Zainab Shamshua Ahmed, Minister of Finance
Zainab Shamshua Ahmed, Minister of Finance

Mrs. Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed: From NEITI to Finance, Budget & National Planning

Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed was appointed on 28 August 2019 as a second time Minister in President Muhammadu Buhari’s second tenor. Having been assigned a Ministry with three portfolios, Zainab is handling the coordination of the Nigerian economy. At a time when the global economy is facing a recession occasioned by COVID 19, coupled with the crash of crude oil prices this is not an easy task.

The Minister has led the management of the economy with appreciable results with the Nigerian economy performing better than its peers. The African Banker Award 2020, selected Zainab Ahmed as FINANCE OF THE YEAR. In granting the award the African Banker presentation said, “This award goes to African Minister of Finance who has carried through prudent macro-economic policies and, through reforms and his or her actions, has shown skill and dexterity to create the conditions of an appealing investment climate.”

Before her appointment, Zainab had done creditably well as Executive Secretary and National Coordinator of the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI.) Of course, it would not have gone unnoticed by Mr. President. So, to fill the vacuum left by Adeosun, PMB looked no further than a candidate with requisite credentials. Zainab Ahmed was a natural choice given her track record from when she started her professional career in her natal state, Kaduna where she was born on 16 June 1960.

After her primary education, Zainab was parceled off by her parents to one of the prestigious secondary schools in the city named after crocodiles, Queen Amina College, Kaduna, from where she proceeded to the School of Basic Studies, Zaria. Of course, ending up studying Accounting at Ahmadu Bello University in the same campus in the same town is only to be expected. Most often, diploma students from the SBS, an A Level preparatory ground for university hopefuls, found their way into the same institution for further studies.

Mrs. Ahmed graduated with B.Sc. Accounting in the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Nigeria and did her MBA at the Ogun State University, Ago Woye, Nigeria. She is a fellow of many professional bodies like the Association of National Accountants of Nigerian (ANAN) and Institute of Company and Commercial Accountants (ICCA) among many others also a member of several professional bodies like Chartered Institute of Taxation (CITN) and the Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM). 

After her mandatory Youth Service from 1981 – 82 at Egunjobi, Suleiman & Co, a firm of Chartered Accountants in Kaduna, she worked as an Accountant 11 in the Main Accounts of Kaduna State Ministry of Finance. She was promoted to Accountant I in March 1984, after which she resigned in 1985 and went on to work as Senior Officer (Finance) at Nigerian Telecommunications Ltd (NITEL) in March 1985. She was there until 2002 and then moved on to Nigeria Mobile Telecommunications (MTEL) appointed as Acting Chief Finance Officer in November 2005 and later Chief Finance Officer. 

As a seasoned Accountant, who has served in both the Public and Private Sectors, she brings to bear, in her new role at Nigeria’s Ministry of Finance, her considerable Knowledge and Experience in Financial Reporting, Public Financial Management, Budget Formulation and Execution, Public Sector Reform, Natural Resource Accountability, National Projects Management, as well as Macroeconomic, Monetary and Fiscal Policy.

The institution where Zainab is now one of their most famous alumnus has already conferred an honorary doctorate degree on her. In the words of the Vice Chancellor of OOU, Professor Ganiyu Olatunde, it became necessary for her contributions to the economy as well as a worthy ambassador of the school. The Minister, Prof Olatunde said, “is a good ambassador of the institution and has also contributed immensely to the development of the country. The choice by the Academic Board to confer on her the Honorary Doctorate Degree (Honoris Causa) is to further cement her commitment to pushing beyond boundaries and further committing herself to the challenging task ahead in repositioning the country’s finance and economy.”

In 2009, Zainab Ahmed became Managing Director of Kaduna Industrial and Finance Co. Ltd (KIFC), and then Executive Secretary and National Coordinator of NEITI the following year.

Much of where she has worked ever since or had functioned in non-executive roles is very much in the public domain: Member International Board of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) representing 11 Anglophone and Lusophone countries; Ex-Officio Member of Board of Governors of IMF since 2018, Ex-Officio Member of Board of Governors Islamic Development Bank since 2018.

But heading the Ministry of Finance alone, any one would reasonably assume, should be as tough and challenging as one of her predecessors famously said. What, then, is one to make of two other ministries added to her portfolio?

Mrs. Zainab Ahmed answered that question just last month when Bassey Udo, Business Editor of Premium Times, posed it to her in an interview published on 10 September 2020 to mark her one year in office as Minister of Finance, Budget & National Planning.

” It’s not so much a challenge because I do not work alone,” Zainab Ahmed began by telling Udo. “As a minister my role was to coordinate the three major functions. And I must say my job is not being as challenging as one would think because I have a solid support base from the Minister of State for Budget and National Planning and three capable Permanent Secretaries in the Ministry of Planning and two others from the Ministry of Finance.”

As Okonjo-Iweala her senior colleague has recalled of her years of service as minister, it is a tough job “because your colleagues might not even like you.”

