By Tonnie Iredia
In the last few months, the story that many of our states are unviable and therefore unable to meet basic needs of their peoeple such as payment of workers’ salaries has taken a firm root in everyone’s sub-consciousness.
The reason for it is not only because it true but more because it has been repeatedly said even at the highest quarters. There is the hypothesis that states are unable to generate revenue because our people don’t like to pay taxes.
For us, it is simplistic to hold-on to such point without seeking to know why our people detest taxation when world-wide; it is known that governments depend on taxes for societal development.
So, if Nigerians who constantly yearn for improved living standards which can only be achieved through the execution of development projects are the same people who avoid and indeed evade taxes when will our nation grow? Put differently, why is it so difficult to generate revenue for development in Nigeria?
As an orientation and media professional, I am positioned to know that the main problem with the subject is the high degree of distrust for government by the people. Every Nigerian, whether rich or poor tends to believe that taxes collected do not get into the coffers of government.
Instead, it is those in charge of taxes that help themselves to a big share of the collections. So, why pay taxes that fellow citizens would misappropriate?
In a recent study, this writer found an interesting trend in many states where those in charge of taxes do not get in there on the basis of specialization; but are deployed there as trusted friends, associates and relations of those in power.
While some are there as spies to monitor collections, so that at the end of day, some good returns can be made privately to Oga, others get there because the schedule is even more lucrative than police check points which favourites scramble for.
Those in the second group are there to recoup their election expenses or to get compensated for their dirty roles in our ever ‘unfair and unfree’ elections.
On this score, no conscientious effort is made to handle taxation effectively or efficiently. Many people who pick up compromised tax clearance certificates are probably victims of our convoluted system.
What we have said about direct taxation is truer of the more popular fees and charges.
In Nigeria, almost every government body is empowered to impose fees and charges on the people. Because the items on which they all impose such charges are many, it is difficult to understand why government still cannot generate enough revenue for development.
The truth again is that the lethargy in the framework for revenue generation is deliberately tolerated by government.
A good example of where this occurs is motor vehicle licences. Many people are not eager to follow the rules because they know that the collections are more often than not diverted.
So people resort to ‘settling’ the officials. What this suggests is that our people collude with officials to defraud government which ordinarily may be taken for lack of patriotism?
Interestingly, it is not exactly so. Our people know that whether you have the correct licence or not, once an official stops a person for a check, the person can hardly regain freedom without parting with a tip. This makes it more attractive to give tips than obtain any licence.
In any case, it is extremely difficult to know who actually is empowered to do what, when, where and how in the vehicle licence business. Is it Police, Road Safety Commission or Vehicle Inspection Office? Incidentally, the aspect of inspection is conveniently claimed by all of them and each has in its custody its enabling law to buttress its claim.
A common claim these days is the charge that a road user’s licence is fake. None of the bodies is interested in stopping the quacks that issue such alleged fake documents even though it is a notorious fact that the syndicates behind the deals operate from within. They also know that a tip usually sets the innocent offender free.
Our premise is that tips dissuade people from doing what is right and that when added together, all the tips can exceed the total figures declared as collected. If so, why will people be interested in paying charges and fees? Even documents that are often said to be authentic are shrouded in smart practices. An inquiry into the ownership of companies that issue insurance covers as part of vehicle licence will illuminate the point in issue.
The numerous processes of fees and charges are also begging to be streamlined. Here, the case of ground rents, tenement rates and numerous charges on ancillary services stands out. A good focus can be directed to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, where citizens are asked to pay ground rent different from tenement rate.
The latter is more fraudulent as different branches of the FCT send bills on services to houses that also pay tenement rates which ought to meet sundry services. If for instance, Solid/Liquid Waste Bills are incorporated into tenement rates, people would be encouraged to pay the rates knowing that some service no matter how epileptic has been rendered. With one set of rates, the expenditure on collection which virtually eats up revenue at the end of the day can be drastically reduced to free more funds for projects.
To drive home the essence of this counseling, it is not an over-kill to reproduce a personal experience written in this column 4 months ago.
The story which concerns the Abuja Water Board is as follows: At about Christmas in 2014, my colleagues and I, who live in our premises having become tired of buying tanker water during every festive period, raised funds to sink a borehole.
Early the following year, we wrote to the Water Board to disconnect us from the public supply and stop bills coming to us.
The metre was promptly disconnected. But till today, the Board still “reads” and sends to us every month, bills on the meter its officials formally disconnected close to 2 years ago! Who will like to pay 419 bills?