…Says his tax policy will de-industrialize Kogi State
By Ishola Balogun
Dr Yeqeen Abdullah Habeeb, a former lecturer at Ahmadu Bello University and University of Ilorin, economist, Proprietor, Al Azhar International College, and former Governorship aspirant in Kogi State under All Progressive Congress, APC, says the much expected vibrancy of the youth from Kogi State governor who prides himself as the youngest governor in Nigeria has failed the people of the state including the elders.
He adds that the governor, instead of giving incentives to investors and business owners in the state, he is chasing them out with unfriendly taxation. In this interview with Saturday Vanguard, Dr Habeeb opines that Nigeria‘s economy is doing well judging by the growing GDP, saying the IMF should not dictate to Nigeria on subsidy issue. Excerpts.
Amidst criticisms here and there on governance in your state, what do you think Governor Yahaya Bello is not doing well?
Governor Yahaya Bello is a young man and I also call him a very lucky man. You contested the primary, you came second, the number one man who was winning, answered the call of God Almighty and then you were lucky, God appointed you as the governor.
For me, such a person should thank God and serve the interest of the people. If you do that, God will be kind to you more, as you are helping His creatures. The question now is what do we need in Kogi state? We need economic development, empowerment and getting the people out of poverty. That is all Yahaya Bello should have done.
So, he was never on the path of doing that?
If you measure the feelings of the people and what they are saying, you will know he is not on the path of development. The people are saying they are not happy. One of the major reasons people are not happy is that salaries are not paid. Now, if he should pay up all the backlog of salaries, feelings of people will change.
Apart from salaries being owed to workers, there are other criticisms bothering on not harnessing the natural endowments of the state as well as the intellectual capacity of people for proper development of the state, do you agree?
I don’t have the statistics, but people say in Nigeria, we have about 30 natural resources, and Kogi state alone has 29 of them, which means we are heavily endowed. This means that if we concentrate on tapping these resources, we can do so well, we can bring investors from all over the world as well as encourage people outside the state to return home and invest at home. I am not sure what he is doing is in this respect. There are so many consultants who are working on so many things that people don’t see.
Physically, we have not seen commensurate development. The truth remains that we have so many natural resources, that relying on them will change the fortunes of the state completely, and we can compete with any state within any stated parameters of progress. We know these cannot be done in a day, but there are lots of them too that we can pick and harness for quick result.
For example result can be evident within a year in agriculture. In four months we can have impact in some area of food growing. Just like President Buhari concentrated on Rice and advised states to produce rice, we can see the result in due time.
We can also prioritise those ones that can give quick result. Within a four year term, you can put in place programme that can deliver result in less than four years, so that people can say we have seen what you are doing and your second term can be guaranteed.
The youth canvassed for younger leadership and they got one in Yahaya Bello, do you think it is a disappointment?
From the general comments it is a very serious disappointment. It’s a disappointment for youths and the elders. He prides himself as the youngest governor in the federation. The result should be that the youth are vibrant and that we should be looking for more youths in government. Personally, I support the idea of having more youths because they have more vitality, but you cannot throw away the experience of the elders.
I have said it many times and told some people who are close to him that the elders cannot be totally discarded. We heard that he said he would not have anything to do with the elders. I am not sure he said that, if he did, then it is very unfortunate and he should reverse himself.
Experience can make things faster, quicker and do things excellently well. So, you need the experience of the elders and vibrancy of youths. If you don’t put them in cabinet, you need to be talking to them. Failure of the youth governor today is a disappointment to them. I am not saying we should go back to the older ones, but the youth should find a way to learn from the elders.
Again, who are the people around him? He should put people of intellect, of experience all around himself; he should not be a dictator, but give room for ideas, and guidance. He really does not have to take all the advice offered to him, but if he is receptive to ideas, then, he will learn from people.
You were talking about lack of ease of doing business in the state earlier, what exactly are the impediments?
As far as the taxation regime in Kogi State is concerned today, it does not encourage investment. It is tough. They go about harassing people and locking them up. They do it with so much impunity that they also lock up federal institutions. For example, NIPOST in Lokoja was locked by the state. When you do that to federal institution, what then cannot be done to private individual businesses?
So how can you talk of ease of doing business in that kind of environment? What I feel we should do is to spend the next two years to make everybody tax compliant and not necessarily increasing the rate. We all know that we have government that needs money to develop infrastructure in the state and do so many other things for us. It is the responsibility of everybody to pay tax, but we have to bring everybody into it. You move from 1,000 people to 10,000 people paying taxes.
By this, your revenue will go up without increasing the rate. But here now, in some cases, they increased by 200-300 per cent. That is not the way to go about looking for money. If you must increase, you must first get more people into the tax net and then you increase gradually. This is what will be beneficial to the government and the citizenry.
Also, if we want to encourage people to do business, we should give a lot of waivers and incentives. You will see more investors coming into the state. I can tell you even the biggest industry in Kogi wants to leave.
What about petty traders and artisans in the state, is there any form of incentive to grow their businesses?
They are being harassed every day. That is the incentive from the government. Last time, my wife went to the market to buy yam, they did not allow the vehicle to get out of the market, they were asking for tax.
The system is such that any trader that brings yam to the market to sell is asked to pay tax while the buyer will also pay tax in the same market. If you pass through some of our markets in Lokoja, you will see how petty traders and market women run helter-skelter because tax authorities are chasing them, seizing their goods. I don’t know how better to chase them out of business.