You needn’t be a clairvoyant to imagine the baleful glares from fellow ministers during the FEC meetings every midweek in the Presidential Villa in Abuja, of funds delayed or denied, of not appending her signature to spurious projects and some such programmes that might not be beneficial to Nigerians except those making the requests.

The reason for merging the ministries, Zainab suggested to the journalist, is that “with some identified gaps between what the Ministries of Planning and Finance were doing, specifically as related to the government’s budget function, in terms of preparation, execution and monitoring/ evaluation, there was (a) need for the merger.”

If your boss gives you more than a fair share of responsibilities, it is often said, it only means he knows you are competent, that you are capable and will not disappoint in the end.

So far, Zainab Ahmed has demonstrated that she is equal to the task, tellingly informing the editor from Premium Times that, despite the recession on account of Covid-19, “We keep making progress on a daily basis because we have the right core structures in place…the team collectively supervises about 18 agencies, with shared supervisory responsibilities among directors representing the ministries in most of the boards of those agencies. We have a system of tracking performances and determining what is working and what is not.”

One of the very first things she did on assuming office as Minister of Finance “was to develop the strategic revenue growth initiative (SRGI),” after identifying that “the biggest challenge the country is facing is low revenue yields to support the government’s programmes. After examining the entire revenue ecosystem, the SRGI was designed to bring all the key revenue generating agencies together…NNPC, DPR and others not directly under the Ministry of Finance.”

The implication of that she continued in the same interview, “is that when the revenue is not performing at a rate the government is planning, the government would struggle to fund all its programmes and activities. This is a significant challenge the government is living with on a daily basis…Everything has a legitimate and important demand on the government’s limited resources. The government revenue cannot do everything therefore the government ends up borrowing massively to finance these development efforts. But it is not irresponsible borrowing…the government has always ensured the borrowings were tied to and applied on major infrastructure and developments projects, while using its revenue to pay salaries and other obligations to institutions categorized under the Constitution as beneficiaries of first line charge.”

From her record at NEITI, Zainab Ahmed has never shied away from responsibilities, something she did with characteristic aplomb as Minister of State, Budget and National Planning. In that capacity, she was responsible for Budget implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation, Donor Coordination, and managing the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP).

She is also the Chair of the Inter-Ministerial Task Team, leading coordination of the Humanitarian Response of the North East Crises in Nigeria with the sole objective of providing assistance to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

It must be said however, that it was during her spell at NEITI Zainab Ahmed showed her ability for responsible leadership. For instance, she has been commended both locally and internationally for her accomplishments in “re-positioning NEITI as a courageous voice and agency in the growing agitation for the good governance of Nigeria’s abundant natural resources in oil, gas and mining industry within a short time.”

No wonder on her appointment as Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, family and friends were especially delighted, acknowledging that “you have been picked from the big crowd because in the last couple of years, you have worked as hard as your body could carry you and your best effort has paid off.’’

With a sheaf of qualifications (a Fellow, Association of National Accountants of Nigeria (ANAN); Fellow, Institute of Company and Commercial Accountants (ICCA); Member, Nigerian Institute of Management Taxation (CITN), and Member, Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM) – Zainab has said that fixing Nigeria’s economy is her priority.

For an economy dependent solely on revenue from crude oil, the last couple of years have been particularly unfavourable for Nigeria. And worst of all, Covid-19 made its ugly appearance unsettling a previously orderly implementation of 2020 Budget.

Zainab Ahmed has said that “in spite of these challenges, incidentally the 2020 budget is one the government has had an opportunity to implement nearly 100 percent. One, because the government had to review the budget fundamentals downwards to reflect the current realities, particularly of the Covid-19 pandemic. Two, the budget has the benefit to be implemented under the new January to December cycle, unlike previous years when the capital components of the budgets were implemented for just six months. We are very much on course to meet the target to implement the budget at nearly 100 percent.”

For her, the biggest opportunity in the face of the pandemic “is the country’s ability to step back and assess the poor level of health infrastructure in the country. So, we will come out of the pandemic with a better health care system. That, in itself, is an investment in people and their ability to be more productive in the economy.”

In making the economy more productive, Zainab Ahmed has taken full advantage of innovative technologies with plans by government “to leverage data, technological tools, and platforms to foster collaboration, grow the revenue base, and improve collections.”

One of such technological tools, she said, is the national single window/trade platform, which the government plans to deploy at the ports to help improve ease of doing business and enhance Nigeria Customs revenue collections from 40 percent to 90.

Equally, the Ministry of Finance has improved collaboration between revenue collection agencies, including the Nigerian Customs Services (NCS), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), and other trade partners to share information and intelligence that will help improve revenue and make collections more efficient.

“By automating many of our revenue collection processes,” Zainab once noted, “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,” insisting that the Nigerian government plans “to perform better during the rest of the budget year by driving up revenue generation to improve the fiscal space for spending.”

