Ongoing plan by the Federal Government of Nigeria, through the Ministry of Interior and the Nigerian Immigration Service to roll out a policy to drag expatriates into its revenue-generation net has dominated the media space in the last two weeks. According to sundry media reports, the plan would dovetail into a policy choice that is well-rooted in the economic imperative of widening the nation’s revenue base and, consequentially, bolstering the economy in terms of production and consumption of goods and services as well as the supply of money.
The plan, understandably, requires some validations, against the important question around its novelty.
While the plan to capture expatriates in the proposed revenue net (not taxes) may be novel in Nigeria, the decision by the President Bola Tinubu administration to consummate the policy of ensuring that the working expatriate community in Nigeria becomes a veritable source of new revenue has obligatorily underscored the administration’s need to explore all reasonable avenues to generate income.
In fact, the essential international contexts for comparative analyses between how and why the policy is practised in other countries and why it is not in Nigeria, validates the urgency that is needed to effectuate the policy in its entire ramifications. A good understanding of how other countries have placed special demands on their international expatriates, leaves one with the impression that Nigeria has all along missed out in this critical area that has the potential to generate mega foreign exchange earnings for the country. If the trend must be reversed, the federal government must take the bull by the horns, confront the existential challenges that may want to conspire to frustrate the coming on stream of the revenue source.
Indeed, it is remarkable to note that as part of the nationalisation regulations to encourage hiring citizens over expatriates in G-20 countries, including Mauritania and many other countries, private sector entities are being charged monthly for each expatriate employee that exceeds the number of employees at the entities. This is in apple-pie order and in alignment with international best practices and Nigeria can very well adopt it.
This practice is a cosmopolitan reality in Germany, China, France, Czech Republic, Ireland, and in over seventeen other countries, which are placing charges on the offshore earnings of expatriates. The Tinubu administration will do well to replicate the same in Nigeria.
In those countries, which are by all standards developed, they have not put an end to generating revenue. A plethora of revenue sources is being constantly devised to meet the challenges of public finance, rising complexity in the ever-expanding infrastructure gap, especially in Nigeria, and funding of governments globally. Growth and development in all sectors of their respective national economies become the normative order in the consideration and effectuation of policies, programmes, and projects that conduct towards the public good.
The interplay between the wellbeing and security of the people underscores the primary purpose of government anywhere in the world. Significantly, these two essential ingredients of government and community cannot, suo motu, activate themselves nor can sheer political will without any corresponding or concomitant actions do so. The political will must crystallize in the nature and form of deliberate and aggressive funding, which is impossible if there is no cash backing. Governments cannot spend the money they do not have. It is the responsibility of governments to run and coordinate their national economies, manage the relationship and tension between production and consumption, as well as other financial or budgetary matters.
It is therefore understandable when governments globally, including the federal government of Nigeria and the subnational governments embark on government-to- government, government-to-business and government-to-people interactions that result in generation of revenues, including Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) through taxes, royalties, fees, fines and sundry charges on both small and large scales. It is in this context that the plan by the Tinubu administration to extend its revenue source to expatriates working in Nigeria finds justification.
The first level of revenue drive may entail a fixed charge on each expatriate working in Nigeria; then the second level may be charges imposed on companies for infractions or failure to absorb Nigerian professionals into jobs that are allotted to them. If any company that engages the services of expatriates gives jobs meant for Nigerians to expatriates, it should be ready to pay the prescribed penalty. There may be other ancillary charges derivable from the overarching implementation of the new revenue measures, which Nigeria has not taken advantage of since 1960. It is not too late to begin to derive the requisite benefits in this area, which is why the beat is on.
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As the saying goes, it is better late than never.. The time to cure the mischief of the past years is now. The initiative is expected to come on stream in a few weeks’ time. Mega revenue will be generated from the expatriates, whose current population is put at a little over 150,000. The plan by the government is to deploy the revenue received from this source in massive investments in infrastructure development. This is apart from the fact that more jobs will be provided or secured for Nigerians in companies that engage the services of expatriates to strike the obligatory balance or quota as agreed to by both parties. Overall, the Tinubu administration, which is struggling to raise money to drive the economy, has a historical opportunity to leverage this potential revenue source. There are countries to reference to validate its new plan to impose some tariffs of sorts on working expatriates in Nigeria to generate the much-needed revenue for infrastructure development. Let us keep our fingers crossed as the Federal Government of Nigeria rolls out this policy soonest.
● Momodu is a development journalist based in Abuja.