Niyi Akinnaso: How much of your government do you own?

Published:12 Feb, 2013

There is a fundamental reason Nigeria is often compared to the United States. The Nigerian presidential system of government and the constitution are patterned after those of the US. As a vibrant,  continuous, and uninterrupted democracy for over 230 years, the US clearly provides a good model for the rest of the world. Incidentally, Nigeria also shares with the US the status of an oil producing state. However, the US has been very prudent with its oil wells and reserves, by only allowing limited exploration at a time and importing oil from all over the world, especially Nigeria and the Middle East. As part of its energy conservation strategy, the US continues to stock up on refined petroleum for a rainy day, while also aggressively pushing an alternative energy policy that seeks to end dependence on oil importation, and, possibly, fossil fuel altogether.

Although the US collects rent on its oil resources like Nigeria, the mainstay of the American economy is taxation. Thus, while Nigeria relies almost completely on its oil revenue, the US relies almost completely on taxes from its citizens, corporations, industries, and small businesses. In this sense, the Lagos State economy mirrors that of the US, if only on a very small scale.

Having worked within the American university system for nearly three decades, I experienced the American system of taxation first-hand. Every month, before my paycheque reaches my bank account, Federal, Medicare, and Social Security taxes would have been withheld. Then, whenever I file my tax by April 15 every year, I often pay additional federal, state, and local taxes. I pay a monthly property tax as well, from which money is appropriated to improve local schools, roads, and parks. Such improvements, of course, often require the residents’ approval or disapproval through a referendum. Finally, as a New Jersey resident, I pay at least seven per cent tax on everything I purchase, except food and clothing. At the end of the day, a quarter or more of my annual income goes to various taxes.

It is this reliance on taxpayers’ money that makes the American government directly responsive to its citizens. It also explains why local, state, and federal officials fall over themselves to satisfy their constituents. They do not tag constituency projects to bills in order to pocket the money. No, no; the money goes directly to appropriate constituencies for specified projects. That’s why they are anxious to inform citizens about how their taxes are spent. Signs, like “Your tax dollars at work” are often posted at road construction sites. As a rule, American  politicians often meticulously document their achievements in office, knowing full well that they will be evaluated by voters when they campaign for re-election.

Because they literally own their government through taxation, Americans have a reason to demand accountability from their politicians. This idea of citizens as owners of their government has been at the heart of American democracy from its foundation. It is not for nothing that their democracy is defined as “government of the people, for the people, and by the people”. This notion of democracy was captured in 1776 in the Declaration of Independence by the memorable phrase, “We the People”. President Barack Obama used the same phrase to frame his inaugural address on January 21, 2013, citing citizens’ demands as the bases for his policies.

If you are a Nigerian, the question to you is: “How much of the Nigerian government, or your state and local government for that matter, do you think you own?” The answer is not that simple. From those who come from the oil producing states of the Niger Delta, what you will hear is to the effect that Nigeria exists on their back. They hinge their response on the argument that the nation’s oil wealth comes from their region. This is the basis for their demand for increased derivation and for prolonged militancy in the region. In effect, what the region’s “landlords” (Governors and the like) are collecting on behalf of the people is rent from the Federal Government, which acts as their agent. Now, you can understand why a number of the landlords collect the money and fly with it. The same situation applies to Nigerian politicians in general, particularly those in the Presidency and others charged with the petrodollars. Their profligacy and lack of accountability are not unconnected with the source of the funds. Because they don’t come out of the people’s pockets, Nigerian politicians manifest a callous sense of irresponsibility by pocketing as much of the money as they could.

By contrast, Americans in oil producing states do not manifest the same sense of ownership that Niger Deltans do. Nor do American politicians run away with oil money. They can’t, because their laws and sense of responsibility do not allow it. In any case, all taxes are collected by the Internal Revenue Service, which then pays directly to the treasury.

There is another group of Nigerians who have a more valid claim to ownership of the government than Niger Delta landlords. These are the taxpayers. Unfortunately, they are few and far between. Nigerians don’t pay enough tax, if at all, unless it is deducted at source through the Pay As You Earn system. Those who fall into this category include civil servants; teachers; and workers in government hospitals and parastatals. The number of people involved in the PAYE system is unknown. But it is fair to estimate it at no more than 15 per cent of the population. Perhaps, an additional five per cent of businesses, big and small, pay some token taxes.

So, we are left with about 80 per cent of the population that pays little or no tax at all. Ok, let’s take away an additional 10 per cent of the population to take care of the high youth unemployment factor. We are back to 70 per cent of the population that is supposed to be living on less than two dollars a day. The question then is, how much tax can Nigeria collect from its citizens in order to remain solvent, say in the absence of petrodollars?

The answer may be surprising: A lot. Who knew that Lagos State would be able to collect billions and billions of naira in local taxes until former Governor Bola Tinubu came along with Alpha Beta? Say what you will about his excesses, he has turned the fortunes of Lagos State around for ever. Every state needs its own Tax Collection Agency, while the Federal Government needs to go after the top one per cent, like President Obama is now doing in the US. It won’t be easy. The rich and the powerful will resist. Market women, small-scale traders, and artisans will resist. Labour and trade unions will protest. But it is the right thing to do. A tax code must be enacted that requires every citizen to file their tax by a certain deadline each year, as in the US.