Moreover, Zainab Ahmed has singularly promoted Made in Nigeria goods, especially now in this pandemic period when most countries have had to look inwards for whatever economic opportunities they can mine out of the uncertain situation. On that she has stated clearly the Federal Government’s intentions: “On prioritization of made in Nigeria products,” Zainab said, “Mr. President has set up an economic stimulus committee, chaired by the Vice President. The work of the committee is to develop 12 months’ economic stimulus plan and we are at the final stage of that work.

“We have prioritized spending on that plan to use and consume Made in Nigeria. For example, some of the public works projects that will employ a lot of our youths are to be done using strictly our raw materials, so we don’t have to import bitumen, for example, to build our roads.”

The Abakaliki Ring Road project, for instance, is a glaring example of that. Though $80 million was sourced by the Federal Government from the Islamic Development Bank on behalf of Ebonyi State Government, on completion, the project will connect 13 local governments in the state as well as the neighboring Cameroon Republic.

“It is a major road that will provide access to the citizens in the state, to farmers, markets and will enhance economic activities in the state. And the neigbouring states will also benefit from this project,” the minister has said.

Those who know Zainab Ahmed closely say she also looks out for friends by assisting them any way she can, especially educationally. There are tales of those she has helped through school, started up in life and generally made life livable for others. They tell of stories of Zainab Ahmed sponsoring even her personal aides and many others to become academic graduates thereby empowering them and depopulating the poor group.

A mother and grandmother, Zainab Ahmed loves spending quality time with her children and grandchildren. She also has a flock of pigeons at home which she watches over as keenly as she does the Nigerian economy, making her something of an amateur ornithologist.

“The birds,” a source told us, “are always provided with food and water,” the same way, Zainab has kept the engine of the Nigerian economy running ever since her appointment.

As Brown and Okonjo-Iweala have surmised, the average tenure of finance ministers is no more than two years. Zainab Ahmed has already logged in a year. Judging from her performance so far and baring any scandal – which is most unlikely – nothing suggests that the woman often called the Mama of Nigeria’s economy would not have a good run of her office for some time to come, at least as long as her principal remains in power.  

Achievements as Minister of Finance Budget and National Planning

Mrs Ahmed’s achievements as Minister of Finance Budget and National Planning includes returning the national budget to the January to December fiscal cycle after over 15years; Finance Act 2019 after 20years. Strong economic reforms including increasing VAT rate, reduced tax rate for small medium enterprises, removal of fuel subsidy, attaining market reflective tariff in the electricity sector. Working with the Presidential Committee to prepare the Nigeria Economic Sustainability Plan which contains a suite of fiscal, monetary and trade measures to stimulate the economy at a time of declining growth.

Mrs Zainab Ahmed was first appointed Minister of Finance on September 14, 2018. In this position, her responsibilities included the management and control of Nigeria’s public finance, with the specific functions of preparing annual estimates of revenue and expenditure for the Federal Government; formulating fiscal policies; mobilizing domestic and external financial resources through both internal and external financial institutions, for development purposes; monitoring government revenue from oil and non-oil resources; supervising the insurance industry, the securities and exchange regulator and other aspects of the financial markets; and managing sub-national public finances in terms of the revenue allocation and distribution to the federating States and Local Governments in Nigeria. She also worked closely with leadership of the Central Bank of Nigeria to closely coordinate the fiscal and monetary policies of the Federal Government of Nigeria. In her capacity as Minister of Finance, Mrs. Ahmed spearheaded the development and launch of the Strategic Revenue Growth Initiatives (SRGI), a cross-agency suite of interventions aimed at boosting revenues in Nigeria.

Prior to this, Mrs. Ahmed was Nigeria’s Minister of State for Budget and National Planning from November 2011 to Sept 2018. Zainab was responsible for Budget Implementation, Budget Monitoring and Evaluation, Donor Coordination as well as managing the National Social Investment Program, targeted at enhancing social investments in the health and education, as well as supporting Micro, Small, Medium sized enterprises. She was Chair of the Inter-Ministerial Task Team, leading Coordination of the Humanitarian and Development Response in North East Nigeria. 

Mrs. Zainab Ahmed has served as a member of the International Board of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), and an incoming Co-Chair of the Open Governance Partnership (OGP). 

Mrs. Ahmed has served the Nigeria Public Service in various high-ranking positions, which include the Executive Secretary and National Coordinator of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), from 2010 to 2015. Under her leadership, NEITI attained “EITI Compliant Status” in 2011 and Nigeria received the “Best Implementing Country” award in 2013. 

Mrs. Zainab Ahmed has also served the Nigeria Public at the sub-national level. She was the Managing Director of the Kaduna Investment Company Ltd from 2009 to 2010. Mrs. Zainab Ahmed was also the Chief Finance Officer of the MTEL from 2002-2009, and rose to the Deputy General Manager at the Nigeria Mobile Telecommunications Limited (MTEL).