Nigeria: For Zainab Ahmed, the Task Is Daunting

23 August 2019

Mrs. Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, can pass as the supper minister of the President Muhammadu Buhari's Next Level cabinet. Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN) held that title in the Change Cabinet when he was the minister of Power Works and Housing.

Mrs. Ahmed was previously Minister of State Budget, before she was made Minister of Finance following Mrs. Kemi Adeosun's resignation. Now she has Budget and National Planning added to her supervision even though she has a minister of state, Budget and Planning, Mr. Clement Agba.

Mrs. Ahmed, 59, an Accountancy graduate from the Ahmed Bello University (ABU), Zaria, will have to work full circle with the additional portfolios.

Whilst there are several issues to deal with, there are a few that she will have to deal with, decidedly with even greater speed.

Budget circle

The Federal Government currently has a budget circle that is largely nebulous and undefined. The circle ends anytime in the year, depending on when the president signs it into law. This has largely made it difficult for both the public and private sectors to plan. This tradition hurts the economy and must be reversed.

Economic experts agree the budget circle should start January and end December each year. Now that finance, budget and national planning are all in one ministry, it would be inexcusable for the budget circle not to be properly aligned. Core to making this happen is the early submission of annual budgets to the National Assembly.

Fiscal policies' agreement with monetary policies

There have been several issues around the monetary policies working at cross purposes with the fiscal policies. This synergy has to happen. There couldn't be a better time. Experts agree the economy can't progress much if monetary policy tools don't agree with fiscal policy instruments.

This presupposes that the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning would have to work better with the CBN to create the synergy that works for the economy. Also, it is cause for optimism that the economic planning department will still be under the purview of Mrs. Ahmed as Finance Minister.

Revenue drive

Just recently, the Chief of Staff to the President, Mr. Abba Kyari, queried the FIRS chairman, Mr. Babatunde Fowler, on tax revenue underperformance. This shows that the president is growing impatient with the low revenue profile of Nigeria relative to critical development needs of the country. The government needs revenue to work and leave legacies for posterity. The Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning has the major revenue earning agencies under it - the Nigerian Customs Service and the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).

The minister had previously commenced the implementation of Project Lighthouse, tipped to be the game changer in government revenue profile as crude oil prices continue to drop.

Project Lighthouse, which steering committee she constituted before she left office in May 2019 when her first appointment lapsed as the minister of finance, seeks to use big data analytics to provide intelligence to the tax authority on eligible tax payers and their real taxable incomes and assets.

She's the chairperson of the committee. The deputy-chair is the Permanent Secretary, Special Duties at the Ministry, Dr Mohammed K. Dikwa.

Project Lighthouse is based on the backdrop that Data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Joint Tax Board (JTB), showed that the number of people in the tax net is a mere 13 percent of the labour force with only 32 percent of companies registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and those registered with FIRS, even though more than 50 percent of these entities are deemed to be operational.

Nigeria also has an abysmally low tax-to-GDP ratio of 6 percent and the overall revenue performance for 2018 is only 53 percent of the target in the 2018 budget. The total appropriation for 2018 was N9.12 trillion.

Mrs. Ahmed recently told journalists that the project seeks to support departments and agencies of government within the ministry to develop a more efficient revenue assessment methodology by ensuring that major revenue loopholes are plugged, and revenue collection is dramatically improved.

Shedding some light on the objective of Project Lighthouse at the time, Mrs. Ahmed said: "It is the aggregation of data from key data sources to provide the Minister of Finance, the ministry and all revenue agencies under the ministry with the capability to generate useful and insightful information for a more efficient and intelligent data-driven revenue mobilisation model, thus ensuring major loopholes are blocked and revenues dramatically increased."

She explained further that from the data provided, the system would be able to analyse and provide an analytic view of revenue sources across the country and optimise the collection of those revenues.


The debt profile of Nigeria isn't looking good. As at the last count, the country's debt had climbed to a worrying N24trn.

Latest data from the Debt Management Office (DMO) said Nigeria's total public debt rose to N24.947tn as at March 31, from N24.387trn as at December 31, 2018, growing marginally by 2.30 per cent.

The DMO had said in a statement that the debt stock comprised of domestic and external debts of the Federal Government, the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

It added that the debt rose by N560 billion. Domestic debt grew by N458.36 billion, while external debt also increased by N101.64 billion during the same period.

In the face of the burgeoning debts, the revenue profile of government isn't keeping pace. This might impact the capacity of Nigeria to service her dents going forward, if the revenue profiles are not improved. This would be a huge task for the minister as she works to reduce the borrowing appetite of government yet improve government revenues.

For this to happen, she would have to pursue an economic diversification programme that works.

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