CONSIDERING the torrent of events that trailed the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic like claps of thunder, it’s easy to lose perspective in the moment. The choice of a single event to define our collective experiences this year will be hard to categorize. It is largely because our politics and leaders’ throw-it-all-at the wall strategy and aptitude for pushing the citizens to their wits’ end have become the low road and low-hanging fruit they often deploy when they are desperately looking for more revenue to feed their insatiable desires.
With the economy officially now in recession, the second in four years and perhaps the worst in four decades, according to the National Bureau of Statistics(NBS) and the World Bank, be sure worse days are ahead and more pains on the already hapless and overstretched Nigerians. According to the NBS report released last Saturday, the nation’s Gross Domestic Product(GDP) recorded a negative growth of 3.62 percent in the Q3’20. The country had earlier recorded 6.10 percent contraction in the Q2’20. The recession is something long foretold. Nigerian economy has been battered by Covid-19, which caused a significant decline in oil revenues as global economic activities stalled for months.
At a difficult time like this, that’s when you see leadership at work, not leadership that follows the low road, the easy path to task its people. But that is exactly what we are seeing in the country at the moment. Many state governments have already initiated ridiculous levies. It’s easy to fathom why they undertake this low road. We are surrounded by beasts and hawks that don’t spare the flock. They will do anything for their personal gains at the expense of the citizens. Don’t let them deceive you it’s part of the solution to navigate the recession and put the economy in fine fettle. All of this leads to some inexorable questions : When does a president or governor know that some decisions taken amount to high risks that come with dizzying consequences? Is this who our leaders really are, always inflicting pain on the people they are elected to serve?
Well, this is part of the answer to the questions posed above and the substance of this column. History has shown that what leaders do while they are trying to get power is not necessarily what they do after they have it. It’s part of the lessons in power. According to historian Robert A. Caro, what power always does – is reveal. When a leader gets enough power, when he doesn’t need anybody anymore- when he’s president or governor- then “we can see how he always want to treat people, and we can also see – by watching what he does with his power – what he wanted to accomplish all along”. But bear this in mind as we go along: As Caro clearly observed(and I agree completely), “no one can lead who does not first acquire power, and no leader can be great who does not know how to use power”.
However, the trouble, he says, is that the combination of the two skills is rare. More astonishing, he adds, “is that the temperament and behaviour of the ambitious, cynical player adept at amassing power is often at odds with those of the daring and imaginative visionary able to achieve great things with that power”. Without stretching matters too far, two state governments- Kaduna and Kogi – have become cynical players of politics adept at amassing power and using it as a manipulative and devious tools on the people by introducing some levies. Forget that the Kogi governor has denied flatly that he didn’t approve the controversial levy on every loaf of bread sold in the state and as a result, has stopped it, the question is : how true is his statement? Did someone stab him in the back? Last week, the state government, according to reports, hired a consultant, Musag Enterprises to levy bakers and caterers for every loaf of bread and confectionery they produce in the state . The State’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry stated this through a memo dated Nov.9 and signed by the Permanent Secretary in that ministry, Usman Ibrahim. The memo was reportedly addressed to the chairperson, Association of Master Bakers and Caterers of Nigeria, Kogi state branch. The collection of the levy was billed to begin last monday before the governor moved in and stopped it, claiming he was not aware of it.
But here is the issue: Earlier, the state commissioner for Information, Kingsley Fanwo, had defended the introduction of the levy on bread. He said the levy was not new and that the engagement of the consultant was one of the strategies by the state government to protect its indigenous bakers and bread traders. Besides, he claimed that the indigenous bakers had complained of poor sales because other bakers outside the state were bringing in bread to the state without paying any form of tax to the state. The governor has promised to deal with those who devised such “devilish tax” and assured that “no extra financial burden will apply for the time being on the citizens.”
Let’s wait and see. Is it not better to have an enemy that’s in front of you than a friend that’s behind you that’s just going to stab you? In Kaduna state, the government has defended the planned introduction of one thousand(N1,000) “development levy” that takes effect next year. According to the Chairman of the state Internal Revenue Service, Dr Zaid Abubakar, the tax will be paid based on the revised Kaduna state Codification and Consolidation Law, in accordance with Part 1, Schedule 1, item No. 10. This levy excludes other separate tax lines already being paid by the people, such as PAYE (Pay As You Earn), personal income tax, Economic levy, Capital Gain Tax, etc.
In the process of time, history will judge every government and how it governed. What’s happening in Kogi and Kaduna, may be replicated in other states in the weeks and months ahead. But it all fits a growing pattern of what the Buhari administration is doing by increasing all forms of goods and services on the people. In the last couple of months, we have seen hikes in electricity tariff by over 300 percent, fuel price has doubled since the inception of the administration, from N87 per litre, to the current price of N170 per litre. Value Added Tax( VAT) has been raised to 7.5 percent from the previous 5 percent. In all of this, the purchasing power of the average worker remains the same, while in many states, prices of food items have increased by over 100 percent.
Meanwhile, government remains hardened to calls to reduce cost of governance at all levels. Nigerian lawmakers collect hefty monthly salaries and sundry allowances. Nobody knows how much in tax they pay( if at all), state governors appropriate for themselves ‘Security Vote’ that is never accounted for. They look on as the citizens wallow in extreme poverty. It delights them because it widens the inequality between “them and us” status. The common refrain seems to be : ‘Tax them till they die ‘. As long as governments across the country refuse to cut down wastages, check corruption, the humongous amounts paid to public officials and pushing the burden to the ordinary people who have always been at the short end of the stick, expect a rebound, a backlash and horrifying consequences. Truthfully, we are at a tipping point. I have to stop here for a moment to catch my breath.