Saturday 25 July 2020

Taxing Nigerians to Death? By Abiodun Komolafe

Except we are being economical with the truth, the last is yet to be heard of COVID-19, the pandemic that has continued to severely fracture the global community. With exponential spikes, which have forced _“an increase in restrictions”_ in the United States of America and _“racial disparities worsening the toll of the lockdown for people of colour, especially, women”_ in the United Kingdom, experts are now appealing for global _“focus”_ on the virus rather than _“games people are playing.”_ It is therefore hardly surprising that the United Nations _World Food Programme_ (WFP) and _Food and Agriculture Organization_ (FAO) are again warning that Nigeria and 24 other countries might soon face a COVID-19-triggered _“devastating levels of hunger and food shortages”,_ if urgent _“life-saving assistance”_ is not sought for no fewer than 270 million people before December. According to WFP-FAO, _“up to 6,000 children could die every day from preventable causes over the next six months as a result of pandemic-related disruptions to essential health and nutrition services.”_ This is the second alarm in 3 months!

Well, while it is interesting to note that Nigeria is gradually waking up to the sad reality of the deadly disease virus that has pushed our humanity to a difficult world, Bade Onimode will be turning in his grave, seeing what has become of the Nigerian economy. The renowned economist was once quoted as saying that _“the Nigerian economy cannot collapse because Nigeria has no economy.”_ Sad that, 19 years after the erudite professor bided the world ‘the final goodbye’, the statement remains valid. Why did I say so? A few words of explanation will suffice.

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In times of difficult challenges, pandemics and natural tragedies, governments and _Non-Governmental Organizations_ (NGOs) in saner climes strive to make an ameliorative difference in the lives of their citizens; and this is the standard expectation of the citizenry. But the situation is always different in Nigeria. After the ship of COVID-19 has successfully berthed in the shores of Nigeria, threatening the country with daily increase in the discovery of fresh cases and rising death tolls; triggering anxiety and economic uncertainties; and with possible ‘hunger pandemic’ in the horizon, just then, the Federal Government slammed Nigerians with its economic genius mantra of tax increase.

Ordinarily, with close to 40,000 infections and a steady rise in death toll, one would have expected appropriate relief interventions from the government to ameliorate the pains of the pandemic; and I am not referring to 1 or 2 cups of rice and a loaf of bread distributed to the people as palliatives. Unfortunately, in the midst of the pandemic, job losses, contract failures, economic stagnation, and frightening inflation, the national government chose to review, upward, the _Value Added Tax_ (VAT) from 5% to 7.5%. The fuel price and the DStv razzmatazz has also become a disgraceful episode while stamp duty collections are reportedly being extended to the use of _Automated Teller Machines_ (ATMs), print of WhatsApp receipts, etc. Which means, very soon, Nigerians will be required to pay stamp duty on the oxygen being breathed. But for the National Assembly’s quick intervention, Nigerians would have since early July added a new electricity tariff regime to their gift of woes from their government. Juxtapose the high cost of transportation with the sharp rise in prices of foodstuffs at a time like this and one is bound to have a better grasp of our predicament.

Somebody once said that it is insanity to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. Truth is: the economy of Nigeria is artificial. Of course, when something is artificial, all that surrounds it will also be artificial. Needless to repeat that Nigeria is on a free slope, slipping towards a bottomless pit and only pretenders can deny it. In all forms of structures and policies, there is nothing that comes near as a pragmatic remedy! There’s no sure-footed policy, more so as all our policies are based either on sentimental considerations, political rigmarole, or ethnic manipulations; nothing is based on truth and nothing is addressing pressing national issues truthfully! For instance, had Nigerian government been addressing unemployment, its policies in that direction should have been able to yield results in few months or few years. Had Nigeria been sincere in addressing agriculture, _‘Operation Feed the Nation’_ (OFN) should have freed this country from hunger a long time ago, taking into consideration all the money pumped into it. Aren’t we also surprised why Nomadic farming has not taken Nigeria to the Promised Land?

All things considered, a man who will fix Nigeria’s economy will have to domesticate all, and any of the economic theories to be applied in Nigeria. He has to begin from his house. That’s the only way through which he can truly feel the pulse of Nigerians and learn from what is going on in the country! That’s the guy who will do it! And, this must be backed up by cultural policies as well as force of law as Nigerians have overtime cultivated a culture that no longer respects the law of the land. They have imbibed a culture that shies away from paying tax! But, again, this is where the problem lies! Of what essence is paying tax to a government that has no corresponding input in one’s life?

Looking back, has the government ever asked the governed about their retirement plans or where they will put their heads after serving their fatherland meritoriously? Has there ever been a Commission established to look into the feasibility and patterns of life chances of people of all ages in the country? Here, governments churn out policies without any feeling or input for the common man. Terrorists and bandits are on rampage on our roads and highways; and Nigerians are losing their jobs on a daily basis, even pushed into ungodliness. People dig boreholes in their homes to get water. They buy generator sets to provide electrical power. They employ the services of day and night guards to prevent robbery attacks. Still, robbers come and go away with what they want! Still, there’s a government somewhere, claiming to be responsible for the welfare of the people! Yet, government remains faceless. So, what are we saying? What is left of government’s responsibility to the citizens? Now that the train has come off the rails, where lies the humanity in our government?

 *_To be continued_*

 _*KOMOLAFE writes in from Ijebu-Jesa, Osun State ([email protected])_

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