By Bashir Hassan Abubakar
The Country Director of Oxfam Nigeria Dr. Vincent Ahonsi has said that Nigeria’s health budget is the third lowest in the world and that 40 percent of the population are not accessing quality health care services.
The Country Director, who revealed this during his opening remarks at the 2021 Tax Summit in Abuja recently, stressed that, immediate and urgent steps are needed to support the financial health of West African countries through grants and other highly concessional financing, supporting debt cancellation and restructuring, and issuing a new allocation of special drawing rights.
Dr. Ahonsi lamented that COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the narrowing of the middle class and worsening gap between the rich and poor, pointing out that , that was why Oxfam and like-minded organizations issued a statement and demanded that the IMF stop promoting austerity around the world and instead advocated for policies that advances gender justice, reduce inequality and put people and the planet first.
“Nigeria’s health budget (as a percentage of its overall budget) is the third lowest in the world (3.6 percent) and 40 percent of it’s population do not have access to healthcare services.
“We believe that commitment to reducing inequality index for most west African countries may have been poor due to the policies and decision they made in response to IMF’s advise to these countries to return to austerity once COVID-19 pandemic abates.
“When IMF released the said advice, Oxfam globally raised concerns. We highlighted how the pandemic has shown the systematic weak investments in health, education and social protection, with the hardest hit population being the vulnerable and marginalized people. These include women, older people, racial and ethnic minorities, informal workers and low-income families”, said Dr. Ahonsi.
On the fiscal policies of the Nigerian economy, Oxfam Nigeria said that Nigeria loses $2.9 billion a year from tax incentives to corporations, but that in 2021 Nigeria increased value-added tax (VAT), which applies to everyday products like food and clothing from 5% to 7.5%, thereby affecting citizens, whose level of hardship may thus be impacted.
“There are useful information that can support our inequality campaigns and advocacy works before the 2022 IMF annual meeting , we should not relent!
“The index we are launching today is also a campaign tool, to sensitize stakeholders – including governments at all levels, on the need to take action.
“We at Oxfam will continue to support efforts to reduce poverty and inequality with all the resources at our disposal, and we firmly believe that the desired change is certain.
“We are of the view that medium to long term recovery efforts should continue promoting further fiscal and policy space that allows for an increase, rather than a decrease, in social spending, and progressive tax policies that collect sufficient revenue and redistribute wealth fairly”, Dr. Ahonsi posit.
The Country Director also commended the organisers of the Summit, maintaining that fiscal accountability is key to national development.
“The efforts of the Tax Justice and Governance Platform (TG&GP) in organizing this annual summit is strategic and commendable.
“It is strategic because it is a forum for all stakeholders to come to the table to highlight issues around fiscal responsibility and accountability within the context of the Nigeria society, and propose ways for improvement.
“It is commendable being a bold and innovative step, and Oxfam Nigeria is delighted to be associated with this platform.
“We appreciate the platform for giving us the opportunity to launch the Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index (CRII) for West Africa.
“Our goal at Oxfam is to end the injustice of poverty, hence conversations around inequality are important to us. We are concerned by the findings in the current index which shows that Nigeria is the worst performing West African country in tackling inequality going into COVID-19 pandemic.