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No taxation, no representation: Can you demand what you haven’t contributed to build?

PROFIT making in Nigeria is almost entirely based on skirting the rules and very few realise their business model is precariously constructed upon a small mountain of illegalities. Such individuals receive “man of the year” awards and other accolades, when their so-called acumen is only the result of consistent rule breaking and impunity.

Tax

But how curious that those who love their country enough to call a spade a spade should be labelled “unpatriotic” when it is those who cheat and steal from the masses who are the real traitors! We don’t like to hear the truth in this country because it threatens to destroy the lies or the carefully constructed excuses we’ve placed as a buffer between ourselves and reality.

The situation in Nigeria is so dire that we would rather lie to ourselves (or allow ourselves to be lied to) than face up to our challenges.

Acceptance of chaos and injustice

We are continuously manipulated into subservience, into our acceptance of chaos and injustice as the norm. We create all sorts of excuses not to do the right thing: We don’t pay taxes because we claim these funds will be looted, forgetting that without taxation, we cannot expect proper or adequate representation by our government.

Beyond voting, it is the everyday actions we take that create a real link between ourselves, the citizens and those we elect to lead us. The reason why Americans, or the French, British, etc., take an active interest in politics is because they want to know how their taxes are being applied. It’s a very real, material incentive to pay attention to government’s plans and activities, outside of the romanticism of democratic ideals.

The need to link taxation with adequate representation was one of the reasons for the American war of independence: America, a British colony at the time, felt it shouldn’t be taxed if it wasn’t going to receive any benefits.

This didn’t lead to a complete or eternal abolishment of taxes; in fact, tax evasion is taken extremely seriously in the US today. In fact, their society was later built on the premise that good governance was a right rather than a favour done by government because people paid taxes: You can’t demand or expect what you have neither paid for nor fought for.

On one hand, we wish Nigerians could take educated, informed decisions free of ethno-religious sentiment, yet our people have neither been educated nor prepared by the society or the state to think in such a way.

On the other hand, we refuse to pay taxes (or to monitor how our money is spent), therefore killing any possibility of real, sustainable development, claiming governments are corrupt.

We have never bothered to think of the many subtle ways in which we encourage or allow corruption by divorcing ourselves from our role as citizens which is to scrutinise government’s efficient utilisation of our resources. But why would anyone bother to check government spending if the funds didn’t originate from their pocket in the first place?

Nigeria is a nightmare for thinkers and true analysts: the problems are not as impossible as they seem yet we are all cowed into submission by many unqualified leaders’ unwillingness to try to do things differently. We stand in our own way by simply refusing to think.

We’ve surrendered our brain cells to whoever can pay us to think like them. So, we keep making the same mistakes over and over again and expecting a different result. It’s not the youth who are lazy; it’s the generations that came before. Particularly those who came of age during the oil boom when Nigerians stopped paying taxes and believed the state could provide everything for free because of its oil revenue.

This is the origin of the disconnect between government and the people. The resource curse operates unchallenged in Nigeria. In truth, it’s not necessarily only Buhari we should be angry at. Where was our outrage during the PDP’s misrule? Also, most of us participated, in one way or another, in keeping the military in power: every one “made their money” (a euphemism for corruption) and we got used to crumbs trickling down rather than working to create tangible products and assets for ourselves.

Hustling and survival

Our society confuses hard work with hustling and survival, which is why we don’t pay taxes. “Hustles” are easy come, easy go endeavours where income is volatile and unpredictable. To pay taxes demands a regular stream of income from legal, formalised industries and activities. But to be quite honest, much of our economic activity in Nigeria has questionable roots and borders on illicit doings.

How many corporations truly make money from doing real business and providing accessible goods and services, outside of government contracts or the jobs carried out through one’s proximity to government? Serving the 1% is what many businesses are set up to do in Nigeria. Many would crumble without government favours, opaque subsidies and insider information.

Many people would rather run contract scams assisted by friends in government than the more complex business of setting up an organisation providing real services dependent on customer satisfaction and growth. We don’t like reality, we prefer fantasy, or the lie successive governments and their business fronts have created which is that you can reap what you didn’t sow.

 

States and IGR

A RECENT report claims more than half of Nigeria’s states are insolvent and wouldn’t survive without the monthly Federal Allocation they receive. Bauchi, Yobe, Benue, Borno, Imo, Ekiti and others listed, interestingly were mostly states known for some form of crisis or the other, showing the correlation between low IGR (lack of productivity/economic activity and tax payers) and herdsmen/farmer clashes, sectarian violence and kidnappings.

Governor Fayose who labelled the Buhari government a “killer government” would do well to remove the log in his own eye (Ekiti’s IGR is sadly nothing to write home about). Any government without the capacity to improve its people economically is creating a breeding ground for future killers.

Those who arm thugs and terrorists or fail to bring them to book are as much to blame as those who prepare an environment for them to act in the future. Ironically, Bayelsa’s Governor Dickson, one of the states with the lowest IGR, still claims the Niger Delta is the most neglected region in the world. Yet according to the report, his state survives solely on IGR provided by the Federal Government.

When will we accept the marginalisation rhetoric is a ploy to cover up inefficiency and to pass on the blame for poverty? Politics rules our lives without much thought or logic; which is why Lagos, despite its N333 billion IGR (equivalent to the IGR of 30 states combined) is yet to be granted special status despite the increasing number of people from other states who come to make use of its over stretched infrastructure and other amenities.

 

PMB in Bauchi

BAUCHI is one of the states with the lowest IGR according to the previously mentioned report. President Muhammadu Buhari during his visit to Bauchi last week said if he hadn’t gone to school and later joined the military, he might have been one of the aimless or jobless youth employed in killings across the country.

PMB was never one to reinvent his social origins, unlike a lot of Nigerian “big men” who re-write history and claim to be from rich backgrounds once they access some money or fame.

He said: “Make every effort to put your children in school. In this generation, you can’t make it without education”. His words ring true but our educational system doesn’t prepare young people for success.

It creates mindless robots and sycophants who champion ill-gotten wealth as opposed to critical thinkers who can be truly creative in their endeavours and withstand the moral pollution operating in our society and without government action all PMB will be known for is preaching to the choir.

 

Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.