#AskVPOsinbajo: Media Chat with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo

Some of the journalists and bloggers who attended have written about the Chat. We will continue to update this page as more reports come in.

COMPLETE FOOTAGE (Parts 1–4)

 

Transcript

VICE PRESIDENT OSINBAJO ON RAISING TAX REVENUES; AND THE NEW TAX AMNESTY SCHEME

In terms of Tax to GDP ratio, we are one of the lowest. In fact, I don’t know any other country that is lower than us except maybe Somalia or somewhere. So, there is a need for us to actually increase tax in terms of absolute numbers. You know, we should increase income tax, we should increase the rate of income tax and the rate of corporation tax. But the more nagging problem is the fact that we actually have a situation where coverage — that’s in terms of the number of people that we are collecting taxes from; is at about 12%. So really, we have to ask ourselves the question whether we should just be increasing taxes, or perhaps what we should be doing is more aggressively collecting taxes. And we think that for now, a more aggressive collection of taxes and a more aggressive bringing people into the net is what we should do.

And that’s really what the FIRS is doing — which of course, as you know, is the federal revenue collecting agency. That’s exactly what it is they are doing. They are bringing more and more people into the net. As a matter of fact, in recent times, they brought in almost 400,000 new corporations into the tax net. And given the economic situation of course, we are all familiar with that — our performance in terms of what we are collecting is lower in absolute terms but the spread is much wider and we expect that in the next few months, we should be doing a lot better in terms of the absolute numbers and what we are actually collecting — the absolute figures.

So there is no question at all about the fact that we know that we have to be very aggressive about collection of taxes. We are very concerned about raising taxes but if you look at our new Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, over the next three years, raising taxes is certainly something we have to do. We are going to have to raise VAT, you know, which is currently at 5%. We are going to go between 7.5% and 10% in VAT but that’s over the next couple of years; certainly it won’t be in the next eighteen months. We won’t do that in the next eighteen months.

Similarly, we have to look at Corporation Tax as well and look at Personal Income Tax. What we have tried to do with tax dodgers and persons who avoid tax is that we have begun by doing a Tax Amnesty. You know of course there are criminal and civil actions that you can take against defaulters. Where there are big defaulters, you sometimes see that their companies are closed down or they are restrained one way or the other but we try as much as possible to avoid a situation where businesses are disrupted for tax purposes.

This Tax Amnesty scheme is for persons who have property especially those who have bought property abroad or who have some investments abroad and who have paid nothing in taxes. By next year, the British government is going to be opening its books as it were and letting everyone know who owns what. So beneficial owners of properties will not be able to hide under company names or corporate structures and every one of us will be able to tell who exactly owns what. So we are saying that for now; and once that programme kicks off; come and tell us what it is you owe us in taxes, and pay. Otherwise, you may have to face the consequences of that. So, you know, we are ramping up our aggression. Our priority is really not to go after people especially for criminal responsibilities just yet. We think that there is still enough room to encourage people to pay taxes after so many years of tax delinquency.

VICE PRESIDENT OSINBAJO ON LEADING THE ECONOMIC MANAGEMENT TEAM AND OVERSEEING THE ECONOMIC REFORM AGENDA

The Nigerian economy is a huge one. We have the States as well, you know, running different portions of the economy, and then the Central Bank. You know that the Central Bank is autonomous to the extent that we do not control what the Central Bank Governor does. Of course, we try to influence policy and we try to see how we can align our fiscal policy with our monetary policy as much as possible and we try to dictate the pace of that, but we don’t necessarily agree and there are issues many times where we have to try and you know, find accommodation. So to the extent that I supervise the various ministries that are concerned with the economy, yes indeed, one has a relatively free hand. It’s just that the economy has several components you know and as I said, the monetary policy for example, I don’t control monetary policy. The monetary policy is controlled by the Central Bank and there are several areas of course, of the economy, that need more micromanaging, and we have very competent individuals who handle all of those aspects of the economy.

