‘Who’s benefiting from over-taxing the poor?’
Tony Elumelu, chairman of Heirs Holdings in a recent report stated that multiple taxation and inconsistent government policies affect Small and Medium Scale Enterprises, (SMEs) competitiveness and their ability to attract capital in their investment climate. “It seems we have a big problem, because, with high taxation and multiple levies, it is expected we should have very high tax revenue,’’ he said.
Thriving motorcycle startups in Lagos state were faced with taxation problems in 2019 when the state government initiated a new regulation, including licensing fees, required for the motorcycle firms to operate as part of local transportation infrastructure. Under the proposed regulation, each startup will pay an annual licensing fee of ₦25 million per 1,000 bikes and then ₦30,000 per bike after the first set of 1,000. This move was criticised by economic analysts who claimed that apart from the government-imposed taxes, transport unions also collect taxes from the startup firms, which could cripple their business.
Sabir Mohammed does not own a motorcycle, so he remits ₦1,500 daily to the owner of the motorcycle he uses for commercial operations within Lugbe, a suburb along the airport road in Abuja. He is unsure why he has to pay a compulsory levy that does not benefit him. “After I make the daily returns to the person that owns the bike I ride, when I pay those levies buy petrol and attend to all these small expenses what is left becomes my profit for the day. I still don’t know why we pay those levies every day,” he said.
This is a question that requires some answers without which Citizen Sabir can rebel tomorrow in a ‘Nigerian Spring’. This is the crux of the whole matter here: when the poor become rebellious!
Ifeanyi Emmanuel, head of motorcycle revenue collection at AMAC’s office in Nyanya does not share the same view. Speaking to ‘The ICIR’, he emphasized that most of the motorcyclists they collect taxes from are illiterates who don’t have the slightest idea of taxes.
“Most of the motorcyclists are not literate enough to understand the intricacies of this tax because for example there is a contributory scheme the council has organised for motorcyclists to support them if there is an accident we give them support to help them back on their feet. It is just that many of them are not keying into the scheme,” he said. “Apart from that, the council is providing employment for youths through their taxes, the ticket agents that assist us in collecting these taxes, it is from that money they are paid,” he stated.
Ifeanyi’s area of tax coverage is from Nyanza to Karshi, he told ‘The ICIR’ that data collection was a bit sketchy but the number of commercial motorcyclists registered with his office was about 1,500 members. “Most of the riders who come from Nasarawa state and even as far as Niger state to do their motorcycle business on our roads if they are included I will say we have about 10,000 motorcycles within Nyanya – Karshi area,” he said.
The ICIR contacted the chairman of Motorcycles Transport Union of Nigeria, Nyanya chapter, but he declined to comment, saying he was very busy. ‘The ICIR’ asked to know how the association spends the tax collected from his members, he dismissed the question. Daniel’s “okada” business was supposed to be his ticket to easy money until he gets a better job but the reverse is the case.
However, six years after waiting for the “better job” he believes his only choice is to keep working hard and to keep paying the taxes, hoping someday taxes will be utilised for the benefit of Okada riders like him. “If they are using the money they collect from okada riders then there would be no worries. When an accident involves an okada rider, for example, you will not find any official of the union who will assist with the medical bills,” he said.
The fact file from ‘The ICIR’ a digital investigative journal, has been quite instructive.
And so we need to raise some questions for various authorities and our representatives in Nigeria:
First, how will the motorbike and allied riders including taxi and bus drivers feed from the work they do with daily killer-taxes they pay Nigerian politicians through their agents at the parks? What is the relevance of the numerous representatives of the oppressed people in various state and national assemblies?
In most parts of the world, governments design special stimulus packages, palliatives for the vulnerable and struggling industries to cope with the harsh and debilitating effects of Covid-19 pandemic. Are these oppressive tax policies on “the wretched of the earth” the way Lagos and Abuja governments, for instance, would like to use as welfare package? Why are our political leaders heartless? Why can’t they for once be people-centric in their policies? Don’t they know that their inability to provide welfare and security to the people alone is a crime against humanity? Isn’t it in their own constitution that welfare and security of the people shall be the primary purpose of government?
Do they remember the origin and consequences of the epic ‘Arab Spring’?
The term ‘Arab Spring’ is a reference to the Revolutions of 1848, which are sometimes referred to as the “Springtime of Nations”, and the ‘Prague Spring’ in 1968, in which a Czech student, Jan Palach, set himself on fire as Mohamed Bouazizi did in Tunisia on December 18, 2010.
