In spite of the misguided virtue of self interests, no man can exist, on its own, outside of the community. These are conflicting burdens bestowed on all mankind has it battles between the interest of self and that of public good. The balance between the two conflicting virtues determines mankind’s stage of evolution. The argument for public good seems to have been lost in Nigeria. The deplorable state of what is common to all of us (roads, rail, schools, hospitals, portable water, public electricity, public buildings and monuments, etc.) validates this postulation. Today we erect individual fences, burglar proof for personal security, and; communities erect gates on streets to ward off undesirable elements at night. These are signs that we have lost it. The Nigerian system is not reassuring, and people have lost hope; this is the reason why those that steal public funds do it. They want to grab whatever they can when they have the chance.
To clean up this mess will require a strong argument, political will, resources and re-orientation. Has anybody ever sat down to calculate how much, in resources alone, it will take to fix all our roads, schools, rail, power, potable water, public transport, etc, and where those resources will come from? Lagos State recently stated that the state will need about 6 trillion naira for roads alone between now and 2015. Every Wednesday the Federal Executive Council meets to fashion out how to spend on isolated projects that have left jagged, disjointed, developments across Nigeria’s landscape. They never deliberate on how government will earn more to fund projects; instead they wait for Nigeria’s share of the proceeds of oil
that foreign oil companies hand to us. There are enough resources in this country to start to fix this mess, but what is lacking is the formula to do so. The money that will fix most of our decaying values is in our pockets.
I do not think most of our leaders and elites are traitors to the Nigerian cause; they are only scared-of-the-future blunderers, which is why they steal that unbelievably much. They know that opportunities in Nigeria are shrinking, so they want to plant only their children in positions of opportunity. It is myopic and counterproductive. Having said that, what is the way out of this pit? In my opinion, the argument for a reform of the Tax Code in Nigeria is the only solution now, and must be waged vigorously. There is a need for everyone to contribute (tax) to the government for public good. I tried to reason with the latest trend of narrowing the influence of government; each time I always came up short. Which private organization will fix the road on your street? Who will provide funds for running water to all the people? Who will fund the infrastructure of public power, the rail, the schools, hospitals, security, and all others? The notion that the government has no business in business is misleading; government may not be the best to run a business, but nothing stops government from owning a business for public good that could be run by private enterprise.
It is in the interest of the community to address the level of inequality in the society and justice for all. In capitalism, the issue of inequality is tackled through the tax code as it maintains a high level of quality public good. In these regards, roads, rail, water, power, schools, hospitals, etc. are of high quality. The judicial system gives the tax code the force of law; as tax payment is considered contributively to the survival of the community while tax evasion threatens that survival. Who will elevate tax to the level of a lifeline to fund the public treasuries? In these regards, it would become imperative for the survival of Nigeria, and tax evasion will tantamount to crime against the state. This is the only way forward. Besides, tax has no religion, tribe nor is it sectional. However, tax is the last thing anybody wants to hear, but this is mainly due to ignorance. People always consider this argument stupid, because of claim of no probity by the public servants and their political bosses.
It is a question of the chicken and the egg, which came first? The elites and the politicians are silent about tax reform, because it will end their honeymoon. They would rather maintain the status quo. They know that a Tax Code will make Nigerians to put their mouth where their money is, and they do not want that. Tax, in a sense, is a revolving fund, put in place, to run government for the public good; as government spends through the provision of public needs, the treasury is depleted; it is the tax that will refill the piggy bank. Tax is also the most equitable route for a local currency to take to fund the public treasury. Unless we entrench this route as the major way the naira takes to fund Nigeria’s public treasuries, we will continue to undermine our development. The hottest topic around the world is the tax issue, but not in Nigeria. There seems to be collusion between the elites and our political bosses to be silent on tax. A tax code will make the rich pay more as their fair share; moreover, it will embolden the masses to demand probity.
Capitalism is defined as an economic system where private enterprise drives the economy in an enabling environment facilitated by the government of the day. This, in effect, means that the rights of the people are ceded, as a policy, to a few individuals, though through competition, for effective management of the country’s resources. This privilege carries its own responsibilities; justifiably, for this the rich in the society, having won that right, must pay their fair share within the tax code for public good. For instance, if Dangote is one of the few licensed, through competition, to provide sugar for all of us, it is imperative that Dangote and the others are taxed adequately for common good; otherwise, we would mitigate inequality in the community. This is an ingredient for sedition as it wets the recruitment grounds for the likes of Boko Haram.
The Structural Adjust Program (SAP) brought Nigeria to this state of economic stagnation, and insecurity (insurgency etc.) SAP had a faulty start as it diverted the main course (tax) the naira ought to take to fund the public treasuries. Instead, the naira to fund the public treasuries is routed through the auctioning of the petrodollar to the highest bidder. This process is influenced by those with enough naira at their disposal. Their excess liquidity ought to have been mopped up by tax. Instead, it make some of them to look good as a fraction of tax they ought to have paid is used for philanthropy. The bad elements used theirs to sponsor antisocial activities like Boko Haram. The lack of a robust tax system is what fuels corruption and the insecurity of funds; it stagnates the economic growth and discourages foreign investment. A tax code will guarantee government earnings and budgeting will not need oil benchmark. Presently, foreign investors are uncertain because there is no guaranteed system, like tax, to fund Nigerian government activities; they fear that sooner or later, their investments could melt into the economic system – a sure uncertainty for invested funds.
Former President Obasanjo warned recently that the level of unemployment in Nigeria could lead to a revolution. This could be averted in a short term by this regime coming to term with the crazy level of inequality in the general Nigerian society, and on a longer term by working on a tax code that would make the rich and every other Nigerian pay his or her fair share of tax. A reformed tax code will secure government earnings and isolate Nigerian public treasuries from the general economy. I am of the opinion that this will provide investors, particularly foreign investors, the confidence that their funds are secured within the Nigerian economy. Two key factors bother investors – security of funds and the returns on investments. A government that does not run on tax cannot secure invested funds. A tax code will secure government earning, without recourse to oil benchmarks. In return, it will secure invested funds. If revolution is in the offing, I hope we are not being plain deaf; otherwise we will all be consumed by it. I will keep harping on the tax theme, until people are willing to face reality. Tax is the cure all and a investment, as it brings out the patriotism in all of us.
Samuel Akinyele Caulcrick,
West Palm Beach, Florida, USA.
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