The whole world is looking for money. In some parts of the world, they are doing so for all the right reasons because they are well-experienced in the art of taking care of people and building governance around human beings. In some of those countries, they are paying even private workers 80 per cent of their normal salaries, just to ensure that people are not on the streets, desperate, forlorn and crime-prone. In others, they are delivering foodstuff from door to door, and thereby ensuring that people who are really down on their lucks do not totally go hungry. Through this mass food distribution, these governments are also ensuring sales for farmers and retailers of food items – who could have suffered huge losses, as people have less money to buy anything. It is tough, but economies have to be kept ticking. The U.K. economy (GDP) is reported to have fallen by a whole 20 per cent between April and June this year, in response to the lockdown. This alone is the meaning of economic depression, a term which seems now forgotten in the annals of economic lexicology since 1940. In the U.S.A more than 50 million people have filed for unemployment benefits since this trouble started. If these large economies could be going through such dire straits, how much more the Nigerian economy? The National Bureau of Statistics just released a dire unemployment data wherein, curiously, 10 million people disappeared from the Nigerian labour force. Curious computing.
The problem with the Nigerian economy is the waste. The government is not built around the people, but for the benefit of those who find themselves in government – either as top (or lucky) civil/public servants, political appointees or elected officials. Day by day, the art of diverting public resources for personal benefit is being perfected. To many in this circle, it is no longer a big deal to take what is meant for 200 million people. That is why Professor Pondei, the acting MD of NDDC (till tomorrow) said boldly that NDDC staff had to take care of themselves and so vired the sum of N1.3 billion, which they distributed among themselves as COVID Allowance. He allegedly got N10 million, his executive directors received N7 million each and so on down the ranks. The least staff, we hear, got N600,000. They took care of themselves. I just saw a news caption where the recently appointed director general of the Corporate Affairs Commission spoke about how the organisation generated N53 billion for the Nigerian people in the last three years but only remitted N153 million. Again, they helped themselves. It is this attitude of government workers and executives helping themselves to public funds that puts Nigerians off paying taxes, duties, rates, levies, fines and other dues to government.
Even in this period in which the whole world is contrite and therefore stretching every cent as tightly as possible, to ensure that it goes as far as possible to provide for people (in responsible countries), our governments across the board are still steeped in very terrible choices. The governor of Rivers State recently bought 47 Range Rovers for judges in the State. And the judges collected the cars. Earlier, the National Assembly took delivery of hundreds of SUVs for the comfort of legislators too, and Minister Rotimi Amaechi justified the approval of N683 million for the Nigerian Ports Authority, to purchase 19 ‘operational vehicles’. Each ‘operational vehicle’ cost an average of N35 million by the way. In a country that produces nada! The vehicles weren’t even assembled in Nigeria. Operational vehicles indeed! But who cares? The curse of luxurious cars has not lifted from the heads of our leaders, who only understand the language of egos. A nation that produces nothing cannot even think through the momentous changes that is happening to it and that are about to torpedo it out of existence. We are still fanning egos, thinking about luxuries that we don’t produce and reveling in ‘status’. Pity the nation.
And thus started the mad scramble for money by any means by all strata of government in Nigeria. All of a sudden, and I reckon, in order to find more money to be used in the usual manner, every government agency is falling head over heels looking for money. This has pitched some against others. The Federal Government, rising from it’s last Federal Executive Council meeting, issued an unprecedented stern warning to the states, to stop collecting what it termed ‘illegal taxes’ from companies engaged in mining. The Federal Government claimed that the states were scaring off foreign investors and reiterated that mining was under its purview, as per the constitution. But the states are looking for money – to fan the egos of governors and their hangers-on mostly – so it is unlikely that the threat would work. During the week, the Lagos State government also issued out an edict to digital ‘content producers’ thus; “Henceforth, all audio and visual contents produced and sold within Lagos State shall attract the payment of five percent levy on each item”. The statement threatened fire and brimstone to whoever failed to comply. I wondered though how they will go about tracking content in this digital age, and how they will place value on such content before it hit the streets. The Lagos State Film and Video Censors Board is looking for money. Then there was the tax proposed by the Lagos State government on ride-hailing companies. The government has had to back down a little from the taxes it planned to slam on Uber/Taxify drivers on each trip. The search for money is intense.
The other day too, Ogun State, after announcing that students of SS3 would be allowed back to school in order to prepare for their WAEC exams, also shocked parents by demanding for N25,000 ‘COVID fees’ or whatever it was. The pretext was that each student needed to be tested for the disease. Recall that the test costs $1.00 (or N380) in Senegal. When the government saw the uproar that this created among already strung-out parents, many of who are already out of work, or who hadn’t earned a dime in months, it backed down. It seems as if these days, the government is trying to gyp unsuspecting folks and whoever does not resist will suffer for nothing. What do we say about the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST), which suddenly increased, astronomically, the sign-on and license renewal fees for courier companies, sparking outcry from the public. It seemed that in this COVID period, many young Nigerians had been thinking of getting into the logistics business, buying a few ‘okadas’ for urban courier businesses to make a quick buck. But NIPOST struck!
A few weeks back, we all lined up to side with the same NIPOST, who in my view, is being bullied by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), as both scramble for revenue. The FIRS – in trying to reposition itself as all its regular sources of revenue disappeared or dwindled to trickles – the petroleum profit tax, company income tax, VAT, royalties, etc. – had collaborated with the Federal Ministry of Finance to pass a Finance Act that gave it the right to collect stamp duties. This is what NIPOST – which had championed the collection of an expanded stamp duty since the Buhari government ascended in 2015 – claims it does, and is feeling riled about. Trillions have been collected from the accounts of every Nigerian, with nothing accounted for since Buhari’s people unearthed this stamp duty business. At some point, the late Senator Buruji Kashamu, through one of his companies, laid claim to being the repository of the stamp duties through some curious agreement. The long and short: Nigerians cannot claim to know what the Buhari government has done with the stamp duties (which runs into several trillions of naira) since 2015. No one has even explained the reason behind the levying of stamp duties on every transaction, such as cash deposits in banks and so on, short of the fact that government is looking for money to spend on the usual frivolities, or that it was introduced by some colonial ordinance in 1934, and so it must be continued.