This background should be quite instructive to Nigerian leaders: The recent ‘Arab Spring’ was a series of anti-government protests, uprisings, and armed rebellions that spread across much of the Arab world in the early 2010s. It began in response to corruption and economic stagnation and was influenced by the Tunisian.
The series of protests and demonstrations across the Middle East and North Africa that commenced in 2010 became known as the “Arab Spring” and sometimes as the “Arab Spring and Winter” “Arab Awakening” or “Arab Uprisings” even though not all the participants in the protests were Arab.
It was sparked by the first protests that occurred in Tunisia on 18 December 2010 in Sidi Bouzid, following Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in protest against police corruption and ill treatment.
With the success of the protests in Tunisia, a wave of unrest sparked by the Tunisian ‘Burning Man’ struck Algeria, Jordan, Egypt, and Yemen and then spread to other countries.
The largest, most organised demonstrations often occurred on a “day of rage”, usually Friday afternoon prayers.
The protests also triggered similar unrest outside the region. Contrary to expectations the revolutions were not led by Islamists.
Even though the Islamists were certainly present during the uprisings, they never determined the directions of these movements, after all. There was hardly any central leadership in any of the uprisings. Some Islamist groups initially were even reluctant to join in the protests, and the major religious groups in Egypt—Salafis, al-Azhar, and the Coptic Church—initially opposed the revolution. The mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, proclaimed that rising against the then lawful ruler—President Mubarak—was haram, not permissible. And the Muslim Brotherhood’s old guard joined in the protests reluctantly only after being pushed by the group’s young people.
It should not be forgotten that the ‘Arab Spring’ caused the biggest transformation of the Middle East since decolonisation. By the end of February 2012, rulers had been forced from power in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, civil uprisings had erupted, major protests had broken out in Algeria Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Oman,Sudan.and minor protests had occurred in Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Western Sahara and Palestine.
Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on 14 January 2011 following the Tunisian Revolution protests. Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak resigned on 11 February 2011 after 18 days of massive protests, ending his 30-year presidency.
The Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown on 23 August 2011, after the National Transitional Council (NTC) took control of Bab al-Azizia. He was killed on 20 October 2011 in his hometown of Sirte after the NTC took control of the city. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh signed the GCC power-transfer deal in which a presidential election was held, resulting in his successor Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi formally replacing him as president on 27 February 2012 in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
Weapons and Tuareg fighters returning from the Libyan Civil War stoked a simmering conflict in Mali that has been described as ‘fallout’ from the Arab Spring in North Africa.
Besides, during this remarkable period, several leaders announced their intentions to step down at the end of their current terms. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir announced that he would not seek reelection in 2015 (he ultimately retracted his announcement and ran anyway) as did Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki, whose term was to end in 2014, although there were violent demonstrations demanding his immediate resignation in 2011.
Protests in Jordan also caused the sacking of four successive governments by King Abdullah. The popular unrest in Kuwait also resulted in the resignation of Prime Minister Nasse Al-Sabah’s cabinet.
It is worth remembering that the geopolitical implications of the protests drew global attention. Some protesters were nominated for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. Tawakkol Karman of Yemen was co-recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize because of her role in organising peaceful protests. In December 2011 Time (magazine) named “The Protester” its “Person of The Year”. Spanish photographer Samuel Aranda won the 2011 World Press Photo award for his image of a Yemeni woman holding an injured family member, taken during the civil uprising in Yemen on 15 October 2011.
These details are necessary for our careless Nigerian leaders who should note that the significant ‘Arab Spring’ was touched off by the protests that occurred in Tunisia on 18 December 2010 in Sidi Bouzid, following Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in protest against police corruption and ill treatment. I hope we haven’t forgotten that the young ones in Nigeria also rose up against ‘police corruption and ill treatment’ (#EndSARS) last year. The first anniversary echo is still in the air.
There is nothing else to stress here than the warning the iconic Frantz Fanon gives in that same classic, ‘The Wretched of The Earth’ that:
‘The basic confrontation which seemed to be colonialism versus anti-colonialism, indeed capitalism versus socialism, is already losing its importance. What matters today,…which blocks the horizon, is the need for a redistribution of wealth. Humanity will have to address this question, no matter how devastating the consequences may be’.
What this should mean to our leaders at all levels is that they have to stop exploitation of the poor motorbike riders, sundry drivers and petty traders they are fast killing with daily excessive taxation. They should seek knowledge on how to make Nigeria an entrepreneurial nation. It is through entrepreneurship that a nation can be wealthy, not by over-taxing the poor so that the rich will find money for elections. It is one of those acts of our governments the earth cannot tolerate anymore!
Mr. Oloja is MD/ Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian