A message to my President-to-be, By Abubakar Suleiman
It’s Monday 27th February, 2023. The results are in, the concessions received. You are now Mr President-in-waiting.
Congratulations, you have done it.
Now the real work starts, there’s no break for nation builders.
The FGN is not a big government, not really. We can’t solve our problems by shrinking, we need to do more for more people. Growth will not come from less infrastructure or poorer education, it’s time to dream big.
Be disciplined but be ambitious, mega ambitious.
Current government revenue says a lot about what is wrong with our economy. Our systems (regulations + regulators) are not designed to enable growth, at their best, they let the river flow and take a cut, at their worst, they wreck companies and make us less competitive.
If we fail to attract those who make the things we consume and export, we cannot create jobs. All these Uber-powerful regulators who measure success by how much money they can squeeze from companies are not going to help you deliver your mandate.
Respect those who employ.
You cannot achieve growth by over regulating an economy, time to change the focus of your regulators to growth rather than fee-streaming, let the economy grow and the taxes will come, naturally.
Mr president, every point of person-to-person contact in the civil service is a point of potential corruption and a brake on growth, embrace e-government. Let’s run this country as efficiently as you ran your campaigns, cut the waste, trust your people
Beware Mr President, of the great temptation of the printing press, the easy path to funding your developmental aspirations is laced with poison. Printed money is no free money, just taxes that affect the poor disproportionately via inflation.
And the alternatives to printing more money is not easy but far more sustainable. The rich are under taxed, the middle subsidized and the poor unserved. Tax the wealthy, take back the subsidies and help the poor. That’s easily 10 trillion annually.
Our government is spread too thin, we are trying to do too much with too little. Give up anything that can be done better with private capital and focus on securing our country, powering our nation and educating our people. Do this well and the rest will follow.
It is far better to have fewer people in government and pay them well, it is unfair to take human capital from the productive economy and expect them to live on slave wages, they will not. We need a leaner better paid civil service.
We strive to be an open society, let’s open up. Forget reciprocity, let Nigeria be an easy destination for decent people. Capital goes where it is respected, let’s respect those who control the means of production, whether local or foreign.
Mr President, you have a decent payment system, let’s put it to use — deductions at the point of payment (withholding taxes and VAT) are by far more efficient for taxing economic activities, let’s tax without frictions and with transparency.
Mr President, it is unwise to hold and watch assets worth trillions of Naira deteriorate while borrowing to fund government, there’s no logic for holding assets that drains rather than contributes to the federal purse, let them go. Remember NITEL.
And let’s beware sir, of the winner-takes-all mentality, it is a trap. Reach out to those who contested against you, there’s a role for everyone.
And we need talent from the rest of the world too. If Nigerians can attain Canadian citizenship in 3 years, it’s time we review the 14 years it takes to qualify for the citizenship of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
-Suleiman is the Managing Director/CEO of Sterling Bank