A foremost Nigerian musician (I have forgotten his name) sang a beautiful, chart-bursting lyric in the early 2006. The song was titled:”Do Me I do you, God no go vex.” The message in that song was clearly expository, needing no explanation. The philosophy of that song strikes at the core of peoples’ perception of what government is, and why they should be hyper-patriotic citizens as public officials expect them to be.
Nowhere else is the issue of citizenship loyalty and state obligation more tasked than on the issue of taxation. Ordinarily, tax is an age-old civic responsibility, especially common in the old order of welfare state where the state controls public service, production and distribution and provides social services.
Most nations of the world, even including the great economic juggernauts of today inherited this concept of taxation as an indispensable tool of public administration from their colonial masters. But when the American idea of economic liberalization, free market, democracy, internationalism and globalization replaced the welfare state, the issue of taxation as a public administrative tool became a subject of dynamic introspection and interrogation. Moral and expeditious considerations in the manner taxes are imposed on citizens gained acceptability-and with it taxation became a very dynamic, intricate and complex issue.
Now, the state has not all that moral high ground to impose taxes anyhow by fiat as was the case in the old statist order without a forensic aggregation of its merit–of whether it is even in the interest of the economy, of whether such taxation passes the litmus test of morality and justice, of whether it is progressive or regressive or punitive–capable of breeding resentment from citizenry–even up to the level of provoking anti-government protests, mini-revolutions or outright revolutions–as have been observed in recent pasts in many parts of the world. The bottom-line: taxes must reflect equitable and accurate degree of sacrifice the citizen has to make as an obligation to support the state.
However, as have been observed in many states of Africa where the quality of political leadership is anything but complementary, taxation here has glaringly come to be seen as government buffer to cover up or augment (bridge gap) in revenue shortfall caused largely by its poor management know-how of the human and material resources at its disposal.
Of a truth, statistics after statistics have shown that Nigeria is about one of the most wasteful nations in the world judging by the quantum of human resources and material endowments she possesses. Nigerians are justified to worry about taxation here when it is realized that Nigeria runs one of the most expensive crowded bicameral legislature in the world.-where a senator collects almost N6 million monthly multiplied by 306 MPs. Nigerians are justified to raise eyebrow about further taxes (whether of a new window or increment of existing ones) where a member of an over-crowded House of Representatives collects nearly N5 million monthly multiplied by 306 members. Nigerians can be excused for complaining about further taxes in a nation where the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Allocation Committee (RMFAC) gleefully stated that governors are free to collect 300% of their annual salary as pensions–even when they are still occupying political offices as Ministers or Senators.
No one except the new governor of Nasarawa state has been able to correct this brazen fraud since the past twenty years of this democratic dispensation. On daily basis, nerve wracking disclosures of corruption and raiding of public treasuries inundate the eyes. Yet no one feels any qualms about the implication of this on the tax-payer before slamming new taxes on them. In a country where accountability is anything but, people are not expected to jubilate each time new taxes are introduced. In a country where institutions are steeped in corruption, inefficiency, visionlessness, planlessness, kleptomania, ethno-centric proficiency in graft-taking and sabotaging of policies, programs and implementation of blue-prints–leading to aborted goals, abbreviated progress, abandoned projects cumulative retrogression and muzzled national aspirations, peoples should not be expected to jubilate each time new taxes are introduced.
Recent reports that the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) has introduced reviewed lists of VATable, UnVATable and restructure VATtable look very fanciful like a PR post-script as if the government is friendly with the people in matters of taxation. But is VAT the only tax Nigerians are paying? Nigerians are not quarreling about taxing them. But the issue is that the quality of service they are getting from the government tiers—federal, states, local governments do not appreciate their patriotism or inspires them to be hyper-patriotic citizens. They are being cheated all round.
After government treasury boxes: CBN, Customs, NPA, NIMASA,NCC,NIWA, NNPC, FIRS, EFCC, Pension Board NSE, Immigration Service, NIMC have boasted of huge revenues they have collected for the FG from the public as fines, taxes and levies, the question still agitate their mind–”what is being done with all these huge recoveries. They just read the figures. And that is where it ends. Civic advocacy for transparency and accountability is being threatened with obnoxious Hate Speech and Social Media bills–about to be passed into laws. People keep getting the shorter end of the stick in their social contract with their leaders.
Here they pay for their own security for the streets, neighborhood, even for the foot mat on their doorposts. They pay for their waste disposal and water (whether in sachet or Aboki’s jerry can). They provide for their own transportation on road or trek or swim and drown in the world’s oceans since majority cannot be able to afford flights. They buy their foods at prices that hardly ever come down once there is a rise in price. They save a lot in the banks either directly or through Ajo contribution only for politicians to borrow for contesting elections.
Diaspora remittances hardly impact on the economic lives of parents in the villages whose wards abroad sent in those monies–nor do their wards have access to the monies they sent home–even if as bank loans to manage their lives at home when repatriated. A lot of inverted values and retrogressive ethos have in recent times been etched into our national creed that no longer warrants the government to demand that Nigerians pay tax any longer. That’s the truth.
Nwokoro writes via [email protected]