NIPOST is in a tiff with FIRS because of the name ‘stamp’. The organisation claims that it is in charge of anything ‘stamp’ in Nigeria, but is being sent back to face its duties of conveying letters from one point to the other by a Johnny-come-lately FIRS, which is inadvertently admitting that it had slept on duty for decades (that is if the collection of stamp duty is justified). In my view, it isn’t, and Nigerians are just being defrauded by the government unnecessarily. Let me say here though, that indeed the Nigerian government is pushing out a number of palliatives to assuage the suffering of Nigerians in this COVID period, just like other nations. Nobody should go away with the impression that our government is doing nothing. But our government’s efforts could be much larger, and by all means the wastage and self-centredness that have become systemic in our government across the board, must be eradicated.
Back To FIRS and stamp duties. Having set a very ambitious goal for itself, of N18 trillion in collection this year (a very tall, ambitious, even if lofty, order), the FIRS must be responding to a lot of heat by a government which has to navigate Nigeria out of the second recession – and maybe the first economic depression – in its tenure, and the third under Buhari’s usually unlucky leadership. The panic was responsible for FIRS rushing out to state that anyone renting a property must pay a 6 per cent stamp duty on the rent. When tax experts took the FIRS up by referring to the law and correcting that agency that 6 per cent only applied to leases of 21 years and above, the FIRS backed down in the face of superior logic. I am sure some smart Alec in FIRS must have been taking glory for advising the chairman about a forgotten goldmine. The experts – especially Taiwo Oyedele of PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) – also let the FIRS know that the stamp duty was only payable in the first year of lease and was 0.78 per cent for one year. The FIRS became crestfallen. The argument then became how do people pay? If we paid to landlords, the FIRS will have a hard time retrieving the money from their usually ‘Araldite’ fists. The whole thing about stamp duties on rent seems to have fizzled out a bit. Government is just looking for money.
I happened to have read some of the statements of the auditor general of the federation in his last review of ministries, department and agencies (MDAs) of government in Nigeria. Anyone who reads the document will never want to pay a dime to the Nigerian government in any guise again. It is noteworthy that the auditor general is a neglected, disrespected and disregarded organisation in Nigeria. Not even the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) nor the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) brings out the kind of detailed analysis on the activities of our MDAs like our AuGF does. In fact I propose a scrapping of those agencies, which are pretending to do the same work that the AuGF was set up to do but bungling everything. Yet the auditor’s reports gather dust, even under our so-called anti-corruption government. For starters, each yearly report indicts the courts, the Presidency, the police, the army and, of course, the EFCC and ICPC. In the 2019 report, the auditor general reported that the Presidency had spent N14 billion building an army barracks without due process, that 69 agencies of government had never prepared or submitted a statement of accounts since they were founded and that an increasing number of MDAs – 322 out of almost 1,000 – simply refused to submit their audited accounts. The report also stated that about 150 MDAs had stopped submitting accounts since 2016. Imagine that agencies were created as mere avenues for the pilfering of public funds – or how does one define agencies that refuse to account for taxpayers’ monies since their inception! Yet taxpayers fund such agencies. There was also a catalogue of infractions from contract frauds, contract splitting, illegal allowances that MDA executives and staff paid to themselves (because like NDDC they must first ‘chop’ before the public they are meant to serve can ‘chop’) and outright frauds by the executives of some of those agencies. Nothing, repeat, nothing, has happened to anyone in those agencies as a result of the reports of the AuGF. In fact, it is noted that there is no law that compels any of the indicted agencies to even answer any memo from the auditor. They don’t even have to read the report. They can just sell the paper on which it is written to the nearest ‘boli’ seller. Yet the government needs more money, and the people must pay. Stamp duty is the new darling – the best extortion instrument resurrected by the Buhari government and it is being honed for more brutal effectiveness on a daily basis, to the extent that different agencies are fighting for the weapon. God help us.
I pity this government though. Times are incredibly hard. But on another think, I don’t pity the government. I recall an interview that the minister of Finance had with Charles Aniagolu of Arise TV. Charles is a helluva guy when he wants to be. When asked why this government had not patronised ‘made-in-Nigeria’ from the beginning, instead of now running around screaming about how the nation’s finance has been shot to pieces, Madam Minister said ‘that is the mistake we made’. For me it was just pathetic, especially because as we have seen, this government is NOT ready to change. The president came in on promises he knew he was not ready to keep. He deceived Nigeria. His ministers lined up in tow, deceiving themselves and the world. Some had good intentions, but their general insincerity of purpose meant that the nation made negative progress – one step forward, three steps backward, until Buhari’s lethargy sank the nation into the first unwarranted recession. Naira devalued from N179 to N306 officially and N360 (to the US dollar) on the streets in 2016. Buhari had only been around for one year. The government trundled on, benefiting its friends and turning a blind eye to the infractions and corruptions of its benefactors. The nation had a slow recovery – punctuated by corruption and more waste – from the 2016 recession. Then COVID hit, and in the middle of boasts by CBN that it will never devalue, the naira is now officially N380 to the US Dollar and N475 on the streets. We are heading straight for the rocks! Again, God help us.
Source: Premium Times