VICE PRESIDENT OSINBAJO ON EASE OF DOING BUSINESS REFORMS

I’m not too sure whether you are familiar with our Ease of Doing Business project. Basically, what this project tries to do is to see how small businesses, large businesses and international investments can get pre-investment approvals, registration of companies included, within a very reasonable time. As a matter of fact, for the registration of companies, we are looking at about 48 hours as being the objective of the Ease of Doing Business project. Now what we are trying to do with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), is to ensure that all of these can be delivered electronically and that’s really the objective. We don’t want to open more [CAC] offices everywhere. We want just as is the case anywhere — that you can simply go up to the website, fill the forms that you need to fill, use one of the available payment solutions. That really is the objective. We don’t want to open more offices. We want to ensure that this is one seamless process that is all done electronically. At the moment, a lot can be done online. At the moment, you can do searches and all of that online but we intend that by the end of the year, we hope that you’ll be able to do all of the registrations and make payments online and that is the objective that the CAC has.

We had hoped that we’d be able to complete this by July but it looks as if just trying to get the systems in place may take a lot longer. But that’s the objective. We don’t really want to open offices all over the place. We think it should be more along the lines of doing these things online and we are working on that.

VICE PRESIDENT OSINBAJO ON PROVIDING TECH JOBS AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR YOUNG NIGERIANS

Only recently, we had the Aso Villa Demo Day (AVDD), and in fact, Mark Zuckerberg was on hand to see for himself the innovation that’s going on in Nigeria. And I think it was just last week that 81 of those who had participated — some of them in the Aso Villa Demo Day, some in other creative and innovative work — were given large amounts of money; sponsorship to promote their business. I think this government in particular, is very very focused on ensuring that young people are given opportunities, especially in technology.

There’s a lot of work going on, [involving] a lot of money. In fact, for the first time, if you look at what we are budgeting for 2016 and 2017 in particular, on just innovation hubs — setting up hubs, six in the geo-political zones and then training 25,000 people in technology-related vocations of every kind including writing programs, making applications, animations, all sorts of things. I think that we have done and we are committed to doing a lot in terms of exposing young people to technology, entrepreneurship and all of those kinds of things.

VICE PRESIDENT OSINBAJO ON THE NATIONWIDE INSECURITY CHALLENGES — HERDSMEN, SOUTHERN KADUNA, NIGER DELTA ETC

Part of the problem that we are experiencing today is that there is a lot of pressure on law enforcement, generally because of the different expressions of dissent and in some cases insurgency, in some cases skirmishes. So there is a lot of pressure on law enforcement generally. And people do have the right to sometimes be offended by things, be up in arms and all of that. But what we need to do is quickly deal with those issues, to quickly try and see how we can resolve those issues. In many cases, it’s not easy to resolve them….in many cases…Look at the Southern Kaduna problem that has been on for years. Even today, all the parties that I met admitted that what we are even experiencing now is a shadow of what was happening in the past — hundreds of people have been killed in this conflict over the years. But what we want to do, is to see how we can resolve this problem, trying to see that justice is done. I think that what happens in the past is that we just paper over issues. We just say: “okay everybody calm down, let’s see what we can do about this. Let’s just calm down” and then we don’t resolve the fundamental issues.

But what we are trying to do is to look at what exactly the root causes of those problems are, and try to resolve them, and that’s why in this particular process, I have met with them twice now and I am going to meet with them individually again. That’s to say meet with both groups individually again before we come back and take a look at where the issues are and we are trying to go through a deliberate process. And for the first time, government is involved at the level of the Presidency. We are not leaving the matter to be negotiated at a lower level and so there is a measure of authority that is coming into it, a measure of commitment by the government.

And that is the same thing we are doing in the Niger Delta as well. We are trying to ensure that we look at these issues. A lot of these issues are issues of justice. Many people feel that they have been hard done by, by the government, people feel that they are not enjoying their resources. In many cases, people feel that even their own leadership have dealt them a poor hand, so it’s a sort of thing that we have to listen to the people you have to understand what they are saying and then try and resolve these issues step by step.

It’s a very difficult process. In many cases, they are just law enforcement concerns — kidnapping, some people doing some crazy things. But we are trying to respond to that by beefing up our law enforcement capacity. Unfortunately, we have not equipped our police and military well enough.

Just as I was saying earlier, we are putting units of the army in Southern Kaduna now. But we may not have the capacity to do so, if we have flashpoints over the country. Why? Because our military needs to be better equipped than it is today. The previous government; I mean we are investigating the previous contracts; things that ought to have been bought and were not bought, embezzlement of fund that should have been used to equip law enforcement, and we are paying for that now. So we need to equip our law enforcement well and then also do some community policing.

