FGN and TSA: Some ‘Animals’ Are More Equal Than Others

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In Nigeria, government’s business is no one’s business and taking it on often raises questions about one’s source of confidence. Usually, it means one is either super human, has a huge trust in providence or an unhealthy risk-appetite as an entrepreneur. And, as a matter of fact, Nigeria may not be the best place to be an entrepreneur, owing to the many vagaries to which businesses are subjected. But, if anyone succeeds as an entrepreneur in Nigeria, I dare say, they can succeed as one in any other part of the world. If as an entrepreneur, you are so much of the risk-taker that you can afford to take on government business, then you deserve a medal!

Government business tends to be big business. But why won’t it be, when the government is the biggest spender in the Nigerian economy – and which business person would not want to do business with the most affluent, important stakeholder? That doesn’t however change the truth of business: the bigger the risks, the more the danger, and vice versa.

Assuming responsibility for a business need of the Federal Government of Nigeria (which is expected to be no one’s business) often converts you to the quasi-face of government, for the time you’re on the project. You are subjected to the analysis and criticism of more than one hundred and seventy three million Nigerians. It is worse if yours is usually a quiet business that prefers to be seen only through your works. Once you’ve taken on government’s business, there is no more privacy for you! You’ve become public property!

To top it all, your business investments may go unrewarded! Irrespective of the benefits you have brought to governance and the people, you are only a single business and subject to the dictates of the reigning political mood. Irrespective of the terms of the contract you signed with government, you may end up being the loser! After all, in Nigeria, government appears to be above all – government is the lord of all. And even the law!

Many issues are pending where the government has shown that it is the lord of all and above all. Some of the matters where risk-inclined organisations have invested countless resources without commensurate benefits have in fact become cases before various courts across the federation. Leading among the cases are those of Maevis vs. FAAN, Bi-Courtney vs. FAAN, and Chams vs. NIMC, where the intended value has been suspended while the matters remain pending, subject to the whims of our notoriously slow legal system.

In contemporary Nigeria, some businesses seem to have gotten their hands burnt by working for and with government. It has turned out to be bad deals for them, as the federal government has flouted contractual agreements, without looking back. Even more recently, a number of Nigerian businesses—the success drivers of the much acclaimed Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy of the Federal Government—are the latest victims of government’s lackadaisical attitude towards contracts. For more than 16 months, all commercial banks, more than 500 microfinance banks, countless payment technology providers and SystemSpecs, the developers of Remita software used for the implementation of TSA, have been running their services for the federal government, without being paid.

The TSA matter became public interest when Sen. Dino Melaye made false allegations on the floor of the Senate that a Nigerian firm had earned N25 billion as one percent TSA collection fee in one fell swoop for “doing nothing.” This allegation has in fact been proven to be false, not the least by the Senate itself: “the committee could not ascertain the deduction/collection of twenty five billion (N25 billion) by SystemSpecs as one percent fee charged for the use of its Remita platform within the period under investigation.” The Senate committee that investigated the matter added that the one percent collection fee was being shared by all parties involved: SystemSpecs, commercial banks, card payment processors, and other payment facilitators. That percentage is in fact among the lowest in the world!

In the period when the matter was under investigation, the CBN wrote to all parties involved in the contract to return all they had legally earned, which they dutifully obeyed – despite having subsisting contracts. They must have recognised that the nation is more important than all of them put together. They certainly also realised that the Treasury Single Account is at the backbone of all Federal Government programmes for the people, and its failure would spell doom for Nigeria. However, there is no excuse to cite in defence of neglecting the payment of service providers who have been executing such an all-important project of government for more than 16 months!

It would be wise to give the Federal Government some benefit of the doubt on why exactly it has not deemed it fit to pay for services it has enjoyed for so long – services of which its officials never fail to praise at every public forum when given a chance. Possibly one of the reasons for the government’s attitude is because it does not really value indigenous solutions. And, the software solution that makes it easy for government to collect all its income across sources is made-in-Nigeria! So are the banks! If they were imported or externally derived, would the government have chosen not to pay?

Is it because the government has not been arm-twisted like some other people have done in the past? For instance, is it because, out of nothing but patriotism, these Nigerian firms have not withdrawn their services? Perhaps if they had done that, and by so doing had crippled the economy, the Nigerian government would have taken them more seriously. It thus appears it is a crime to be patriotic in Nigeria.

Nigeria can certainly fare better than she is doing now. Sadly, many of our challenges are self-caused. It appears that the proclamation in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others” is true of Nigeria. While those who remain law-abiding are “equal”, those who threaten to hang government by the hangman’s noose are “more equal” because they have access to a bullying might. The Nigerian government seems to prefer to be bullied to act.

After 56 years of independence and 17 years of unbroken democracy, despite being blessed with abundant natural and human resources, we still do not occupy our rightful place among the nations of the world because we do not prioritise accordingly. For instance, it is sad that government hasn’t seen the need to prioritise the payment of the providers of essential services that give life to such a fate-changing policy of government like TSA. It is time government took its business seriously, and encourage those who have come aboard to help it set its house in order. Government shouldn’t wait to be threatened before doing what is right. It should just know it, and do it!