Taxes and Social Welfare in Nigeria in the face of Covid-19

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During the current COVID-19 lockdown, Nigerians who have never paid tax in their lives are mouthing off on social media left, right and centre that government should feed them, yet they haven’t contributed a penny to the commonwealth in decades for years of earning quite a good income from being taxi drivers, hauliers, cafeteria owners, event planners, musicians, artisans, mechanics, school owners, landlords with multiple houses and so on. Yet benefiting like everyone else from the disbursements from the federal government by way of access to road, school, security, health facilities (poor and inadequate it may be), border control, army protection, provision of airports and seaports and all others services provided by the federal civil service.

In the UK, the citizens and foreigners alike are taxed on almost everything. And one of the conditions for small scale firms to benefit from COVID-19 financial palliatives is that they had filed tax returns in the past year. The funniest thing was that the HMRC then said, don’t worry if you hadn’t filed, you can do so till April or May. That is the British for you

And their famous and much-envied welfare system and the National Health Service (NHS) are financed and supported by tax from all of the people, again citizens and foreigners alike, that can work and who earn an income as PAYE or by filing annual tax returns and paying rates.

But our people in Nigeria don’t want to do this. The argument that corrupt politicians will still steal it all may have some currency, but it is illogical in that if they truly will steal it all, then all those things listed above simply won’t be there. There will be no roads (bad some may be), no policemen on the streets, no soldiers, not a single hospital or prison or airport or school or federal civil service.

For the People by the People means the People contribute also; then they can have a true and strong say in Governance. People in Nigeria will die to give the pastor over 10 percent and get nothing in return most times. Nigerians can’t feel that we can live off the resources of the land

But if the average Nigerian pay small tax every month or so, or have a payment system where it’s taken out of salaries, like in the U.S and many European countries, Nigeria would be better off

So, we have more say when we do our due diligence and our taxes. We also need to hold our politicians accountable, and when you pay tax, the citizens are in a stronger position to demand accountability. The reason why we are not making so much impact in calling our errant political leaders to order and accountability is simply because the citizenry does not pay tax, and instead hold out their hands to the leader’s and beg for everything they need and we still get it from the leaders.

The same way that people are shouting and making crazy videos asking to be fed, so also could they make videos pointing out local deficiencies directed at local politicians. But they won’t do that.

All complaints are directed at Abuja as if the governor and the local government chairman did not collect his monthly disbursement. 

And the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) should truly up to its game and improve the tax base. Fowler started the revolution, let’s hope his successor has what it takes to improve things.

Then we the people must then hold the government much more accountable.

Nigerians complain of multiple taxes and that government wants too much, but our taxes are some of the lowest in the world. 

In the UK, which I know very well, Common Outgoings (depends on your status, e.g. if you do not own a car, you don’t have to pay road tax, or if you don’t live in London, and do not travel to Central London for business or pleasure, then you don’t have to pay Congestion Charge of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone Charge, etc) before rent, food, clothing, etc are

1. Income Tax (25%, 40%)

2. National Insurance 

3. Council Tax

4. Corporation Taxes (if you have a company)

5. Business Rates

6. Value Added Tax (VAT) 20%

7. Business Licencing

8. Operator Licences

9. Gas Safety Certificate (you have to pay for it)

10. Environmental Performance Certificate EPC

11. Electric Installation Certificate

12. Water Bill

13. Gas Bill

14. Electricity Bill

15. Travel Pass Oyster Card

16. Road Tax

17. Congestion Charge

18. Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) Charge

19. Home Insurance 

20. Life Insurance

21. Building Insurance.

22. TV Licence.

23. Parking Permit (if you have parking bays outside your house)

The problem stems from the entitlement mentality of the average Nigerian. Even the poverty and hunger they complain about is largely artificial. It is self-inflicted. They expect the benefits of a developed nation but they are not prepared to pay the price that comes with nation-building. Some Nigerians feel Nigerians in Diaspora are “callous and insensitive” when you refuse to help them because of comments such as “sebi won n fun yin l’owo ni’bi t’e wa yen”. Meaning that the British government gives you money. I don’t know about others but I am yet to receive any money from the British authorities so please if anyone knows where I can collect money, point me in that direction. 

Something else our people in Nigeria do not know or realise that is that there’s NO “free money” in the UK; it is what the citizens have worked for. They pay taxes and so many other types of deductions which ensure that they have a good life. Nothing is free. British people have worked for it. The moment you turn 16 years old and start working, you start paying Income Tax and National Insurance, whether you are working for central government, local government or private company or yourself. And when you turn 65 for men, (and 62 for women, and I think this has even been extended to 67 for men and 65 or so for women), you start receiving a government pension, and certain free entitlements such as free transportation and free prescription. But these are things you have worked for all your life. You have paid your dues, so to speak, and reaping the benefits. 

Normally, there’s free primary and secondary education (although inevitably, parents still have to cough up some payments for extracurricular activities from time to time such as travels, excursions, etc) and free healthcare for all and many other entitlements expected in a welfare state, unique to Britain.

To sum up, Nigerians want the best of governance without even understanding what it takes to have and run a good government. Nigerians of all walks of life, status, trade or employment just have to start paying taxes. Oil money is fast becoming unreliable to depend upon, even those who are planning on stealing it 

The fall of oil prices and its relevance is our hope that things will get better. If that trough doesn’t dry up, there’s no hope. 