So, why didn’t the elders meet with him to find better ways of dealing with these issues you have raised?
If you said you didn’t need the elders, and people above 50 years and I am above 50; what else can I do? Whenever we have the opportunity, we bare our minds and will tell him no, this is the way it should be done. Yes, people blame us saying we can’t keep mum, but what is the avenue for us to talk? Even in the party, we are chased out, because he has taken over the party structure, new people are there, they don’t want to see the elders.
The election is coming later in the year, is there any way the party can correct these shortcomings?
The party leaders and all members know better. They also know that to win election, we have to learn from the just concluded general election. The electorates are becoming wiser and they are making choices not only along party lines.
That is why our party lost the governorship in some states where we won the presidential election. You can also observe that an incumbent governor lost his senatorial election. This is telling us that the electorate can no longer be taken for granted. So, the party should take this as a major consideration. The party should always put in place candidates that the people want.
As an economist, the last four years have not been too pleasant, what is the possibility of a better economy in the next dispensation?
The GDP is the only clear parameter for measuring the success or otherwise of the economy. Once the GDP is increasing, the economy can be said to be faring better. But majority of us look at the individual and certainly we cannot feel the same way. Somebody who has been earning N100,000 now earns N110,000, per month; to some extent he is faring better as far as the absolute value of the salary is concerned.
But the proper measurement of his faring well is the purchasing power. This is also the function of inflation. If your increased salary can buy more items, then you are doing well, but if it cannot buy more than what it could buy before the increase, then you are not doing well. So, going by what we have seen, Nigeria is faring well.
The indices are okay, the GDP is growing. That is why at a point; we became the leading economy in Africa. When you move the base, it also changes the value. You cannot also keep the base far behind when others are moving forward. So, we are doing better as far as the economy is concerned.
There are still lots of challenges though, the manufacturers, production and agriculture indices are doing well. Today, non-oil sector has been contributing to the GDP and that is a sign of doing well.
Recently, the National Leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu urged the President to give Nigerians a better life in his second term, implying that Nigerians have not fared well economically in the last four years. How do you think the President can give Nigerians the desired better life?
I don’t agree with you. When you say: give better life, it means the previous year has been difficult.
But that is the implication of the statement by Asiwaju?
No. That is not the implication. At any time, you can ask for a better life. Even if you go to countries where income per capital is $10,000, they are still looking for improvement and better life than what they already have. The essential thing to note is that we know we are still at the low level of the ladder; we need to move up and faster too.
Then your question on what can be done for the individual and the sector to do better? We have to break the economy into several sectors and look at what they require to thrive. Also, you look at how you can help them so that the essential progress can be made. If we give them the required incentives to grow their businesses and productivity, it will be better.
On the choice of the leadership of the national assembly leaders, there are discordant tunes from the elected members of the National Assembly. How can this be resolved?
The party is supreme. Those contesting were elected under the platform of the party. After winning election on the platform of the party, it is not right to say you are completely independent. That will not be right. I think there should be consultations with the party.
I understand that even after consulting with the party, there will still be election on the floor of the chambers to elect their officers, but large per cent of members should toe the line of the party. It is not right to abandon the structure that brought you to limelight.
Again, there is no harm in anybody declaring his interest, which can be resolved through internal democracy. This can lead to emergence of the best candidate.
Recently, IMF Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, at a forum advised the President to remove fuel subsidy, what is your take on this?
There is no nation in the world that does not have some kind of subsidy. Even in America, they have heavy subsidy on Agriculture. I think they should allow a country to sit, think and fashion out the best way for her economy, and the best thing for her people.
Even if it is about giving a particular product for free, they may go ahead and do it, provided that the multiplier effect is going to be positive. The implication is most important and what it will translate to in the whole economy. For every policy, it is the impact on the people that is very important.
I know when you withdraw subsidy, it will create more difficulties. What we are experiencing now is part of the withdrawal of some amount of the subsidy in the past. If you do it, people will now have major economic hardship and you will then be blaming the government, and not IMF.
Let us take a cue from Malaysia. When IMF told them to take a their conditionalities, their President weighed their options and told IMF: “Please, IMF, hold on, I will come back to you.” so, it is not a must you accede to their advice. No nation or organisation should dictate to us. We should be able to determine the right thing for ourselves.
In 2015, you aspired to be the governor of Kogi state losing in the primary election, are you still interested in running?
As at the time I came out to contest the governorship of the state in 2015, I was in very high spirit. I felt with the huge natural endowments in the state, God has given us everything required for accelerated development. We only need somebody who can bring all these endowments, human and material together for the betterment of the people.
These were my reasons for aspiring to contest and not for the sake of seeking position. I am not a position seeker, neither am I a public person. I don’t even like talking in the public. I have used the resources God has given me for the service of humanity. At that time, I felt the electorate will be able to gauge and determine who among the aspirants will be a better as leader.
But my experience has shown that people prefer the little N50,000 or less they get now than what they get in future. You also have political merchants who front for people and collect huge amount of money and will never deliver it to the people. Also, people propagate falsehood, and I am not sure I am prepared to withstand all that. So, for me, I am not satisfied with the process of our electioneering and I am not prepared for any elective position now.