In 2015, figures obtained from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed Abia to have generated IGR of N13+ billions, with Kaduna trailing with N11+ billion. This meant that Abia was doing better than Kaduna as at then in terms of Internal revenue generation (IGR)
Fast forward to 2019 and the story became different. Figures available from NBS showed a half year IGR of N7+billions for Abia as at June 30th, 2019. When you multiply that by 2, you get little above N14 billions for 2019. For Kaduna State with the same period, its revenue almost quadrupled from a little above N11billion in 2015, a record high of over N44billion naira as at December 31st, 2019.
If you ask critic of the Elrufai’s administration, their simplest explanation would have been that the government has increased exorbitantly taxes paid by citizens in Kaduna. That would easily satisfy his greatest critic and further fuel the antagonism against him. Unfortunately, reverse is the case. In fact, many businesses would confirm that they now pay fewer taxes than in 2015 through the state’s harmonized tax law. What then is the magic for this significant unprecedented increase in revenue collections in the state within four years? Simple! He blocked leakages in government and has dragged businesses who hitherto avoided taxation, through compromising tax officials. His deployment of technology in revenue collections means that government officials now have little romance with government cash. Most payments are done electronically to a centralized account of the state through the introduction of the Treasury Single Account (TSA). This increase in Revenue collection is now propelling massive infrastructural development in the state with support of loans the state has obtained from international financial institutions, which are now showing increasing confidence in the reforms in the state. He has also gone on an investment drive to make good business cases to investor on the viability of investing in Kaduna state. Those drive his paying off as some big foreign direct investments are now coming to the state.
Today, the state is top on the Ease of Doing Business ranking for states in Nigeria. Government Ministries, Department and Agencies have also been reformed to provide speedy services to citizens and businesses, with strict monitoring of the government. To a very large extent, bureaucratic bottlenecks which have been known to serve as blockages to service provisions have been removed. Perhaps more importantly, political cabals who hitherto install governments that served as conduit pipes for state treasury looting were put in their place. This is not saying that everything is now uhuru in Kaduna. There are surely rooms for improvement. What is however not in doubt is the government sheer determination and resolve to tackle the issues of governance frontally. Though the issue of deteriorating security situations continues to impugn on the progress made so far, efforts are also on to tackle it, even if such efforts are not enough. By signing onto the Open Government Partnership (OGP), the state has welcomed citizens to engage it for development. Though some overzealous managers of development agencies championing the implementation of the Open Government Partnership are either trying to shield the government from citizens’ criticism or, hijacking the OGP to implement it as a project rather than allowing to organically form into the process of governance in the state. These attempts to stifle citizens’ voices are due to inexperience of some of the citizens and the choice of known public servants of the state to manage these programs. The cheering news however is that the Kaduna state government has not shown any signs of being bothered by criticisms. Instead, the state has shown courage to making efforts to correct citizens’ observations and suggestions.
Back to Abia state. What has made a state with so much promise to be struggling to meet its financial obligations and is always in the news for all the wrong reasons?
From half year IGR report from the NBS, the state made about N34billion as at June 30th 2019. It is expected that the state would make about a total of N68billion as at December 31st (even though from revenue trends, revenue collections in the second half of the year is usually lesser in the East due to long Christmas festivities).
Meanwhile, the Budget outlay of the state for 2019 outlined N67.8billion as Recurrent Expenditure and N71.7billion as Capital expenses.
From the foregoing, it is evident from available fact that the total revenue generation for the state for 2019 was only able to pay for the Recurrent expenditure component of the 2019 Budget of Abia state.
However in actual fact, no government would spend all its monies on Recurrent Expenditure and abandoning the capital component of the Budget. This will almost amount to political suicide.
So my thinking is that the state government a bid to balance its budget implementation will have to abandon some components of the Recurrent Expenditures so as to free up some funds for the Capital component of it. Though without fact to confirm this, it is evident that it is the reason why salaries of some MDAs are not paid as at when due including pension.
Unfortunately, the government has also become a victim. The system in the state as inherited by the Okezie Ikpeazu’s administration makes it difficult for things to change without ‘shaking or breaking tables’. With paucity of funds as explained above, projects take longer to be completed. Citizens are also now impatient considering the level of maladministration they have been through since the inception of the 4th republic in 1999.
Is there hope for a turnaround for the state?
Evidence on ground shows that with sheer commitments, clear vision and sacrifices, the fortunes of Abia can be turned around. One, the state tick all the boxes for greatness; the only thing standing between it and greatness is clear vision of the paths to that greatness. With all the promises that Aba holds, there is no reason Aba as a commercial city cannot be able to contribute upward of N30billion annually into the state’s coffers (without people paying more taxes now than before). Though the current administration is doing a lot to reform government business and remove bottlenecks to service delivery, including the signing up of the state to the Open Government Partnership (OGP), work is being slowed down by brief case politicians who have held the state down since 1999. If and when government decides to take back the state from the vultures, only then can reprieve come to Abia. Obnoxious law passed by the State House of Assembly must be repealed to stop the diversion of public funds into private pockets. No MDA should generate and use its funds. All funds must be as appropriated by the State House of Assembly and as released by the Ministry of Finance and the Accountant-General of the state. That is best practice and Abia cannot be different if it is surely tired of the current situation. With disillusioned Citizens, the state has a long way to go in convincing citizens to key into its programmes. The Civil Societies must also shun the spoils of office to constructively engage the government on how to move the state forward. Time is ticking and patience is fast running out. The progress made by Kaduna state government is no magic; it is the result of sheer determination to change the status quo. Citizens of Abia are ready. Is the state ready for the future? ONLY TIME WILL TELL
Laurence M. Obeweh is the Lead Technical Director of Citizens Voice for accountability & Progress and writes from Kaduna, Nigeria