by Senator Ihenyen
In every society, citizens and government have basic obligations for socio-economic development to happen. For instance, it is the duty of the government to provide infrastructures, security, and other basic amenities such as water, road, power etc; for sustainable development.
Often times, I hear many Nigerians say things like, “it is our national cake from which we must eat. ” It is from that orientation that the slogan, “chop I chop”, was born among leaders and followers alike.
In effect, national wealth is plundered with impunity by anyone who has a chance to taste power. And rather than fight against corrupt leadership and save the future, many of us are simply indifferent with the belief that someday, “God will put our own man there.” After all, “government money is no man’s money”. With this disastrous value system, we continue to destroy ourselves, our institutions and our future. This is sad!
Perhaps, it is this hunger for the national cake that makes most Nigerians impoverished in every sense of the word. From leadership to followership, many are involved in one form of corruption or the other. Everyone wants to have a bite of the national cake by all means. Big for nothing, we have become a symbol of corruption, poor governance, underdevelopment, poverty and decay.
With our huge resources, our human development index is still one of the poorest in the world. Malaysia of twenty eight million people has a GDP of $278.6 billion; and Singapore of five million people has $318.7 billion, while Nigeria with a huge population of over 160 million makes do with GDP of $235.92 billion! Our per capita income is no less different with $1500. As at 2011, per capita income Singapore and Malaysia stood at $50,000 and $10, 000 respectively. Does this mean we have more morons than human capital in Nigeria? This question is not meant to be rhetorical.
Obiageli Ezekwesili, speaking at the 42nd convocation of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka recently identified our major challenge as a nation in the following words: “Well, economic evidence shows that the answer which we must all ponder deeply is that oil wealth entrenched corruption and mismanagement of resources in government and warped the incentive for value added work, creativity and innovation in our public, private sectors and wider society. This being the case, the larger population is deprived of the opportunity to overcome poverty and this is what economists call the resource curse.”
What have you ever done for this country? Sure, you owe Nigeria nothing; but the “cursed and useless country” owes you everything! “Government should do this; government should do that”. And good enough, you are not the government. Government is President Goodluck Jonathan. Government is Gov. Adams Oshiomhole. Government is your Local Government Chairman, with his wife. Government is anyone but you. And because this is a democracy (or it is supposed to be a democracy) – “government of the people, by the people and for the people”, you have performed your civic duty by exercising your voting right. Government is to get the job done, not you! All you need to do is “siddon look!”
And talking about civic duties, when last did you pay your tax? Yes, let’s talk about taxes. I know we all love taxes so much we just don’t want to talk about it publicly! Oh, it’s easy to eat the national cake baked with the spoils of oil money; but not the national cake baked with the sweats of tax payers’ money.Yes public fund is our money, only because we are citizens of Nigeria and Nigeria happens to be one of the largest producers of oil in the world through which the larger percentage of our revenue is generated.
Understandably, the concept of paying taxes may be relatively foreign to many Nigerians, but should this be an excuse? Unlike some parts of the world where almost everyone, regardless of their position or income pays taxes – income, revenue or property taxes on a regular basis, only some Nigerians and businesses are required to pay tax.
Many believe that this situation contributes to the current lack of political accountability on the part of our leaders. Consequently, the impact of government on average Nigerians is seriously diminished. I think the basic challenge is the fact that Nigeria has not developed an effective system where citizens could see taxation as part of their obligations to government. This is what Lagos State has been working on; whilst a state like Edo for instance is still struggling to successfully sell it to the people.
In developing and developed societies where the tax system is effective, citizens know that to pay tax is important and forms part of their obligations and through which they can challenge government on its performance on development.
It is pertinent to note at this point that tax revenue in Nigeria can only be substantial if the tax system promotes a culture of trust, sustained public education, transparency and accountability in governance. And if it promotes a society where if you eat tax payers’ money as another national cake, you have eaten poison. You will be held accountable for every single penny.