In Nigeria, the argument in various circles has always been how to share the national revenue, rather than how to mobilise or generate it. There have been several judicial pronouncements on revenue issues, from the lower courts up to the Supreme Court.
The Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission is the body that occupies a very strategic position in the fiscal administration of the three tiers of government. The powers of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission as vested on the Commission by the 1999 Constitution are as follows:
The Commission shall have power to – (a) monitor the accruals to and disbursements of revenue from the Federation Account; (b) review from time to time, the revenue allocation formulae and principles in operation to ensure conformity with changing realities; (c) provided that any revenue formula which has been accepted by an Act of the National Assembly shall remain in force for a period of not less than five years from the date of commencement of the Act; (d) advise the Federal and State governments on fiscal efficiency and methods by which their revenue can be increased.
The Commission is equally empowered to determine the remuneration appropriate for political office holders including the president, vice president, governors, deputy governors, ministers, commissioners, special advisers, legislators (including the national assembly members), and holders of offices mentioned in sections 84 and 124 of the 1999 constitution.
In 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Elias Mbam from Ebonyi State as the chairman of the Commission alongside 29 others as Commissioners representing various states. Chiyere Aniobi from Enugu State is the only female on the team.
One does not need to go too far to note that RMAFC has dropped the ball in virtually all its responsibilities listed in the constitution. During the inaugural ceremony of the current board, the President said the job of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission is very critical, particularly now that the country has very serious shortfalls in her earnings.
Amidst the current low level of economic activities, and the poor level of productivity, it has been reported that members of the National Assembly and other public officers earn very huge income that may not be compatible with the current realities of the economy. It is obvious the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) which is the body charged with fixing the salaries of political functionaries in the country, is foot-dragging in its duty to review salaries of political office holders against public expectations.
During the struggle for the minimum wage by the NLC in 2019, there was a call for the review of the remuneration package of political office holders. The Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) responded at the time that there are plans to review the remuneration package of political office holders, but the commission said it wanted the dust raised over national minimum wage to settle before doing that.
Since then, nothing seems to have happened on the popular demand for the review of the remuneration package of political office holders. Analysts say this is not the first time the revenue mobilisation body has dropped this hint of emolument review for political office holders. The last time they reviewed it was in the early years of our current democracy, and it was adjusted upwards as the economy was better then.
However, the Chairman of the Commision, Elias Mbam, noted that the review would lead to either a reduction or an increase in the remuneration. The RMAFC boss curiously said the review is to ensure that the remunerations “reflect current realities.” He, however, premised the outcome of the review on a process, which, “if followed appropriately will arrive at the appropriate answer.”
The RMAFC, in carrying out this long overdue review of public office holders’ remunerations, should be true and forthright with the public under whose mandate it operates. It should access and factor in all necessary inputs that should play a part in the determination of what is ideal and fair.
In this regard, the commission should of necessity, take into account, the current level of government revenue, inflation rate, gross domestic product growth rate, unsustainable cost of governance, increasing and intolerable rate of poverty, insecurity, poor and overtly non-functional infrastructure across the country, as well as the enormous amount of outstanding salaries of workers at different levels.
Meanwhile, public perception should also guide the authorities on the wage review issue. It is certain that because government has not been generating enough revenue to meet its huge expenditure that it has resorted to imposing increased tax rates under its recent Finance Act, 2019.
The last increase of Value Added Tax rate by as much as 50%, from 5% to 7.5% in one swoop cannot be anything but a sign of desperation by the government to increase its revenue profile. But let there be no perception that there is a correlation between the imminent review of remuneration of political office holders and concomitant tax increase.
Some MDAs in Nigeria have failed to carry out their core mandate to deliver development and improve the well-being of the vast majority of Nigerian citizens. The docility of RMAFC has allowed corruption to thrive, while deepening issues of under-assessment, under-payment, and under-remittance/non-remittance of revenues due to government, thereby limiting what the government can deliver to improve the lives of citizens.
The essence of the revenue mobilisation is to look at the non-oil sector particularly in terms of mobilising revenue for the country. It is believed that now that the commission has a full complement of their membership, they should be able to give it the necessary drive.
Other areas of lapses that exist in the commission under Elias Mbam is its failure to scrutinize MDAs’ expenditures or monitor the accruals and transfer of revenue to or from the federation account.
However, there was some light in the dark tunnel when the RMAFC recently, in a report submitted to the House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts, accused the NNPC of failing to remit dividends paid into the NLNG dividend account. RMAFC alleged the NNPC spent the money without remitting same to government coffers.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) denied the allegations that it did not remit N21bn revenue from Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) to the federation account. The Group Managing Director (GMD), Mele Kyari, dismissed the allegation by RMAFC as pedestrian and false:
“I think it is just impossible not to remit money into the Federation Account. It is also impossible to withdraw any money illegally from any account of government. By the way, the NLNG accounts are Treasury Single Accounts (TSA) and domiciled with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)”.
This single revelation points to the need for a backlog of remedial actions by RMAFC to improve accountability and prioritize the effective implementation of all its responsibilities, which has been rather slow in the past, thereby leading to further financial leakages and loss in citizens’ confidence.