in infrastructure spending. I believe that at
some point Nigeria needs to add VAT to the pump price of gasoline to improve
revenue generation. In this area, government needs to tread carefully and
implement these reforms after the railway reforms have been implemented.
With respect to railways, I will add to what I said under the central government.
FGN should, unbundle the industry into
1. railway infrastructure (tracks, signal and stations)
2. rolling stock (the trains that ply the routes)
The railway infrastructure should link Abuja to all state capitals and all the
ports. The FGN, State governments and private sector businesses should own
the railway infrastructure and again, the private sector businesses should own
majority stake. Rolling stock should be owned 100% by the private sector. In
substance, tracks and signals are like inter-city highways while the rolling stock
is like having buses that ply the highways. If government is not competing with
Ekene Dili Chukwu on the intercity highways, why would they want to own and
Government should act as an independent regulator; divide the country into
zones and have these private sector businesses bid for these routes. In agreeing
tariffs with them, the Regulator will negotiate discounts for the young, the
elderly and the physically challenged. Subsidies obtained in this manner do not
blow big holes in government budgets.
The FGN needs to complete the Power Sector reform. The key areas
3. The National Grid
13 April 2018
With respect to gas, the FGN should stop regulating the domestic price of
natural gas. I understand that the principal reason for this regulation is that
government wants the poor to be able to access electric power. However,
setting gas prices at uneconomic levels discourages investments in gas
infrastructure. The owners would rather treat and export the gas at market
price and for USD. Again, “Human beings are economic agents; they react to
incentives.” We have always been told that Nigeria is a gas province that has
some crude oil. This means that if we encourage the owners of gas to invest in
gas infrastructure, it wouldn’t take them long before they realize that
infrastructure cost is sunk cost and start discounting the price of domestic gas
surplus to their requirements. The GSM companies sold their first SIM cards at
=N=20,000 each in 2001 but it did not take them long to realize that their core
business is selling airtime and not SIM cards. Today they give SIM cards away
Instead of trying to control the electricity tariffs through the price of gas,
government should use the tariffs with two principal objectives in mind
1. An efficient player must be able to cover his cost of capital
2. Poor households should be heavily subsidized
A poor household could be defined as people who live in one or two rooms,
have a few light bulbs, one electric fan, electric iron and a refrigerator. It is easy
to estimate the monthly consumption of such a household and subsidize
consumption up to that threshold heavily. Once the household buys an air
conditioner, it begins to pay market price. In substance we let businesses and
affluent households pay for poor households. In the end, this will still be
cheaper for everyone than burning diesel to generate electricity!
The final piece in the electricity reform is the national grid. We need a grid that
is more efficient and with greater capacity to carry electricity. Should the
government own and manage it? Again, No! The reason often adduced for
government ownership of the national grid is – Security.
In the UK, their NEPA was called the Central Electricity Generating Board and
had responsibility for generation and transmission in England and Wales. In the
1990s, the generation activities were transferred to three companies and its
transmission activities to the National Grid Company plc.
National Grid Company plc was first listed on the stock exchange in 1995 and
today, it is privately owned and one of the FTSE100 companies in the UK. It
also operates 14,000 km of electricity transmission delivering electricity and
gas to Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island in the USA and Mr. Trump
has not raised any security concerns! Of course, the national grid can be owned
by the private sector as long as they are not enemy aliens.
Even if the FGN wants to own the grid, does she have the money required to
improve the efficiency and capacity of the grid? Will the NASS approve these
sums for investment in the grid instead of their constituency projects? Will
government have the presence of mind to allocate enough resources annually
for the maintenance of the grid? In decision making, will political exigencies
not have priority over economic considerations?
Once we have a tariff that allows efficient players to cover their cost of capital,
gas to use to generate electricity and a national grid that can evacuate
electricity generated, supply of power will improve significantly.
What do households want?
1. Education for their children
3. Income to buy goods and services for the household and save
4. Pension that is paid on a timely basis
5. Low inflation that will protect the purchasing power of their income and
The people of the rich World have learnt that to remain rich they need to
control their population therefore they don’t have many children. For example,
according to www.populationpyramid.net the population of Portugal was 10.3
million in 2000, it is 10.5 million today and will be 8.3 million in 2070! In subSaharan
Africa, where we are poor, we grow our population faster than our
output and we pray for prosperity but still get poorer.
