Nairametrics| The Vice President of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, held a media briefing with members of the social and online media last Tuesday, where he took on questions pertaining to the Nigerian economy.
A representative of Nairametrics attended the two hour briefing which also had in attendance Senator Femi Ojodu, Senior Assistant Media and Communication to the VP Laolu Akande, Babafemi Ojodu, Special assistant on Political matters and Tolu Ogunlesi, Special Assistant to the President on New and Social media. The Vice President took on questions that touched on taxes, insecurity, anti-corruption and the President’s health.
Here are highlights of the question and answer sessions with the VP
- In response to a question by Nairametrics on taxes, Prof. Osinbanjo reiterated government’s stands that they will not be raising taxes within the foreseeable future.
- When quipped on the foreseeable future, he suggested at least in the next 18 months, which suggest it will take place just before the next election.
- The Vice President also insisted that revenues from both value-added tax (VAT) and Company Income Tax (CIT) would be increased in line with the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP).
- The ERGP provides for an increase in VAT on luxury items from 5% to 15%
- He also insisted that the immediate emphasis was on bringing many companies within the tax net, as exemplified by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) which had so far succeeded in bringing over 400,000 businesses into the tax system.
- He also insisted that shutting down businesses who are not paying taxes was an undesirable option.
- The vice president also stated that the country was currently awaiting information from the British government regarding ownership of property abroad by Nigerians.
- Once the information was received, there would then be prosecution of tax defaulters.
- The British Government is currently considering pushing an unexplained wealth orders, that will see the British Government confiscate properties if the owners cannot explain how they got money to fund the purchase.
- A grace period had been announced for defaulters, and the response so far had been encouraging.
On Boko Haram & Chibok Girls
- In response to questions by Dr Mrs Akiyode-Afolabi, on Boko Haram and the Chibok girls, Prof Osinbanjo said that efforts were being made to rescue the girls, and he was getting updates and questions about the girls daily.
- He also stated that the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE) headed by General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma was the umbrella body coordinating both relief and reconstruction efforts in the North East.
- Regarding the various crisis in the Middle Belt, the VP said he had been meeting with all the parties involved in the conflicts. Mrs Maryam Uwais, Special Adviser on the Social Protection Plan.
On anti-corruption and EFCC
- Prof Osinbanjo also discussed issues regarding the anti corruption campaign, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and Ibrahim Magu.
- On Magu’s failure to secure the confirmation of the National Assembly, he stated that section 171 of the Nigerian Constitution gives the President liberty to appoint heads of extra ministerial agencies like the EFCC without recourse to the national assembly.
- The EFCC act however states that the head of the commission must be confirmed by the national assembly. Prof Osinbanjo said that where a law comes in conflict with the constitution, the constitution supersedes the law.
- He also asserted that the president had full confidence in Magu and was satisfied with his explanation regarding the report by the Department of State Service (DSS). He explained that the reports against Magu by the DSS reflects the independence of security agencies in the discharge of their duties.
- Commenting on the recent spate of losses of court cases by the EFCC, the vice president stated that this was due to a flawed legal system and that the judiciary was badly in need of reform. A matter he had discussed with the Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen.
- He also answered a question by popular social media personality @jag_bros that the government was shielding Babachir Lawal Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Babachir Lawal.
- He explained that the SGF, according to a report by the Attorney-General of the Federation, was not given a fair hearing by the Senate Committee, which has now extended an invitation to him to explain his own side of the contract allegations.
- He also denied allegations that the government was disregarding court orders with respect to the trial of former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki, and the order to Skye Bank to unfreeze Patience Jonathan’s account. The government had remained law abiding and had appealed the respective cases.
On his role as head of economic team
- In response to a question by Jude Egbas an editor at Pulse on perceptions that he was not having a free hold on matters relating to the economy, Prof Osinbanjo stated he was the head of the Economic Management Team, and had full autonomy.
- The economy however, was made up of different parts and that even though monetary authorities interacted with their fiscal counterparts, they maintained their independence.
- A cross section of the media opine that a cabal within the presidency controlled large parts of the economy especially monetary policy. For example, critics have questioned the independence of the CBN.
On the President’s health
- Prof Osinbanjo rounded up the chat with answers to questions on if the president should resign due to his ill health and the presence of cabals in the presidency.
- He reiterated that him and President Buhari were a team, and all decisions taken by him were with full knowledge of the president, whom he regularly gives briefings.
- The vice president denied the existence of any cabals in the presidency.
The Vice President displayed a determination to take control of the economic narrative, particularly in the online and social media. Whilst he responded intelligently to most of the questions asked, we are a bit perturbed about the thinking of this government and how it plans to execute some of its plans. For example, the possibility of raising taxes in 2018 are quite slim as it is the eve of an election year. Governments find it difficult to take hard decisions during that period for fear of the negative backlash from the public which could lead to losing elections.
Also, his explanation that the continued presentation of Ibrahim Magu as EFCC chairman may be reasonable in theory, but politically inflammable. The outcome could completely damage relationships between the presidency and the National assembly, negatively affecting other critical legislation required to improve Nigeria’s ease of doing business and usher in a stable economic growth.
While the VP may have also created the impression that him and the President remained a team, he did not categorically state that the President was now in good health. The latest absence of the President at the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting is a case in point.