Should Nigerian government in good conscience collect taxes?

MORE than any previous government, the current government has harped on the need for Nigerians to pay tax. The government’s insistence on collecting tax from the people is a consequence of the challenge it faces with the usual source of revenue. Unlike in the past when the government was reeling in petrodollars, the present government has literally been living from hand to mouth and has resorted to borrowing to make ends meet.

So huge is the administration’s love for taxes that Mr Babatunde Fowler, Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS), is contemplating the imposition of Value Added Tax (VAT) on online transactions, forgetting that those transactions already have VAT embedded in them.

According to Mrs Kemi Adeosun, former Finance Minister, the country’s tax revenue accounts for only six per cent of the Gross Domestic Product. This, she said, is too low compared to other countries where it is as high as 32 per cent.

Painting an appalling picture of the nation’s tax revenue status, she said, “Only about 14 million active tax payers (20 per cent) of an estimated 70 million economically active corporate bodies and individuals pay tax annually in Nigeria. Out of that number, majority are Pay As You Earn (PAYE), who pay amidst widespread malpractice resulting in having only half of the actual income being subjected to tax.”

She added that if the country is to experience development, it has to bring as many people as possible into the tax net.

There is no doubt in my mind that tax is a major tool for development because it is a practical means of raising revenue to finance government spending. As observed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, a former American President, taxes are dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organised society. But Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., a former United States Supreme Court Justice, pushed this argument further by positing that taxes are the price we pay for civilization. So, according to these two, taxes are supposed to facilitate orderliness in a society and elevate the people from primal existence to a level of civilization. But what form of civilization do Nigerians experience? Over 75 per cent of Nigerians live in squalor, towns and cities are unplanned, open defecation is the norm, the society has the similitude of a jungle, yet the government is harping on tax collection.

It is easy for the incumbent government to blame its predecessors for the degeneration that is the story of our nation but what has the current government done in the four years that it has been in the saddle? Has the Nigerian society lost its semblance of a jungle? Is the squalor in the country receding or escalating? Are the communities getting better or worsening? What is the justification for asking Nigerians to pay tax when the government has abandoned the people to their fate?

After squandering and stealing our common patrimony derived from crude oil, the government wants to go a step further to rob us of our sweat by telling us to pay tax. Tax for what? Should we pay tax so that the government can continue its frivolity and profligacy?

Tell me, why should I pay tax when I source my own water? Please, let the government explain why I should pay tax when I contribute money, like other residents, to fix the road that leads to where I sojourn? Why should I pay tax to the government when I pay for security that watches over my community? Why should I pay tax when the government has neglected to fix the schools in my state? Why should I pay tax when the hospitals that should take care of the sick are themselves sick? Why should I pay tax when the weak and the old are neglected by the government? Why should I pay tax when the government has refused to provide public transport system? Why should I pay tax when there is no guarantee that my tax will not be diverted? Why should I pay tax? Let somebody in government whose conscience has not been seared attempt an explanation. Ordinarily, Nigerian government should be too ashamed to ask the citizens to pay taxes. But the truth is that the government has lost its conscience. For anyone without a conscience, insanity is bliss and evil is ecstasy.

Taxes are not meant to fund the irresponsibility of those in government nor are they meant to finance their reckless lifestyle. Taxes are imposed to improve life and living for the generality of the people. For any government to be entitled to ask citizens to part with their hard-earned money it should demonstrate its capacity to judiciously utilize the funds to improve the lives of the citizenry. The Nigerian government has not been able to do that, therefore it has deprived itself of the right to ask Nigerians to pay taxes.

After paying to fix our roads, paying for our children’s school fees because state schools are run down, paying to support our parents since the state has no plans to support the aged, paying for our healthcare sequel to the failure of the state to provide reliable healthcare programme for its citizens, asking us to pay tax under any guise will amount to double taxation, which is akin to double jeopardy in law. The law forbids anyone to face a charge twice. The failure of the government has forced Nigerians to become their own individual governments, which they support with their individual taxes, asking for further tax amounts to double jeopardy.

When the government lives up to its responsibilities, the people will willingly pay their taxes.

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