Acting Executive Secretary of National Lottery Trust Fund, Bello Maigari is a leader and administrator per excellence who is doing everything within his power to ensure that National Lottery Trust Fund becomes a primary revenue generating sector to government.
In this interview with the Assistant News Editor of Sundiata POST, Chibuike Nwabuko, Maigari unfolds steps he has taken since assumption of office as the Acting Executive Secretary of the National Lottery Trust Fund to reposition the Trust Fund and how the National Lottery Commission has usurped its powers for years thereby hampering its smooth operations.
Question: What is the purpose of National Lottery Trust Fund?
The National Lottery Trust Fund was established by section 35 of the National Lottery Act 2005, to take custody of a certain percentage of all national lottery operations and apply same for implementation of “good course” projects on behalf of the Federal Government for the well- being of Nigerians.
Section 55 (2)and (3) of that same Act empowers the Board of Trustee (BOT) of National Lottery Commission and the Governing Board of the National Lottery Regulatory Commission to issue guidelines and regulations that will effect the smooth conduct of the operations of the two agencies.
In effect, it means that the law has empowered the Trust Fund to take custody of the funds also in subsection 42(1) empowers it to receive and credit to an account, all monies payable to the commission. This means we are empowered to receive on behalf of government all statutory remittances that are due to the government from lottery.
Also, Section 24(3) of the same Act says: “All licensees are requested to pay to the Trust Fund 20% in the first five years of their operation; subsequently they are expected to pay 25% for another period of 5 years and thereafter 27.5%”.
It simply means the Trust Fund is empowered by law to collect these proceeds on behalf of government and also apply the proceeds for the implementation of “good cause” projects for the wellbeing of Nigerians. What it means is that we have the responsibility to enact regulations and guidelines that enable us set up process and system that will enable government to get all that is due it from this sector.
Question: But has there been improvement in the area of collection of these proceeds?
Since the inception of the Trust Fund, something has gone wrong from the very beginning. We ought to have been allowed since the law says we should go and collect. The management of the Trust Fund then did not come into full effect before the Commission. The Commission started operation long before the Trust Fund. They had about two years operational presence in the industry with a Board and have had management structure before the Trust Fund came into being.
But shortly after the Trust Fund came into being it started issuing licenses to these operators, but you know, the operators have a way of behaving, they always listen to the regulator (that is the National Lottery Commission) because the Trust Fund doesn’t have the muscle to force them to do its will because the Trust Fund had no board, we have had only the management and few staff seconded from the office of the Secretary to the Government of Federation, (SGF). They were trying to put together the system and structure that will enable them to work better.
So ten years down the line the previous administrations did not deem it fit to tell the Commission to allow the Trust Fund to be collecting directly from these licensees. So when I came on Board, I saw this as an aberration and it must be corrected. The law says we should collect directly from the licencees. It is clear and unambiguous. All the regulatory authority (Commission) should have done is to say okay Trust Fund, since you have now grown to this status, you have developed all the competencies, processes and systems, all we would do is to advise licensees to channel their statutory remittances directly to Lottery Trust Fund for two reasons. One, the Trust Fund has already migrated as a result of government directive to the treasury single account, (TSA) platform. Secondly, there is a government policy in place that says all payments and transactions of government business must be done through e-payment all year real time.
That is why you have government Integrated Financial Management Information System, (GIFMIS) in place. So with these two very fundamental policies, it is incumbent upon the regulatory commission to direct licensees to pay directly to the National Lottery Trust Fund on their remita platforms that are already seated in the Central Bank. That will enhance transparency and openness in the way government receives its proceeds. You can’t go to Customs today and say you want to pay them in cheaque. It is impossible and outdated. Even so, we have BVN now in the system, even our individual accounts are linked to BVN, talk more of channels of receiving revenue for the government.
So this is the reason why now we are trying to sit with the commission to look at the areas of differences where we can harmonize our operations, bring in new innovations and creativity so that they will be doing their job which is regulating, monitoring and enforcement and we will be doing our job which is collecting, as custodian of these funds and implementing good course project on behalf government for Nigerians. Initiatives like this are coming up for us to trash out our differences and I believe in no distance future, this will be a thing of the past. More so, we are trying to build our system, we are bringing in a new platform where all licensees, operators and promoters will key in, so that they will obtain an identification number, a code sort of, that will tag their businesses so that at the end of the day, remittances will seamlessly flow to government, just like FAAN is doing. As you possess your ticket they get their net off from the beginning. That is the new innovation Trust Fund is bringing on board within a short time.
Question: What are some of the hurdles/challenges the Trust Fund is facing?
The major challenge the Trust Fund faces today is the friction between it and the National Lottery Regulatory Commission. Relationship between two agencies of government there is bound to be friction, more so when two agencies are established under the same Act as it is the case between the Trust Fund and the Commission – National Lottery Act 2005. But there is distinct responsibilities, clear function and responsibilities. The Commission is expected to act as a regulator of the industry. And once you are called a regulator, it means you are to set standard, issue licenses, monitor the industry and enforce compliance. These are the key things.
For us at the Trust Fund, we are established to be the custodian of the funds and also the administrators of the funds in terms of implementing projects that will promote the health and wellbeing of Nigerians. So you could see that there are clear demarcations in the jobs and roles we are expected to perform in the industry.
So it is expected that there should not be any friction. But when the regulator assumes powers it ought not to have, that agency will definitely fight back. To assert itself to be sure it performs its due role and mandate given to it by the establishing Act. So in the course of discharging our lawful functions and responsibilities that will ensure that we achieve or actualize the mandate of this Trust Fund we naturally encounter a lot of obstacle from the regulator. One being that, if we have been the collector of these statutory remittances, if we had been at the fore front of engaging with these licensees for these many years before now; the funds would have grown ten times bigger than what it is now.
Simply because they see the funds that the licencees are generating on behalf of government is being channeled through them to the Trust Fund, it seem to them that at the end of the day, since they are not the administrator and since they are not the custodian of this fund, so why should they push for the growth of this fund. There is that particular aspect and we cannot seat back here as a Trust Fund and allow that to happen, and that is why under our leadership now, we are trying to come out with initiatives that will ensure that this things cease forthwith, it has to stop being an encumbrance to the Trust Fund in terms of making sure that statutory remittances meet the target government set. Because how would you determine the 20% government set if you the custodian does not go and supervise their books, you cannot. But they will tell them, “go and pay this to the Trust Fund’’ and we have no way of assessing what is being paid as it were.
So we have to go back and re-examine all these together with the commission to see that we arrive at amicable solution to this problem. It has been a very big challenge to the Trust Fund, but thankfully we have made progress, government has stepped in, the two organizations are on a parley now to resolve these differences and very soon Nigerians will see the benefits why the Trust Fund should take charge of its operations.