Zainab Ahmed: Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning

Mrs. Zainab Ahmed is Nigeria’s minister of finance, budget and national planning, one of the most influential ministerial portfolios in government. She faces the big task of how to jerk up government revenue in down times to be able to tame surging public debt.

Fiscal imbalance, due to persistent revenue shortages, is government’s biggest challenge and finding the solution is the job of Ahmed. She quite understands the challenge and has brought in a lot of measures and innovations to bridge government revenue gap since she assumed responsibility as finance minister in 2018.

An accountant by training, she has put into action her extensive experience in public sector reform and management.

She defined the roadmap for the job quite early in coming to office. “I am prioritising revenue generation as the biggest challenge. As a result, I am steering my team to implement some revenue growth strategies aimed at boosting revenue performance by deploying new initiatives,” she said.

A key element of the strategy has to do with removing hiccups in the tax administrative machinery where pending cases held back the inflow of huge tax revenues. There were in 2018 as much as over 209 pending cases relating to tax revenues amounting to N205.654 billion, $18.804 billion and €0.821 million.

Zainab moved decisively to constitute eight tax appeal tribunals across the country to accelerate the resolution of the pending cases. She has used the tribunals not only to drive tax revenue inflow by expediting resolution of tax disputes but also to ensure that taxpayers get fair hearings on tax matters.

She has also used the tax dispute resolution mechanism to reduce incidences of tax evasion and improve payers’ confidence whilst ensuring fairness and transparency of the tax administrative machinery.

She has embraced the use of innovative technologies through leveraging data, technology tools and platforms to foster collaboration, grow the revenue base and improve collections. The technology tools deployed include the national single window/trade platform, deployed at the ports to ease doing business and raise Customs’ revenue collection target from 40 percent to 90 percent.

“Under my tenure as the finance minister, I intend to continue championing such digitalization transformation initiatives that have proven to be a good way forward for our revenue generation drive,” she hinted at the time of assuming office.

The minister has also ushered in collaboration among revenue collection agencies such as Federal Inland Revenue Service, the Nigerian Customs Service and other trade partners. By sharing information and intelligence in revenue collection, the minister’s initiative has made revenue collections more efficient than before.

The measures are paying off, according to Ahmed. “By automating many of our revenue collection processes, such as the deployment of health-pay in the health sector, edu-pay in education and e-collections by our revenue authorities, we have seen revenue shore up to record high levels,” she said.

Ahmed has taken steps to improve accountability through the governmental system with a clear objective of improving the performance of government-owned enterprises. Her process improvements have been carried out on both revenue and expenditure sides to achieve a proactive revenue tracking and monitoring mechanism.

With a big dose of efficiency she has injected into government finances, government has been able to cope with critical spending votes for overheads, debt servicing  and capital budgets despite the lingering revenue shortfall.

She is determined to improve budget performance level consistently by driving revenue generation to enhance the fiscal space for development spending.

Other major achievements on the minister’s scorecard so far include defraying all inherited debts and liabilities since 2015, including the refund of the $5.4 billion Paris Club debt over deductions; payment of the $6.8 billion Joint Venture Cash Call arrears and N1.9 trillion contractor/Export Expansion Grant as well as N488 billion refund to various state governments for federal road rehabilitation.

Ahmed has attained a great milestone as minister of finance in resolving long outstanding issues of pension arrears, workers’ entitlements and gratuities. Other achievements include record recovery of looted public funds, huge cost saving on government’s overhead expenditures through a review conducted by the ministry’s Efficiency Unit.

Ahmed is an accountant by profession and holds B. Sc. degree in accountancy from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and Master’s in Business Administration from the Ogun State University, Ago Iwoye.

She has served the Nigerian public in various high ranking positions – which include executive secretary and national coordinator of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI).

She also served as managing director of Kaduna State Investment Company and was also chief finance officer of Nigerian Mobile Telecommunications Ltd. She also served as senior officer (finance) at Nigerian Telecommunications Ltd where she attained the position of deputy general manager in charge of corporate treasury.

Ahmed is a fellow of the Association of National Accountants of Nigeria, fellow, Institute of Company and Commercial Accountants and member, Chartered Institute of Management Taxation as well as member, Nigerian Institute of Management.