VICE PRESIDENT OSINBAJO ON THE HUMANITARIAN SITUATION IN NORTHEAST NIGERIA

A good deal is happening in the North-East. I’m sure you are familiar with the massive humanitarian disaster and it is the sort of thing that would swamp practically any country in the world. We are dealing with over 2 million displaced persons and several others who are not necessarily displaced but who have been affected by the insurgency and by the problems in the North-East. 2 million people is the size of some countries in Africa. So what we are dealing with, I mean the sheer enormity of it, is that we have to really find ways of collaborating with several different agencies, several different bodies and all that, and that’s exactly what we are doing. We started with PINE (Presidential Initiative on the North- East). But after that, we then had an inter-ministerial committee which I chaired.

Basically, the purpose of that inter-ministerial committee was to see how we could work with all the donor agencies, the local agencies, etc. I chaired the meeting for that inter-ministerial team for like three meetings while we were setting up. And then the Minister for Budget/ Planning is now in charge (Zainab Ahmed) — she is now in charge of all that. And what they have tried to do is to get a sense of who is where and what is happening with that.

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) is our point person, our point organization for the purpose of rendering services and rendering humanitarian assistance and all that. We have a bit of problem with their capacity to deliver. Part of the reason is that NEMA is part of an emergency response operation. It is not meant to be responding permanently as the case is today, and that’s why we set up the PCNI (Presidential Committee on North-East Initiatives) headed by Retired General T.Y. Danjuma. PCNI is supposed to be an overall body which also has responsibility for delivering humanitarian services, working with the Ministries of Health and Education — you know, the various Ministries that are associated with it. So for us, we have to budget for it, we have spent large amounts of money on providing health care, providing food on a regular basis and maintaining the IDP camp, and of course working with the other agency even looking at education — trying to rehabilitate schools and all that.

Now, primary responsibility for this sort of things first lies with the State Governments and I am sure you have been seeing what the Borno State government has been doing — an excellent job. There is a lot of hard work going on there. But their resources are stretched, I mean there is just no way of coping on their resources alone, and so we are working with them, trying to ensure we are rebuilding schools, rebuilding hospitals. I’m sure you know that in Dikwa Local Government — we’re trying to fix all that and that’s the work of the PCNI — fixing the infrastructure there: schools, hospitals, roads and all that. And several other initiatives are going on there. It’s an extremely difficult assignment and I think that everyone is doing their best. Very frequently, they fall short in terms of their capacity to deliver to all of the people who are there. But I think that a lot of work is going on and a lot of resources are being expended there. Ultimately, we want to get people to be able to go back to their homes, to their livelihood and all that, so that they can begin to farm again and all that, because really, you can’t sustain feeding a large number of people, you know, just by the World Food Programme (WFP) or whatever it is we can provide. So we have to get people back to their places of work, we have to get people back to their farms, and the North-East is a major bread-basket for Nigerians. It’s a major problem but there is a lot that is going on you know, and I hope we would be able to get as much done as possible.

VICE PRESIDENT OSINBAJO ON THE EFFORTS TO ENSURE THE SAFE RETURN OF THE REMAINING CHIBOK GIRLS

As you know, within the limits of what can be disclosed, there is a lot of negotiation that is going on and we continue to negotiate with those individuals who are holding the Chibok girls. We have gone quite far with negotiations for hopefully another batch of the girls. As you know there are two factions of the insurgents — there’s the Shekau’s faction and the [al-Barnawi] faction. Both hold the girls in captivity, so we have to deal with both sides as it were, and to the extent that one can disclose, a lot of work’s going on.

I can assure you that it’s a day by day engagement and nobody is taking this lightly at all. Sometimes I think it’s easy to imagine that people are not paying attention to this. Let me assure you that it’s a matter that concerns everyone, it’s a matter of conscience and it’s a matter that concerns everyone and there are people within even the cabinet who are paying so much attention to this that we are constantly asked. I do not know a single day that passes by without somebody passing me information or something or the other that has to do with the Chibok girls. So I think it’s something that we are focused on and engaged with. We pray and hope that we will be able to get results as quickly as possible and we are focused on it and we will continue to do so.

VICE PRESIDENT OSINBAJO ON THE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION

I want to say that this business of corruption and the fight against corruption is a very serious matter, and sometimes I’m amazed that very little is being said outside of those who are saying so in government. It’s an existential matter. I don’t know whether it is possible to overemphasize the point but I think it’s a very crucial matter. If people are stealing the resources of this nation, if people are taking bribes, if judges or persons in authority whether they are judges or whoever they may be in government, ministers, whoever, if they are taking bribes, it attacks the fundament of our existence as a society. We cannot tolerate it, we cannot accept it, and unfortunately for us we have a system that has over the years fed itself fat on this corruption, the systems that were operating, and that’s why they say that corruption is systemic. As you fight corruption it fights back.

