If Nige­ria is in­ter­ested in rais­ing her rev­enues… (I)

Sunday Trust - - VIEWPOINT - Top­sy­fash@ya­hoo.com (SMS 08070850159) To be con­tin­ued with Tope Fa­sua

We shall see what hap­pens in the days and weeks af­ter the ex­piry of Nige­ria’s much-touted vol­un­tary as­set and in­come dec­la­ra­tion scheme (VAIDS), which yielded a pal­try N20­bil­lion out of a tar­geted N350­bil­lion or a mere $57mil­lion out of a tar­get of $1bil­lion (lets say 5.7%). That is the last fig­ure in the public space, but is a huge fail­ure if a child brings such a re­port home. We haven’t con­sid­ered how much was spent be­tween the Min­istry of Fi­nance and the Fed­eral In­land Rev­enue Ser­vice on the scheme - in­clud­ing I’m sure, for­eign trav­els to un­der­study VAIDS-like schemes in other coun­tries. It’s Nige­ria’s age of im­punity. Only the con­nected sur­vive. But the rest of us are watch­ing.

The gov­ern­ment has promised to come down hard on tax evaders who re­fused to take ad­van­tage of the VAIDS ar­range­ment ‘to come out clean and con­fess their sins’. I won­dered whether Nige­ri­ans are that kind of peo­ple who will come out and con­fess their un­paid taxes! I also won­dered whether it was any­thing to a Nige­rian to be ‘named and shamed’ for evad­ing taxes? I think we are too far gone for that - even the per­son shout­ing about tax eva­sion is a tax evader. You know, one of Nige­ria’s mu­si­cians sang ‘even you boo, get a boo’. That’s the way it works. Do Nige­ri­ans re­ally un­der­stand the word ‘shame’? Did it not be­come a thing of pride in Nige­ria for one’s name to ap­pear in the list of chronic bad debtors of banks when CBN un­der Sanusi forced them to pub­lish? Have we even got to the stage of coun­tries from which Vol­un­tary Dec­la­ra­tion Schemes (VDSs) were copied, in terms of tax ad­min­is­tra­tion, dis­ci­pline and cul­ture? Does the his­tory of Nige­ria fit in with such an ar­range­ment at all? What about po­lit­i­cal will? Can the gov­ern­ment ques­tion and even jerk those who fi­nanced their elec­tions and cam­paigns to the courts?

And so as the dead­line ex­pired on March 31, 2018, we started to see many in­ter­ests crawl out of the wood­works to ask for ex­ten­sion. Some states fi­nance com­mis­sion­ers claimed peo­ple had just started to come for­ward and things like that but it is a joke. What these in­ter­ests have in mind is a to­tal can­ce­la­tion of the whole idea. The tax au­thor­i­ties are meant to start go­ing af­ter tax dodgers in a mer­ci­less man­ner as from the 1st of April and they promise that it will not be an April Fool’s game. There are how­ever a num­ber of is­sues around the whole ex­er­cise, stuff that none of the con­sul­tants em­ployed to work on the pro­ject will dare raise with their em­ploy­ers. I will get to those is­sues in a bit. We are very used to gath­er­ing in our con­fer­ences and com­mit­tee meet­ings and gen­er­ally de­ceiv­ing our­selves in this coun­try. We are used to start­ing pro­grams that fail. It’s our forte. No be to­day.

Blind­sided fo­cus on ‘taxes’