We are also creating a generation of adults that are neither skilled nor well
educated. They are going to be a huge liability to this and the next generation!
We need to act now to stem the rot!
Government revenue (federal and states) per person per annum is about
=N=50,000 or USD140. This cannot be enough to provide high quality
healthcare and education to all for free.
The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) has a budget of about GBP140 billion
(USD196 billion) per annum. About 80% of NHS funding comes from general
tax revenue and the balance comes from NHS contributions by individual
taxpayers and their employers. This means that, in addition to personal income
tax, most people pay about 10% of their salaries plus benefits as NHS
contributions; their employers also pay a similar sum. Therefore, the UK spends
about GBP2,100 (USD3,000) per person per annum on healthcare. Although free
at the point of delivery, residents of the UK pay a significant amount of their
earnings for healthcare.
In the US healthcare spending is about USD10,000 per person and this is
funded largely through employer assisted health insurance.
Even if Nigeria, spends a paltry USD500 per person per annum on healthcare,
this translates to USD100 billion per annum or NGN36 trillion per year! How
do we pay for this when aggregate government revenue is less than NGN10
In the UK and the USA students don’t go to universities for free. In the UK,
average tuition fees are about GBP9,000 (USD12,600) while in the USA the
average is about USD9,500. In these countries, a few students are able to obtain
scholarships but most fund their university education with student loans. In
Nigeria, we grow the demand for university services through rapid population
growth, we don’t pay taxes and expect government to provide these services
for free. According to www.populationpyramid.net Nigeria currently has at least
18 million people of university going age; assuming only half of them enroll
and its costs 25% of what it costs in the UK to provide quality tuition to them,
we would still need NGN10 trillion or 100% of government revenues to fund
We cannot provide these services for free. Even countries that are significantly
richer than us, have a smaller population and pay taxes do not! We therefore
have to employ new operating models to deliver these services otherwise
service quality will continue to deteriorate.
With respect to healthcare, everybody should contribute under an obligatory
health insurance scheme. Government should buy insurance for the poor and
weak. There should be multiple funds to manage these contributions, managers
appointed by the owners of the fund and government regulates their activities.
Tariffs should be agreed for medical procedures and disclosed. Practitioners
who do not want to charge the prescribed tariffs should be obliged to disclose
theirs. There should be no discrimination with respect to pre-existing
conditions. Such a health insurance scheme will create willingness and ability
to pay for medical services; service providers will now invest to expand services
and competition will lead to improved services.
13 April 2018
With respect to education the FGN should not own secondary schools. FGN
colleges should be handed to eminent old students who will manage them
through incorporated trusts. They will charge fees but guarantee that at least
25% of admissions will be reserved for indigent students who are willing to
learn. This way the 75% affluent will pay for the 25% indigent. These schools
will regain their lost glories and will not cost the FGN anything to manage.
Government can now act as an independent regulator and ensure that they
don’t have a class size of 120 students as some currently do. Philanthropists in
our society will also be encouraged to give scholarships to those who are
willing and able to learn but are poor.
We treat pensioners poorly in Nigeria. They are not paid on time and their
pensions are not inflation adjusted in a country where prices double every five
years! In 2004, we implemented a contributory, fully-funded and defined
contribution scheme. The rationale for this is that a funded scheme helps
assure payment of pensions by separating payment of pensions from the
financial fortunes of the employer. Contributory scheme means that the
employee has a skin in the game and will therefore watch over his pension
assets. Defined contribution, instead of defined benefits helps limit the
obligations of the employer. Experience has shown that defined benefits
schemes put huge burdens on the finances of the employer therefore they are
being phased out in most parts of the World. For example, according to Harvard
Business Review, one of the major reasons why General Motors failed was
because “company pensions and legacy healthcare costs” that were fixed and
could not be reduced when sales fell. I understand that some government
agencies have gone back to the defined benefits scheme. This will blow a big
hole in the budget and is fraught with fraud. I agree that high inflation is major
threat to pension assets held in monetary terms but the solution is to lower
inflation and manage pension assets better so that returns can be higher than
the inflation rate not to go back to our old ways.