VICE PRESIDENT OSINBAJO ON THE NOMINATION OF EFCC CHAIRMAN IBRAHIM MAGU

Last week or two weeks ago, the FBI as well as the State Department came up with a report that what the [United States] President said was wrong. I didn’t hear anybody say: “Ah what a dysfunctional government. Why did the State department not agree with the President? Why did the FBI not agree with the President?” In fact, it was praised as been the very robust expression of constitutional governance. Everybody playing its role — so FBI plays its role, State Department, CIA play their role even if their roles do not necessarily agree with what the president or government is saying.

Why don’t we look at this in that light also? Why do we think it’s necessarily disorganized? The [Department of State Services, DSS] comes up with a report, and say this is their view, and the man who has been accused refutes it and refutes it completely — he’s able to say: “what you have said here is absolutely wrong,” and explains it, he gives a reason why what they’ve said is wrong. When that happened, the President looked at what the DSS said and what Magu said and the President said: “I’m satisfied with what I’ve read here and I’m putting back this same Magu as my nominee for the EFCC Chair”. And that’s exactly what the President did and I don’t see any reason why that should be contested in any way. He hasn’t interfered with what the DSS wants to say. If he wanted to interfere he would say “yes, yes don’t say anything there, keep quiet! Don’t even say a word.”

Personally, I think that’s a robust expression of how institutions should work. It may seem dysfunctional but that’s how it works in a democracy. And, the President I think is entitled to say, “this is the person that I want.”

Just to link that up with the Magu issue, I am fully in support of Magu as the EFCC Chairman, just as the President is fully in support of Magu as his nominee for the position. Look at what happens in nominations all over the world. We see the American example on TV all the time. Somebody is put forth as a nominee, there are various reports, people come up with all sort of things. The last US Attorney General, oh, there were all sort of reports. Some reports accusing him of being racist, some reports accusing him of this and that. But he’s Attorney General today. It is up to the Senate to make their judgement; it is up to us to do what we wish. If our candidate is rejected by the Senate, we can re-present our candidate. There is no law that says we cannot re-present our candidate if he’s rejected. We can re-present him. So I don’t see why there is anything wrong about that.

And again there is the other argument as to whether or not we even need to present him for Senate confirmation. And that’s a compelling argument in my view, also preferred by the very respected lawyer [Femi Falana]. And I really like the argument. And it’s a very simple, very straightforward argument. It is that under the Constitution, Section 171 of the Constitution, the Section actually talks about appointments that the [President] of Nigeria can make. They include appointments of Ministers, appointments of Ambassadors and appointments of heads of extra-Ministerial agencies such as the EFCC. In that same Section 171, the Constitution actually says that certain appointments must go to the Senate for confirmation, such as Ministerial appointments and Ambassadorial appointments. Those of Heads of extra-ministerial agencies do not have to go for confirmation. So that’s what the Constitution says. But the EFCC Act which of course as you know, is inferior to the constitution, says that the EFCC Chairman should go to the Senate for confirmation.

Where a legislation conflicts with the Constitution, it’s the Constitution that prevails. I fully agree with Mr. Falana, fully agree with him that there was no need in the first place to have presented Magu for confirmation. I fully agree with that position, but we did so. He was rejected by the Senate but I believe that he can be re-presented. I don’t think there is anything wrong about the fact that the Senate has rejected him. The Senate has acted in its own wisdom.

VICE PRESIDENT OSINBAJO ON JUDICIAL REFORMS AT FEDERAL LEVEL

As a former Attorney General of Lagos, it’s an area I find particularly critical to success of governance as a whole. How do we prevent the Federal Government from losing cases, and the major problem we have really is that we are contending in many cases with a system that over the years has been weakened in several different ways. I think that of course corruption is the major issue that has weakened our entire justice system, our system of administration of justice, from investigation, police investigation to trial and all of that.