If Nigerians want to own their government, and have more than their votes to defend, they must brace themselves for taxation. That is what responsible citizens do in civilised democracies.

 

Niyi Akinnaso (niyi@comcast.net)

Read original article via Punch

Related Posts

Recent Posts

Herdsmen Attack: Police To Train Neighbourhood Watch Outfits In Enugu

The Enugu State Police Command has concluded arrangements to train neighbourhood watch security outfits in communities in the state. The plan is a fallout of the attack on Ukpabi Nimbo community by suspected Fulani herdsmen on April 25. Although some communities in the state already had neighbourhood watch units, a decision to set up the outfit in all the towns in the state was the major outcome of a stakeholders meeting convened by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi after the Ukpabi Nimbo attack. The...

EFCC Re-Arraigns Ajudua For $8.4m Fraud

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Thursday re-arraigned an alleged serial fraudster, Fred Ajudua, for an alleged fraud of $8.4m.   Ajudua was accused of swindling the complainant, a former Chief of Army, Staff Lt Col. Ishaya Bamaiyi, of the sum sometime in 2004 at Kirikiri Prisons in Lagos.His re-arraignment on Thursday followed the transfer of his case from Justice Oluwatoyin Ipaye of a Lagos State High Court in Ikeja to Justice Kudirat Jose of the same court. The amended charge...

FG To Assist Communities Reclaim Lands Damaged By Mining Activities

The Federal Government says it has made provisions in the 2016 budget to help communities reclaim lands damaged through open cast mining. The Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Dr Kayode Fayemi, said this at the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Forum in Abuja. According to him, the ministry has a law that gives conditions for environmental complaints.   ``Talking specifically about the conditions in places like Jos and Enugu if you look our budget this year, you will see specific allocation for reclamation...

Military Pensions Board To Complete Payment Of 33% Increment Arrears To Pensioners By 2017

The Military Pensions Board (MPB) says payment of 33 per cent increment arrears owed military pensioners since 2010 will be completed by the end of 2017. The Chairman of the Board, Air Vice-Marshal Muhammad Dabo, disclosed this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja on Wednesday. He said the administration of Muhammadu Buhari was committed to the welfare of Nigerian military pensioners and had been fully supportive of the board’s activities in the past one year.   ``There...

Army Acquires Vehicles To Enhance Communication

The Nigerian Army has acquired six vehicles to enhance communication in its fight against insurgency in the North-East. The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), reports that the vehicles were inaugurated by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, during his visit to Lagos on Wednesday. Buratai said the vehicles, procured by the Army Signal Corps, would be deployed to help in prosecuting the fight against insurgency in the North- East. ``We are still pursuing the terrorists and we will continue...

FG Constitutes Committee To Address Demands Of Organised Labour

The Federal Government on Wednesday constituted a 16-man committee to address issues that necessitated the three-day strike called by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) after the fuel pump price hike. Mr Babachir Lawal, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), stated this in Abuja after a meeting of the Federal Government delegation with the organised labour. He said that the meeting was called to work out modalities on ways to resolve the issues raised by the organised labour. ``I am...

Former PDP NWC Members Endorse Constitution of Makarfi-led Caretaker Committee

Members of the immediate past National Working Committee (NWC) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have endorsed their dissolution and other decisions taken at the party’s National Convention held in Port Harcourt. This is contained in a statement jointly signed by the immediate past Deputy National Chairman of the party, Uche Secondus and six others. The statement stated that in the absence of the then National Chairman of the Party, Sen. Ali Modu Sheriff, Secondus presided over the...

Agunloye Advises FG To Fight Corruption In Power Sector

Former Minister of Power and Steel, Dr Olu Agunloye, on Wednesday advised the Federal Government to address corruption in the power sector. Agunloye gave the advice during a chat with newsmen in Abuja. He had purchased Expression of Interest and Nomination forms for the Ondo gubernatorial election on the platform of Social Democratic Party (SDP). According to him, electricity generation is not rocket science and tackling corruption in the sector will ensure stable power supply across the country. ``When I was minister of...

FAAC: FG Recovers N1.5 bn, Shares N281.5bn To 3 Tiers Of Government

The Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, said in Abuja on Wednesday that N1.5 billion, being excess bank charges, was recovered and paid into the Federation Account. Adeosun announced this while addressing newsmen on the outcome of the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) meeting. She said this was done by a consortium of consultants for the Federation Account and that the money was proposed for distribution. She also said that N281.5 billion was shared among the federal, states and local governments as...

Army Renews Call On Boko Haram Fighters To Surrender

The Nigerian Army on Wednesday renewed calls on repentant Boko Haram fighters wishing to surrender to do so without wasting more time. Maj.-Gen. Lucky Irabor, the Theater Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, made the call while speaking at the foundation laying ceremony of the Nigerian Army Officers Wives Association (NAOWA) Nursery School and a Day Care Centre at the Maimalari Barracks, Maiduguri. Irabor said that those who failed to surrender would pay the price for being stubborn. He added that ``I will like...

