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INTERVIEW: “Border closure necessary to stop neighbours from hurting Nigeria” –Ahmed, finance minister

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On the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund/World Bank annual meetings, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, speaks to some select journalists about some challenges facing the economy and steps being taken to shore up revenue.

The 2020 budget focuses a lot on taxation. With the slow growth the economy is experiencing, how do you hope to achieve your target by taxing people more?

Budgets of countries are supposed to be based on taxes that the country is able to generate and it is an anomaly for us in Nigeria that our budget has not been focusing on revenues. What we are trying to do with the 2020 budget is to harness the full potential of revenue mobilisation within our country.

The only increase in taxes in the 2020 budget is just the Value Added Tax. Every other thing is just on how to maximise the potential of existing tax streams that we have. And we hope that we will be able to do this and boost our tax to Gross Domestic Product ratio from the current seven per cent to 15 per cent. We can only develop in a manner that is sustainable when we are using tax revenues to fund our national and sub-national budget. It is an anomaly that we are depending largely on oil and gas revenue which is a resource that is going to go out of existence before you know it. We have to develop the domestic tax base, then the main focus will be on expanding that tax base, enforcing the existing tax laws and blocking leakages.

What progress has the Federal Government made so far with the proposed 7.5 per cent VAT increase?

We have sent a finance bill to the National Assembly and the bill has several proposals. One of them is the increase in the VAT from five per cent to 7.5 per cent and we believe the National Assembly will do justice to the finance bill. Our target is to ensure that the finance bill is passed within the same period that the budget is passed and we feel it will enhance our capacity to be able to fund the 2020 budget.

The International Monetary Fund has repeatedly called for the development of the non-oil sector and you also have consistently posited that we just have to diversify our sources of revenue. What are the strategies you have to address this problem, especially with the 2020 budget?

In January this year, we launched the Strategic Revenue Growth Initiative which was put together by all the revenue generating agencies in the country led by the ministry of finance. Our objective is to be able to harness the existing revenue streams that we have by ensuring that enforcement is effective, to expand the tax base and also to identify new revenue streams that we can add to expand the revenue base.

So in expanding the revenue base, we have proposed an increase in VAT but there are also other revenue streams that we are looking at and some of them include the introduction of excise duties on carbonated drinks but there is a process in doing these things. Any tax that you are introducing will involve a lot of consultations and also amendments of some laws or introduction of new regulations.

We are also working with all the agencies to ensure that collaboration is strengthened and that the agencies are complementing one another as opposed to where everybody is working in isolation. We have also defined how we can improve on the monitoring of the performance of the revenue generating agencies, especially the government-owned enterprises. We have now in place a rigorous monthly reconciliation of revenue and that has ensured that the leakages are minimised. There are several cost cutting measures in the Strategic Revenue Growth Initiative.

Is the closure of the border one of the new ways of increasing traffic at the ports and generating revenue?

No, we needed to close the border because we were not getting cooperation with our nneighbouring countries. We have over the years committed to some alliances and bilateral agreements but our neighbours are not respecting that bilateral agreement and at this time when the President has signed Nigeria up to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, it becomes more important for us to make sure everybody complies with the commitments that are made.

The practice our neighbours have engaged in is hurting our economy; it’s hurting our local businesses and we have to make sure that stops. That is the purpose of the border closure and not to generate revenue. So if revenues are generated, it’s a consequence but that’s not the purpose.

The closure of the border seems to be affecting genuine exporters, what is the timeline for reopening of the border?

The timeline will be (determined by) the time the neighbouring countries commit to complying with the commitments they have signed to. We hope that at some point, there will be discussions at the level of Presidents where we will extract strong commitments from our neigbours.

The IMF has warned about the country’s debt and also advised a kind of debt restructuring for Nigeria. What steps will the Federal Government take to effectively manage the country’s debt?

Nigeria does not have a debt problem. What we have is a revenue problem. Our revenue to Gross Domestic Product is still one of the lowest among countries that are comparable to us. It’s about 19 per cent of GDP and what the World Bank and IMF recommended is about 50 per cent of GDP for countries that are our size. We are not there yet. What we have is a revenue problem.