As we implement these reforms, inflation will be a big nuisance but growth in
output will be strong. If we control our population, there will be more to go
round and we shall be less dependent on imports. Unions will fight to protect
their subsidies; voters may lose faith in reforms because they will be painful
but the gains will be big if we endure.
I haven’t spoken about Corruption. In one of Chinua Achebe’s novels, he likened
the white man to a hot soup that had to be licked slowly from the side of the
plate. So is corruption in Nigeria. By the time most of our spending is done
through private-sector led companies, that are listed on the stock exchange,
make their annual report and accounts public, are subject to annual external
audits, pay tax on their profits and are accountable to shareholders at annual
general meetings, surely corruption should go down significantly.
The success of the reforms proposed in this paper is hinged on the following
1. Ability to control population and therefore slow the demand for goods
2. Willingness to sell some of the “crown jewels” in the oil and gas sector
and invest the proceeds to link every State capital to Abuja by rail,
improve the efficiency and capacity of the national grid and the
competitiveness of domestic production
3. Willingness to remove subsidies that blow big holes in the budget or
impair the ability of the economy to grow domestic production
4. Willingness to use subsidies targeted at the poor and weak in society
instead of those for everyone
5. Willingness to adopt the strategy of a weak Nigeria Naira in the short to
medium-term in order to make domestic production more competitive
6. Willingness to prioritize growth & employment above inflation, at least
in the short to medium term, live with some inflation now, and tackle
inflation by boosting domestic production and controlling population
7. Willingness to go after rich individuals that do not pay taxes
8. Ability to cut costs
9. Willingness to allow the private sector to lead in the development of key
I will close by quoting two paragraphs from a book called “The Muqaddimah:
An Introduction to History” written by an Arab Scholar Ibn Khaldun in 1377.
Here are the two paragraphs
“The Persians make no one king except members of the royal house. Further, they choose him from among those who possessed virtue, religion, education, liberality, bravery and nobility. Then, they stipulated in addition that he should be just. Also, he was not to take a farm, as this would harm his neighbors. He was not to engage in trade, as this would of necessity raise the prices of all goods. And he was not to use slaves as servants, since they would not give good and beneficial advice.
It should be known that the finances of a ruler can be increased and his financial resources improved, only through the revenue from taxes. This can be improved only through the equitable treatment of people with property and regard for them, so that their hopes rise, and they have the incentive to start making their capital bear fruit and grow. This, in turn, increases the ruler’s
revenues in taxes.”
I haven’t seen a better argument for private-sector led growth.
Thank you very much.
ABOUT THE PAPER PRESENTER
Bode Agusto is not an Economist. He is a chartered accountant by training and a finance professional by vocation. However, early in his working life he learnt that to be a successful finance professional, he needed to understand how macro-economic issues and industry dynamics impact the finances of his clients. He therefore taught himself economics and industry analysis.
This means that he keeps things simple, does not use economic jargon and puts things into context using charts, common sizes and comparative analysis.
Therefore, those who are not skilled in economics as well as economists understand him.
He was an Assistant Vice President in Citibank Nigeria, a Partner in PwC, the founding CEO of Agusto & Co. Limited and Director-General & Adviser (Budget Matters) to President Obasanjo during his second term in office. He was also a non-Executive Director of the National Pension Commission (PenCom), the
Shell Nigeria Pension Fund and a member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
He is currently an independent researcher/consultant. His research interests cover the politics, economics and banking in the key economies of sub-Saharan Africa and how businesses create value for their shareholders. He is also a nonExecutive Director of Agusto & Co. Ltd, Guaranty Trust Bank Plc. and Nigerian Agip Closed Pension Fund Limited.
Bode holds a degree in Accounting from the University of Lagos, and is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria.
In 2002, President Obasanjo invested Bode as a Member of the Order of theFederal Republic (MFR) for his contributions to the Nigerian economy.