5 Herdsmen Arrested Over Enugu Massacre

The Police Force Head­quarters in Abuja, have announced the arrest of the masterminds and perpetrators of Nimbo community in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State on April, 25, 2016. The attack led to the death of several persons and destruction of prop­erty valued at millions of naira The attackers compris­ing a five-member-gang were arrested by op­eratives of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Intelligence Response Team (IRT). The suspects were found with one...

Economy In Volatile Situation- Buhari

Nigeria’s economy is currently in a volatile situation due to the crash in oil prices, President Muhammadu Buhari has said. The president’s remark came at a time when oil price yesterday rose to nearly $50 a barrel, even though Nigerian will earn less from the boom due to drop in production in recent times.  Buhari spoke yesterday at the Aso Rock Villa in Abuja at a farewell audience with Iranian Ambassador to Nigeria,...

Reps Order Halt Of Refineries Privatization

The House of Representatives Committee on Privatization and Commercialization has directed the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to stop its planned privatization of the nation’s refineries or joint investment ventures with some multinationals. The committee’s chairman, Hon. Ahmed Yerima (APC, Bauchi), who gave the order yesterday in Abuja during an interactive session with the managements of the NNPC and Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) on the planned privatization of three  refineries in the country, said the...

$200 Billion Loot: EFCC Raids Dubai Firm’s Office In Abuja

As part of the ongoing probe of the laundering of over $200billion loot in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) by former political office holders, operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission ( EFCC) yesterday stormed the office of a Dubai property firm, The First Group Company,  in Abuja. The company is also being investigated for allegedly defrauding unsuspecting Nigerians by luring them to invest in real estate in Dubai. A prominent Nigerian lost about...

Dana Air Pilots Go On Strike, Passengers Stranded

Dana Air pilots have gone on strike in protest of the non-payment of their salaries, grounding the airline’s operations and leaving hundreds of passengers stranded nationwide. “The strike started this morning and passengers that were supposed to travel this morning are stranded,” a source at the airport said. According to the source, the airline had continued to sell tickets to passengers earlier today in the hope that the dispute would be resolved.

Edo Govt Withdraws Letter On Appointment Of Oba Of Benin

The Edo State Government has withdrawn a letter earlier issued on its approval on the appointment of the new Oba of Benin, saying it was issued in error. In a retraction signed by the Secretary to State Government, Prof Julius Ihonvbere, dated May 25, 2016, the government stated: “In deference to the revered age-long tradition and respect for the sensibilities of the people of the great Benin Kingdom, the Government of Edo State hereby withdraws a...

Sheriff, Makarfi Sent Out Of PDP BoT Meeting

The former Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Ali Modu Sheriff and the chairman of the Caretaker committee of the Party, Senator Ahmed Makarfi were excused out of a meeting of the board of trustees of the party which is on going in Abuja. Senator Sheriff walked into the Transcorp Hilton venue of the meeting at about 11:10 am and was followed five minutes later by senator Makarfi who also walked in to the meeting.

NLC Leader Tagged “Ghost-Worker” Gets Sacked By Kogi Govt

The Kogi State government says the state chairman of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Onuh Edoka, is a “ghost worker”, and has fired him. Mr. Edoka was one of about 9000 people sacked following a screening exercise to weed out illegal workers from the 21 local government areas of the state. Mr. Edoka, who serves as head of both the Medical Health Workers Union and the NLC in the state, said he was employed in 1989,...

Value Of Electronic Transactions Hit N48.9tr In Nigeria

Although, it is still plagued by inadequate levels of awareness, poor banking culture, lack of trust and a love for the status quo, the value of e-transactions recorded in 2015 hit N48.93 trillion, up by 11.6 per cent from 2014 in Nigeria. This disclosure was contained in a White Paper report titled “Africa on the Verge (AoV) Convergence Series”, put together by AfricaPractice, a strategy and communications consultancy firm, with offices in Nigeria and abroad. A...

Niger Delta Avengers Blow Up Oil Pipeline Again

Militants suspected to be members of the Niger Delta Avengers have blown up an underground Chevron crude oil trunk line. The trunk line is located along the Seria Creek near Abiteye, a few kilometres away from the company’s multi-billion dollars Tank Farm in Escravos, Warri South West local government area of Delta State. It was gathered that the incident, which occurred midnight, was noticed by workers in the production department when they observed drop...

NAF To Enhance Weapon System Through Collaboration

The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) on Wednesday said it had concluded arrangements to collaborate with the Centre for Space Transport and Propulsion (CSTP) to enhance its weapon delivery capability.   This is contained in a statement signed by its Director of Public Relations and Information, Group Capt. Ayodele Famuyiwa, in Abuja.   The statement said NAF was zealous about optimising indigenous capacity and willing to expand existing frontier of collaboration with research institutions in the country that possessed the potential to enhance its...