The underperformance of our revenue is causing a significant strain in our ability to service debt and to service government day-to-day recurrent expenditure and that is why all the work we are doing at the ministry of finance is concentrated on driving the increase in revenue.

We’ve seen inflation rising to 11.2 per cent. The IMF also predicted that inflation would rise further to at least 11.7 per cent in the near term. What is the government doing to keep the inflation rate in check?

11.2 per cent is not a high inflation rate. Remember that in January 2017, the inflation rate was 18 per cent. And whenever there is any shock within the economy like the border closure, the market reacts so you have inflation but it will become moderate and stabilise within a short period of time.

You talked about the revenue problem. A lot of people have said our revenue target for 2020 is rather too ambitious. So how do you intend to achieve that as Nigeria has not been meeting revenue targets?

The fact that our revenue is underperforming is not an excuse to bring down our revenue (target) that is required to fund the national budget. In 2018, our revenue performed at the level of 58 per cent. Half year 2019, our performance moved up slightly to 58 per cent.

But that is not an excuse to reduce the revenue. Because it means we are all sanctioning underperformance. So we have to push the agencies. We have to push ourselves to meet those targets. Those targets are not designed by the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, the agencies proposed those targets. But we sit down with them and interrogate them. For example, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation has a production capacity of 2.5 million barrels per day. In 2019, they wanted a target of 2.5 million barrels per day but we insisted on prudence and scaled it down (to) 2.3 million barrels. And the performance is 1.98 (barrels) effectively, including 100,000 (barrels) per day that are used to settle cash call earnings but the capacity is there.

So why should we not be looking at what we have to do to make sure the capacity utilisation is attained. Why do we want to reduce it because we are underperforming? We are lucky that crude oil in 2018 outperformed the budget because we budgeted $60 per barrel and we ended up with an average of $67 per barrel. Otherwise, if we had lower prices, the 55 per cent performance wouldn’t have been achieved. What we have to do collectively as a people is to make sure the agencies that have the responsibility to generate revenue actually generate these revenues.

The agencies proposed those numbers. We interrogate them and ask them to justify them. To be prudent, we even discount what they propose before it goes into the national budget.

Speaking about the NNPC, the IMF said it would be better to look into the governance of the NNPC and other state-owned enterprises to improve revenue generation. What steps are you taking to make sure these agencies are accountable and utilise our revenue streams in the best ways possible?

We agree with the IMF that we need to look at how we can improve governance not just in the NNPC or the other government owned enterprises, but across all of the government because poor governance results in underperformance whether it is revenue or other performance indicators.

What we have done is that we have introduced new measures to enhance the monitoring of our revenue generating agencies, we have also introduced monthly reconciliation exercises where the agencies bring their data and we reconcile the data. We have seen gaps that use to exist close gradually. So what we have to do is continue to push the bar to make sure that our revenue performance is enhanced and Mr President has said that targets will be set even for ministers and heads of agencies. And that when targets are met, there will be commendation and when they are not met, there will be consequences. So what was missing in the past was that there were no consequences.

So if an agency underperformed, there would be consequences. We will be pushing to make sure we provide all the support that the agencies require to make them perform.

The IMF has advised a comprehensive reform on how we will be maximising our potential in the non-oil sectors, going forward, what is the plan for diversified revenue streams?

Let’s give credit to where it is due. Before the Presidency of Muhammadu Buhari, oil revenue was 60 per cent of the national budget. Now it is down to 32 or 33 per cent in the 2020 budget and that is indicating that non-oil revenue is contributing more than oil revenue.

Also the Gross Domestic Product of oil revenue is now just about eight per cent. So our economy is actually diversified. What we need to do is to enhance the various value chains in different sectors to make sure their contributions to GDP are enhanced and increased significantly.

Should Nigerians be worried about the structure of debts to China considering that we are heavily exposed to China?

