By Adekunle Adekoya
On Friday, 7 January, the headline of this column was Happy New Year: How much happiness in 2022? I tried to pass across the message that 2022 being an electioneering year, our leaders will have less time to manage our affairs as they will devote more time to managing theirs – seeking re-election, wheeling and dealing to fund re-election, and holding endless diurnal and nocturnal meetings in furtherance of these objectives, and more.
My submission is that what they choose to do or opt not to do will substantially affect our pursuit of happiness, individually and collectively this year.
One of the things that they have chosen to do, at the national level, is to remove subsidy on petrol.
The National Economic Council announced, yesterday, that a final decision on the matter will be communicated to fellow Nigerians at the end of June. So, till then, subsidy stays.
At the state level, the Lagos State Government is ramping up efforts to improve transportation in the state by trying to complete the stalled metro project, begun by the Fashola administration.
It has also gone ahead to procure two 10-car trains for the metro, amid pledges that the project will be completed this year. Good, so far. Then, earlier in the week, the Lagos State Government announced introduction of a levy of N800 to be paid by commercial bus drivers in the state.
Rabiu Olowo, state finance commissioner in a statement said the levy is consolidated to take care “of dues previously accrued to local councils across the state, as well as revenue for Lagos Waste Management Authority, LAWMA, and Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency, LASEPA, Lagos State Inland Revenue Service, LIRS, among other MDAs.”
He added that the personal income tax of drivers form part of the levy.
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Altogether, the state government hopes to realise an average of N288,000 per vehicle/driver in one year, or approximately N21 billion from about 75,000 vehicles/drivers annually.
Good thinking, especially the aspect that concerns taxation. I have always believed that those in the informal sector are parasitically living on the rest of us as they pay little or no tax; thus government needs to widen the tax net more than it is doing.
Artisans like tyre-menders (vulcanisers), carpenters, mechanics, auto-electricians, plumbers and a host of others in the informal sector must be made to pay taxes.
The downside is that it seems not much rigour has gone into this initiative before it was announced.
Here’s why. First, the initiative was arrived at in consultation with (or is it connivance?) stakeholders like the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, and the Road Transport Employers of Nigeria, RTEAN. Olowo also stated that the levy takes into consideration all the elements in a sane society, adding that the harmonised levy became expedient to ensure that the transport sector in the state is organised and fits into a 21st-century economy.
It is common knowledge that the transport unions function more, if not exclusively as agencies of extortion rather than the welfare of transport workers. What is sane about their operations?
Are their operations 21st century-compliant? Where else in the world are windscreen wipers, fuel tank covers, and side-view mirrors removed to enforce levy collection? Let Lagos government officials revert to the enabling laws of the two unions, and take their cue from there if they are really interested in reforming the Lagos transport sector, which is in dire need of transformation.
Already, the unions have said that the N800 levy is not part of what they collect from drivers daily, which an estimate says is in excess of N128 billion annually. Is this a way by Lagos State Government to get its cut of the cake?
Another issue is about waste, which brings LAWMA in as partaker of the N800 levy. Almost all bus stops in Lagos are markets; even at the LAMATA bus stops, a hawker or seller of diverse items will be seen.
I advance the notion that it is the market women and street traders, including traffic hawkers and commuters who patronise them that generate the waste. I know that market women and their men pay dues on a daily basis.
To whom? How much of the dues paid accrue to government coffers, if at all? Is it not government that builds the markets? It is misplaced to target drivers only. It must not be forgotten that what Lagos State Government hopes to generate by way of revenue from this initiative will actually be paid by hapless Lagos commuters.
Watch it; fares will go up from February when collection is said to take effect; the drivers would have lost little or nothing. Already, there are no N50 drops since the #EndSARS protests; drops now start from N100. How much will a drop now cost?
If subsidy on petrol is subsequently removed, how much is a common man expected to spend moving from one bus stop to another?
With all these, those who manage our affairs are already undermining our efforts in pursuit of happiness this year. Let’s keep watching; they’ll probably do more!