The ones that don’t pay taxes make the most noise and expect the government to carry all the responsibilities. They need to be tutored about tax. You don’t have to use government facilities to pay taxes. Example, citizens pay tax for solar panels on the rooftop of their houses in advanced countries

There is a lot of misinformation going around in Nigeria. There is a lot of ignorance, but like I said before there is also a lot of greed and selfishness. You analysed most of these in your comments. Like you l, I don’t know where I can also receive free government money around here in the UK. Wouldn’t it be nice to just receive free money as palliatives just like that?

A friend of mine woke up to the following message from a contact in Nigeria:

“Good afternoon sir….,

Please we need your assistance through these trying times…. the foodstuffs we have at home is almost exhausted and we are stuck in our home for another 14 days…. we’d appreciate your assistance…..God bless you”

This is from someone in paid employment in a federal establishment and clearly, the federal government is still paying salaries as far as we know. Why should this person need help? Like this person, we also receive a monthly salary – no more. 

More seriously, the lockdown should have reduced the expenditure on transportation and daily lunch at work in the last 14 days which means the money they have should go a little further. 

Nigerians’ sense of entitlement is worthy of a whole National Reorientation Agency focus. We don’t even know what became of that agency. 

I have often sat on the side-lines watching as everyone weighs in on the issue of palliatives for our Nigerian brethren. We have missed the point, and unless we address the real issues, we will continue to miss the opportunity to redress the imbalance. 

What our folks need in Nigeria is not distorted, abused, dysfunctional conditional cash pay-outs in times of stress. What our Nigerian citizens deserve is a Social Welfare Policy and Program that caters to the needs of the people in good, as well as in bad times. We don’t even know how long this COVID-19 pandemic is going to last, but the Federal Government is giving g N20k to only 3.6m households on the social register. 

My question with regards is this: is the FG insinuating that only those 3.6m Households fall within the definition if impoverished Nigerian?

Rather than insulting, pitiable handouts, what our Nigerian citizens need, and deserve is a well-formulated, fit for purpose Social Welfare Policy that comes to the aid of the citizens in times of distress. I’m not for a moment suggesting a free process, rather we need a system where citizens contribute into a Social Welfare Fund, and it is from this fund that the Federal Government disburses support for those who meet laid down criteria, as long as they have contributed to the fund over a specified period. 

To do nothing, however, is unacceptable. NIGERIANS MUST START PAYING TAXES to enjoy the DIVIDENDS OF DEMOCRACY!!!!!

Religious doctrine necessitates that you give unto Caesar (Government) what is due to Government before honouring our God and we supposedly religious Nigerians in the majority do not do that.

After failing to obey the scriptures (and this is in both main religions), we complain about poor services and lack of infrastructure. We all give generously to our religious houses be they churches, mosques or Babalawo, yet what do we get in return as succour especially at times like this? So, you know that in Sikh Temples every day they give free food to anybody that is anyone not just congregation members. With all our giving, many religious houses even ask their congregations to pay for water

Finally, we all expect deliverance whilst perpetually being in disobedience with the scriptures to pay our taxes and expect to reach the promised land. Is that not the height of folly?

We know for a fact that Nigeria has one of the world’s lowest tax collection rates, even low by African standards. This fact in itself confirms that a large proportion of Tithe & Zakat paying congregations are not paying the tax due to the government.

Therefore, we should have a law that all such offerings, tithes, donations and gifts must be accompanied with the giver’s name and Tax Number which must be recorded and forwarded to the tax office weekly or the Religious institution will be shut down. 

In the UK most religious institutions are Charities and as such, they are entitled to claim tax refunds on the contributions of their congregations.

That means for every amount donated the Charity gets the tax element from the state, as a result, everyone who wants their proportional tax payments to go to their religious house has to complete a Declaration Form with their name, tax ID known as National Insurance Number and Signature.

The truth is this is already law all over the world but as usual, our greed and ineptitude of leadership, as well as selfishness, does not allow us to move with the times and embrace good tried and tested practices.

Remaining in the dark ages will not bring us deliverance of the much-needed Promised Land that all Nigerians and especially religious Nigerians are clamouring For.

In the UK and other countries, for instance, religious houses are exempt from tax; also, their income is bolstered by government adding to their coffers the proportion of tax government would have received on the offerings

For example, you pay N1,000 as Offerings Tithe/Zakat etc and the tax on that is N200 the Govt will transfer that N200 to the church, making your total offering N1,200.00

When we don’t understand something, we denigrate them as Diaspora nonsense and label it as best for Western World, when in fact we are just hurting ourselves. We don’t need to adopt Western laws or any other country’s laws, lock, stock and barrel, but we should also not jettison things that are clearly advantageous to the nation and all concerned.

Nations that fail to adapt, will fail to prosper and will be left behind by the Comity of Nations. Comparative analysis in every social-economical indices and all sustainable development goals should indicate clearly where we stand as a nation after sixty years of self-rule.

NOTE: I have gathered materials for this article from many sources. I acknowledge my sources while they remain anonymous, but when they read this, they will know themselves.

akinadejum@aol.com 

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