It is not true that we are heavily exposed to China in our debts. We have a wide portfolio of debts. Right now our domestic debt is about 57 per cent and foreign debt is the difference. And we will continue to find different instruments to elongate the tenures of our debt.

Our target is to move the total portfolio to an average of 10 years tenure. For the loans that we have from China, they are project-specific loans. So China gives us a loan to build the rail and build major infrastructure such as the renovation of our airports. I think there is also some kind of negative message going out there saying we are tied down to China, we are not. The rail is being built in Nigeria, is China going to take the rail out of Nigeria? The airports that have been renovated, they will soon be concessioned. They have given us soft loans as the rates are very low, and part of their condition is that the projects must be implemented by their companies, and we don’t see anything wrong with that.

All we need to do is to make sure the Chinese companies have the capacity to deliver the projects. We have seen that the rails that are being delivered are high quality projects. So let’s look at what it is in the interest of Nigeria, not just what other people outside of Nigeria are saying.

The NewsCap will bring you up to date with mixed reactions about the border closure, from prominent Nigerians, both anti and pro Buhari. Next.

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Africa

Akwa Ibom Corps Member Slaughters Boyfriend

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Princess Odume

A corps member identified as Princess Odume, was on Monday arrested by the Akwa Ibom police command for the murder of a yet-to-be-identified man.

The young woman, who is said to be a graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, was stripped naked by neighbours of the victim who caught her trying to skip the fence with a machete.

The Akwa Ibom Police Public Relations Officer, Odiko Ogbeche-Macdon confirmed the victim was the alleged murderer’s lover.
He also said, “The police are investigating. The police have her in custody, she committed the act, but as I speak, an investigation is ongoing as to how and why she did it.”

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Africa

COVID-19 Claims the Life of a House on the Rock Pastor

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Pastor Adeyinka Akinbami

A House On The Rock pastor, Adeyinka Akinbami(61), lost his life to COVID-19 on Friday, the 8th of January, 2021.

The Senior Pastor, of the church, Paul Adefarasin, urged Nigerians to adhere to the COVID-19 protocols.

“Yesterday (Friday), I received the rude and shocking news of someone deeply dear to me and all of the HOTR family. The passing of Pastor Yinka Akinbami has become most painful because if there truly were good men, he was certainly one. To my brother, sleep well till we meet to part no more.

“Family, kindly allow me to solicit your intercession for his dear wife of over 30 years; Pastor Tolu, his children, his children-in-law, and grandchildren. We can only at best imagine how much pain they are feeling. We share the pain of his loss but they will feel it a lot more.

“It’s important to remind the community about the deadly nature of the COVID-19 and its mutant virus strains. Please do your part by following all the recommended precautions. That way, you are able to protect yourself and others who become proximal to you. God bless and keep us all”, Adefarasin Tweeted.

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Bizare

Pius and Dr, Ifenyiwa Angbo: The sad story of everyday Nigerian hardworking women.

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Pius Angbo

The Channels news staffer Pius Angbo-seen in this picture battered his wife, who went public with the beating. In her own words, the woman had these to say:-
”Hello people, my name is Ifeyinwa. I am a doctor. I have been married to Pius Angbo of Channels TV for six years, and for six years, I have not known peace in this marriage. It’s been from one woman to another.
I just had baby. It was a Caesarian section just about 4 weeks ago. Just because I told him to spend wisely and not on women so recklessly considering we have four children, that is why I got this beating. He tried to strangle me and all that, sat on my incision, the children were crying.
When I was pregnant with this child, when the pregnancy was three months, it was the same thing. He would sit on my stomach. hit me, try to strangle me and all that”

As the outcry over the beating gathered momentum, a sitting State Governor called for a truce between husband and wife. Now, you can see husband and wife hugging it out.
Pius Angbo should be arrested and face the full wrath of the law for causing his wife such bodily harm. As shown in those pictures, the beating went too far, and because Ifeaniyiwa had a cesarian operation four weeks ago, the man almost killed her. The matter should not be swept under the carpet.
The next time around, the woman may not be alive to tell her story. Her case represents a tiny fraction of what everyday Nigerian woman is facing. I spoke with the Lagos State Police PRO and waits to talk with the Commissioner of Police very shortly, concerning this matter. More updates will be made public.

