For three days last week, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum chose Abuja, to concentrate the minds of Nigerians on the desirability of taxation to improve the internally-generated revenue of Nigerian states. Either because of the importance of the subject or a very thorough job of PR, the issue got a lot of coverage in the Nigerian press. Up to this week, there continues to be a very lively response in the form of commentaries by leading Nigerian writers on the subject. Most people have bought into the argument posited by the Governors’ Forum, that there was “the need to rely less on money received from the Federation Account and to instead institute taxes on a variety of things”, as reported by DAILY TRUST of Tuesday, November 17, 2009. Furthermore, the Forum has the intention “to make IGR replace the Federation Account as the states’ main revenue source”.
Very lofty objectives, one might add; and it is the importance of taxation as a source of revenue that has triggered the generally broad support for the idea. Writers also hope that by paying tax, citizens might then become more politically active to hold governors responsible in respect of the expenditure patterns of the various states. Afterall, one of the cardinal backgrounds for the institution of democracy in the advanced capitalist countries was the agitation by the emergent bourgeoisie that taxation must go with representation. A regime which asks citizens to pay taxes must also be responsible in terms of the way it deploys those revenues. Unfortunately, many of the governors asking for taxation as a platform for Internally Generated Revenue or IGR have been guilty of a lack of respect for the people of our various states in ways that they make expenditure; but we will come back to this point.
I called Kayode Komolafe last Wednesday, to interrogate the effusiveness of his support for the taxation idea, simply because I think there were questions that he did not ask about the agenda of the governors. Instructively, it was Adams Oshiomhole, also a governor that pointed out what must be one of the really critical issues to be resolved before the governors can impose taxes on the people. Adams’ paper was titled “Rebuilding Tax Payers’ Confidence: the Connection between Good Leaders and IGR”. While noting that state governments must have courage to impose taxes and judiciously use the proceeds, Adams nevertheless said that “if the people’s votes count, they will willingly pay their taxes because they trust their leaders. But if the leaders are not true representatives of the people, they will resist whatever tax imposition”. In short Adams reminds us that in Nigeria today, there are very few of the governors now asking to impose the burden of taxation on Nigerians, who can say that he was not rigged to power.
The truth is that we have a mockery, a joke of “democracy” in this land. The people’s votes are not counted and they don’t count. Governors, who want to impose taxes, are products of flawed elections and in real terms, the people have never mattered in their scheme of things. Aliyu Modibbo called them Emperor-Governors, and the description seems to be apt. Because in many cases, they don’t care about the people, expenditure have often been expended on what catches the fancy of governors, and more often than not, these hare-brained or white elephant projects, are designs to take money out of the states. The more these projects have accumulated, the more difficult it has become to sustain the greed at the base of their construction. The new fad is to borrow huge sums of money in the capital market to feed the frenzy of white elephant projects, the greed to pilfer the monies and finally the mortgaging of the futures of states! These borrowings are defrayed using future Federal Allocations. In many states, institutions of government are now directed to generate revenue, anyhow. The desperate search for money to cover shortfalls in spending is the real reason for the new craze for taxation!
Before any of the governors should institute new taxation, I think they must first of all transparently account for monies they have collected and expended in the past ten years. They should hold open forums attended by people in all the senatorial districts of our country. The people should have the right to ask any and all questions about the expenditure patterns; who got what contracts?; what the rationale for specific projects was; why allocation from Federation Account isn’t enough, etc. For a start, the governors might want to tell us what they have done with the millions of dollars that they collected in our name just over a month ago!
If there is no open form of accountability, then there can be no justification for the brimstones of taxation they are trying to rain on our people. It is imperative for governors to reign in greed, kleptomania and expenditure on projects that do not really improve the quality of lives of the people in their states. When that audit has been satisfactorily done and good governance is premised on free and fair elections which returns the genuine choice of the people not monsters rigged into power, then and only then can any governor justify the imposition of taxation on the long suffering people of our states. Any other thing will amount to opening a new aperture to feed unceasing greed in our states. Taxation can really be a veritable source of IGR, but there is a huge amount of murk to clear in our states before we arrive there!