In the first place, when­ever I have the chance, I al­ways let those in gov­ern­ment know that the fo­cus on taxes it­self is sub­op­ti­mal. It’s a way of re­duc­ing the prob­lem so as to de­flect from the larger is­sue. Nige­ria is not only los­ing out on taxes, but on rates, du­ties, fees, fines, and ev­ery­thing in be­tween. In fact, we are los­ing mas­sive amounts daily even from the pro­ceeds of nat­u­ral re­sources. At least 400,000 bar­rels per day of crude oil gets stolen from Nige­ria’s bow­els with no so­lu­tion in sight. The fo­cus on taxes alone, and all that talk of Nige­ri­ans not pay­ing their per­sonal in­come taxes or Nige­ria get­ting only 6% of its rev­enues from taxes, ac­tu­ally al­low the thieves of our fees, fines, du­ties, rates, and pro­ceeds of nat­u­ral re­sources to get away with blue mur­der. It’s a de­coy. Are we sure that we shouldn’t be fo­cused on get­ting all those other sources of in­come that fo­cus­ing on taxes? Is there a like­li­hood that we may end up ha­rass­ing and pur­loin­ing small busi­nesses that are barely sur­viv­ing, to death in the name of tax en­force­ment? Af­ter all taxes are to be payable on le­git­i­mate trans­ac­tions. What are le­git­i­mate trans­ac­tions in a coun­try where most activities are il­le­git­i­mate? Look around you to­day, most of the wealth you see flaunted; the big cars, the big­ger houses, all those guys spend­ing mil­lions ev­ery night in the night­clubs, all the fre­quent trav­els even for re­li­gious pil­grim­ages and high-oc­tane hol­i­days, all the flex­ing, even the big con­tracts that are pro­cured by very smart guys are 99% il­le­git­i­mate in Nige­ria. Why don’t we close the loop­holes of il­le­git­i­ma­cies? Are our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers in­ter­ested? I doubt.

I al­ways re­call APC’s first and only eco­nomic sum­mit at the Hil­ton some­where around May 2015. The sum­mit was or­ga­nized by Fayemi and other eg­gheads (oops one of Fayemi’s aides is ac­tu­ally named Eg­ghead). They brought a thou­sand other eg­gheads - pro­fes­sors from ev­ery­where at home and in the di­as­pora and even more who worked with de­vel­op­ment agen­cies. They were tasked to find so­lu­tions to Nige­ria’s prob­lems. I re­call at­tend­ing Education sub-com­mit­tee ses­sion which was chaired by Mal­lam Bo­laji Ab­dul­lahi. While Bo­laji Ab­dul­lahi tried to steer dis­cus­sions to­wards the need for vo­ca­tional education, youth and skills, the pro­fes­sors were ob­vi­ously wrestling him to the ground ask­ing for more world-class univer­si­ties. I was frus­trated. I knew - just like Bo­laji - who would later be­come the APC spokesman - that the so­lu­tion lied with a mas­sive in­vest­ment in Nige­ria’s youths and not in the ac­qui­si­tion of cer­tifi­cates.

But that is not the main gist of that even. In one of the ple­nary ses­sions, af­ter all the ram­bling, it was ques­tion time. A white lady in front of me was rec­og­nized. She was tired of hear­ing pro­fes­sor af­ter pro­fes­sor, ‘tech­no­crat’ af­ter ‘tech­no­crat’ reel out all sorts of out-of-the-world ideas and then close off by belly­ach­ing about how there was no money to fund their lofty ca­pers. She said only one thing; ‘I’ve been to a few coun­tries around the world, Nige­ria is the only coun­try I’ve been where no one gets a fine for over-speed­ing. How then do you hope to fund your bud­get?’. She sat down. I felt like giv­ing her a hug but didn’t know how she will take it. The re­sponse to her con­cern from the ‘high ta­ble’ was off the mark and delu­sional as usual. So I humbly had a con­ver­sa­tion with my feet and left the place. That event has had a last­ing im­pact on my mind. It made me re­mem­ber by so­journ as a stu­dent in Lon­don and what I learnt about the way they lived and or­ga­nized them­selves. Lon­don could have been more dis­or­derly than Nige­ria but for the fact that they en­forced their rules. Over­speed­ing with your Fer­rari is sweet, but you meet a bill of at least 80 pounds (N40,000 equiv­a­lent) at home for running past one sin­gle cam­era at just slightly above the rec­om­mended speed. And they will not want to know whether you are the Prince of Wales. In fact the posher and more aris­to­cratic you are, the bet­ter.

The fo­cus on taxes alone, and all that talk of Nige­ri­ans not pay­ing their per­sonal in­come taxes or Nige­ria get­ting only 6% of its rev­enues from taxes, ac­tu­ally al­low the thieves of our fees, fines, du­ties, rates, and pro­ceeds of nat­u­ral re­sources to get away with blue mur­der. It’s a de­coy

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