AGU is Nigerian-American International award wining musician, song writer and Producer/ publisher.

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Inside Nigeria

The Nigeria-Biafra war: Remembering the fearless heroes- photo-Gallery/video by Agu

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The Nigerian-Biafra-war

It was probably 15 years after the Nigerian -Biafran civil war ended that my thought process comprehended the full tragic impact it had on my family. The first time I saw four of my nephews, I wondered why they could not speak my dialect. Also, they had a last name that does not sound anything close to the language that I speak. I became inquisitive and began asking questions. My mother told me how the Nigerian soldiers took over my town and started kidnapping girls from my village. My senior sisters hidden inside the house Chimney were not spared after the soldier’s informant gave them away.
My father could not do anything to stop them. He came close to being killed by the same soldiers. He watched in utter shock how his girls got taken away. After that incident, my father left the village and never came back alive. It hurts to this day that i never get to know my father due to Nigerian-Biafran civil war. Anyway, this part of my story is reserved for another day.
Also, my nephews of Yoruba extract never had a father-son-relationship with their Yoruba fathers. Their lives were equally shattered. The entire Eastern- Nigeria is still a conquered place. Daily, you will think the war is not over.
Today, as we remember those who died during the Nigeria-Biafra civil war, let me leave you with this memory. I would also implore you to read this article ‘Buried for 50 years: Britain’s shameful role in the Biafran war”.
See the shocking footages and photo gallery,

Buried for 50 years: Britain’s shameful role in the Biafran war

A million children starved to death. I’m haunted by the images I saw there – and by the complicity of the Wilson government

t is a good thing to be proud of one’s country, and I am – most of the time. But it would be impossible to scan the centuries of Britain’s history without coming across a few incidents that evoke not pride but shame. Among those I would list are the creation by British officialdom in South Africa of the concentration camp, to persecute the families of Boers. Add to that the Amritsar massacre of 1919 and the Hola camps set up and run during the struggle against Mau Mau.

The northern and western regions were swept by a pogrom in which thousands of Igbo were slaughtered

But there is one truly disgusting policy practised by our officialdom during the lifetime of anyone over 50, and one word will suffice: Biafra.

This referred to the civil war in Nigeria that ended 50 years ago this month. It stemmed from the decision of the people of the eastern region of that already riot-racked country to strike for independence as the Republic of Biafra. As I learned when I got there as a BBC correspondent, the Biafrans, mostly of the Igbo people, had their reasons.

The federal government in Lagos was a brutal military dictatorship that came to power in 1966 in a bloodbath. During and following that coup, the northern and western regions were swept by a pogrom in which thousands of resident Igbo were slaughtered. The federal government lifted not a finger to help. It was led by an affable British-educated colonel, Yakubu Gowon. But he was a puppet. The true rulers were a group of northern Nigerian colonels. The crisis deepened, and in early 1967 eastern Nigeria, harbouring about 1.8 million refugees, sought restitution. A British-organised conference was held in Ghana and a concordat agreed. But Gowon, returning home, was flatly contradicted by the colonels, who tore up his terms and reneged on the lot. In April the Eastern Region formally seceded and on 7 July, the federal government declared war.

Biafra was led by the Eastern Region’s Oxford-educated former military governor, “Emeka” Ojukwu. London, ignoring all evidence that it was Lagos that reneged on the deal, denounced the secession, made no attempt to mediate and declared total support for Nigeria.

I arrived in the Biafra capital of Enugu on the third day of the war. In London I had been copiously briefed by Gerald Watrous, head of the BBC’s West Africa Service. What I did not know was that he was the obedient servant of the government’s Commonwealth Relations Office (CRO), which believed every word of its high commissioner in Lagos, David Hunt. It took two days in Enugu to realise that everything I had been told was utter garbage.