For example, it’s only here in this country and a few other countries, where you can start criminal case today and you are not sure when it will end. And what is the reason why that is so? The reason is because our constitution allows appeals at any stage. So I can get to court today after a person has been charged with an offence and I can contest the charge before arraignment, before I have been asked if you are guilty or not guilty, I can say I want to contest the charge. That this charge should not have come up at all because there is no evidence to support it, and then I can appeal all the way to the Supreme Court — [even] before I have been arraigned, and that is why you find out that there are cases of some individuals who after nine years they come back to the court and they’re just being arraigned.

You know because we have a dysfunctional system. The system is dysfunctional. We need to deal with that dysfunctionality. Some of it is legislation, some of it is constitutional reform. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) has tried to limit the right to appeal interlocutorily in a criminal case. So for example now under the ACJA, you can’t appeal a preliminary point. But even that, many lawyers have tried to challenge it, you know by saying that they are challenging the law itself, as opposed to the trial of a case.

So there are a lot of dilatory tactics that have been used to delay cases and all that. To the question of losing cases, depending of course on what the case is, the real question is that why did you lose the case? Was it a loss on merit or was it just perverse; was the judgment of the court just perverse? So there are many contending issues. You have to look at it again and find out what exactly happened. Was it on a technicality? Was it something the lawyers did wrong? Is something wrong with the system? Was it just a perverse ruling, something not supported by law?

But I very strongly believe in the reform of the justice sector. And of the things we have done — the current Chief Justice of Nigeria, in one of my earliest meetings with him and with the Attorney General, there is a commitment to certain reforms that we think ought to happen. [The Chief Justice] is very keen on those reforms and the Attorney General is also very keen on those reforms, and we think a lot can be done with the various reform initiatives that we have. So, there is lot of room for reform.

VICE PRESIDENT OSINBAJO ON HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH PRESIDENT BUHARI

What we have here is a team. My role here as the Vice President, you know and my commitment as Vice President, is to support the President of the Republic. That is my role — to support in every way, you know, to ensure that the administration succeeds. And fortunately for the administration the President has always worked with me as a team; that’s how it’s always been. I meet with him regularly, review a whole raft of issues, stuff that I think needs to be done, report to him on what’s going on with the Economic Management team, discuss on issues, we agree on several different things, and then we look at implementation. I think that what is important is that this is essentially teamwork, and that is how this has really worked and we‘ve worked extremely well together as one team and the President has given me, in my view, sufficient room to work with him, to collaborate with him, to cooperate with him. And things are working as smoothly as can be.

VICE PRESIDENT OSINBAJO ON PATENTS AND INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY REFORM

With respect to patents and the whole raft of intellectual property, first we are trying to reform our intellectual property office. Now, that patent office is an old office. It’s one that really needs to be redeemed. The Honourable Minister for Industry, Trade and Investment has started a reform of that office and he is very particular about it because really, it’s at the heart of creativity, at the heart of innovation and compensating people who have the best ideas, registration of trademarks and all of those kinds of things. So, there is a lot of reform going on in the office itself.

With respect to the laws, with respect to intellectual property, there have been quite a few intellectual property laws. [For example] there’s our Competition Law which is at the third reading now. For me, I think the most important thing is streamlining the processes. We have a whole raft of court cases and judicial pronouncements on intellectual property but the major problem we have is with registration of your patents, ensuring that you can do so within a reasonable time. Now it takes years to be able to register and all that and I think that all of that has to do with inefficiency as opposed to legislation, and I think that the work that [Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment] Dr. Okey Enelamah is doing now will resolve a lot of those issues.

It’s absolutely [important]…as part of our ease of doing business, you can’t really do business effectively especially when you are bringing in people who have all sorts of innovation in technology, those things have to be registered. You have to be sure that they are protected, you know, for use and all that. I think this particular effort will resolve a lot of those problems.

VICE PRESIDENT OSINBAJO ON ALLEGATIONS OF SIDELINING OF THE RULING ALL PROGRESSIVES CONGRESS (APC) MEMBERS BY THE GOVERNMENT

If that is the perception, it’s certainly not intentional; Government certainly does not intend to sideline any members. Members of our party are members of our party. People may feel, when you look at it people may say ‘oh we haven’t been appointed to this or that.’ But there’s only a certain number of appointments anyway, and at the end of the day, many people are still going to feel that ‘perhaps I didn’t get a fair deal because I was not given what I wanted.’

But be sure that it is not an issue that the government is deliberately sidelining anybody. No. In fact, when the President was talking about board appointments, his concern was how the party members would be able to benefit from some of those appointments. I don’t think there is any attempt whatsoever to sideline any members of our party.​

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