I had been briefed that the brilliant Nigerian army would suppress the rebellion in two weeks, four at the most. Fortunately the deputy high commissioner in Enugu, Jim Parker, told me what was really happening. It became clear that the rubbish believed by the CRO and the BBC stemmed from our high commissioner in Lagos. A racist and a snob, Hunt expected Africans to leap to attention when he entered the room – which Gowon did. At their single prewar meeting Ojukwu did not. Hunt loathed him at once.

My brief was to report the all-conquering march of the Nigerian army. It did not happen. Naively, I filed this. When my report was broadcast our high commissioner complained to the CRO in London, who passed it on to the BBC – which accused me of pro-rebel bias and recalled me to London. Six months later, in February 1968, fed up with the slavishness of the BBC to Whitehall, I walked out and flew back to west Africa. Ojukwu roared with laughter and allowed me to stay. My condition was that, having rejected British propaganda, I would not publish his either. He agreed.

But things had changed. British covert interference had become huge. Weapons and ammunition poured in quietly as Whitehall and the Harold Wilson government lied and denied it all. Much enlarged, with fresh weapons and secret advisory teams, the Nigerian army inched across Biafra as the defenders tried to fight back with a few bullets a day. Soviet Ilyushin bombers ranged overhead, dropping 1,000lb bombs on straw villages. But the transformation came in July.

Missionaries had noticed mothers emerging from the deep bush carrying children reduced to living skeletons yet with bloated bellies. Catholic priests recognised the symptoms – kwashiorkor or acute protein deficiency.

That same July the Daily Express cameraman David Cairns ran off a score of rolls of film and took them to London. Back then, the British public had never seen such heartrending images of starved and dying children. When the pictures hit the newsstands the story exploded. There were headlines, questions in the House of Commons, demonstrations, marches.

As the resident guide for foreign news teams I became somewhat overwhelmed. But at last the full secret involvement of the British government started to be exposed and the lies revealed. Wilson came under attack. The story swept Europe then the US.

Donations flooded in. The money could buy food – but how to get it there? Around year’s end the extraordinary Joint Church Aid was born.

The World Council of Churches helped to buy some clapped-out freighter aircraft and gained permission from Portugal to use the offshore island São Tomé as a base. Scandinavian pilots and crew, mostly airline pilots, offered to fly without pay. Joint Church Aid was quickly nicknamed Jesus Christ Airlines. And thus came into being the world’s only illegal mercy air bridge.

On a visit to London in spring 1969 I learned the efforts the British establishment will take to cover up its tracks. Every reporter, peer or parliamentarian who had visited Biafra and reported on what he had seen was smeared as a stooge of Biafra – even the utterly honourable John Hunt, leader of the Everest expedition.

Throughout 1969 the relief planes flew through the night, dodging Nigerian MiG fighters, to deliver their life-giving cargoes of reinforced milk powder to a jungle airstrip. From there trucks took the sacks to the missions, the nuns boiled up the nutriments and kept thousands of children alive.

Karl Jaggi, head of the Red Cross, estimated that up to a million children died, but that at least half a million were saved. As for me, sometimes in the wee small hours I see the stick-like children with the dull eyes and lolling heads, and hear their wails of hunger and the low moans as they died.

What is truly shameful is that this was not done by savages but aided and assisted at every stage by Oxbridge-educated British mandarins. Why? Did they love the corruption-riven, dictator-prone Nigeria? No. From start to finish, it was to cover up that the UK’s assessment of the Nigerian situation was an enormous judgmental screw-up. And, worse: with neutrality and diplomacy from London it could all have been avoided.

Biafra is little discussed in the UK these days – a conflict overshadowed geopolitically by the Vietnam war, which raged at the same time. Yet the sheer nastiness of the British establishment during those three years remains a source of deep shame that we should never forget.

Frederick Forsyth is a former war correspondent and an author

Guardian Service

Execution of Mathias Kanu, A Biafran by Nigeria Army
Execution of Mathias Kanu, A Biafran by Nigeria Army.mp4
Nigeria-Biafra War | Road to Umuahia | British TV Reporter Peter Sissons Shot & injured | Oct. 1968.mp4

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