Each time I receive my pay advice and go through the mathematical details that define the deep crevice between my ‘gross’ and ‘net’ salary, I am always annoyed by how much is taken up by one item called ‘tax’. That is the amount the government takes from me willy-nilly. It is an amount I am obliged by law to lose to government for its supposed duty of guaranteeing my security and welfare. Now, I shouldn’t really complain if I am taxed to ensure that government takes care of our security and welfare. But the question is, “does the government really guarantee our welfare and security?” Let us think it through.
Guaranteeing security means that government is truly ‘on top of the security situation’, not just mouthing it every time there is a breach of security. To be on top of the situation means that government can see the situation coming and speedily move to nip it. And where for any reason the incident happens on us all, a government on top of the situation should truly ‘leave no stone unturned’ (as they love to mouth it) to unravel the situation by picking up the perpetrators and bringing them to justice or bringing justice to them. That was the example the American government showed the whole world in unravelling the bombings at the Boston Marathon. When government shows such efficiency in taking care of our security, citizens will feel at ease to move about, visit, live and carry out their livelihood in any location in the country. Guaranteeing security means that no part of the country is seen as no-go areas whereby their control is ceded by government to terrorists and militants who owe us citizens no duty of care.
Guaranteeing our security means that the leadership would ‘give a damn’ about what happens to us wherever we are. It means that whenever citizens and ordinary people get attacked unlawfully by those who use violence (be they terrorists, militants, cultists, politicians and their thugs or even security personnel), such would elicit appropriate reaction from government. And talking about reaction by government, we expect it to show as much interest in the life of ‘unknown’, ‘unidentified’ and ‘unidentifiable’ victims of terror attacks and counter attacks in Borno, Yobe, Kaduna, Kano, Plateau as the ones that suffer same fate in highbrow Abuja.
And you wonder where all the huge amounts budgeted for ‘security’ by all the tiers of government go to at the end of the year while our country continues to have what government conveniently euphemises as ‘security challenge’ and dismisses as a global issue that we must brace up to and live with. After the exacerbation of the reign of terror in the public space in 2011, our governments began to install security gadgets such as surveillance cameras on our streets. Soon it became ubiquitous in the Federal Capital Territory. Less than three years down the line, many of those structures have been destroyed through accidents (and not replaced) and don’t seem to serve any particular security purpose. We are yet to see how those equipments have been used to track criminal activities or even minor infractions of the law such as road traffic offences. They stand however as monuments of our enduring security-challenges.
And what about our welfare? There is little to show that this is high on the priority of government. Initially, government used to issue statements condemning or regretting the occurrence of calamities in the land, even when we joked that such was all they were capable of doing in such situation. Today, even the statements have ceased coming, apparently indicating that the occurrence of calamity is the new ‘normal’ we must live with. Or how come government remained quiet when more than 100 poor citizens drowned while travelling by boat on the high seas between Nigeria and Gabon and another 50 plus were roasted in a bus crash with a petrol tanker along a highway in Edo State? Those lives are as important as those of a deputy governor and a retired army general who died in a helicopter crash, not on any official assignment but while on a purely private social engagement and immediately elicited state-promoted ‘national mourning’.
Because government sucks up our taxes without providing commensurate services, we Nigerians, have learned to be ‘a government unto ourselves’. We sink our own boreholes because public water supply is inadequate, epileptic, unreliable or not even available where we live (and that includes within many parts of the federal capital). For electricity supply, it is almost a given that we should ‘never expect power always’ (NEPA) because the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) would always (in keeping with its name) hold back the power. We even have to construct our own roads or fix the pothole-ridden public roads that lead to our homes. For healthcare and education, those ones had since been outsourced and surrendered to private businesses (individual entrepreneurs and religious institutions) that milk us steadily while government stands idly by. On top of all these, we cannot rely on the state alone to provide or guarantee us security, so we hire private security guards and employ vigilante groups to do the jobs.
So I ask again, what is my tax meant for anyway? And since I am not getting value for my money, may I ask government to please grant me an amnesty or presidential pardon (whatever they choose to call it) from the burden of tax payment? I know I am not asking for too much. After all, how much is the amount of revenue they will lose from my tax monthly, compared to how much government pays to the so-called ‘reformed militants’ to secure oil pipelines, a duty that our security personnel are statutorily meant to do? Such pipelines protection contracts to (ex-)militants is akin to the payment of ‘protection fees’ by weak citizens to mafia groups. But here we are seeing government pay ‘protection fees’ to militants. And while we are still chewing on that, government again is proposing another ‘amnesty’, willy-nilly (that word again) for another killer group, even when the group says it is not interested.
Since our government is in a go-happy mood to dispense ‘amnesty’ and ‘pardon’, I again appeal, on behalf of those of us non-violent, unprotected and ‘un-welfared’, yet tax-paying citizens that we be exempted from paying taxes. Let this benevolence of government be democratised.
• Effanga, an attorney and human rights activist writes from Abuja. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
First published in http://premiumtimesng.com/opinion/131244-amnesty-from-our-tax-burdens-by-obo-effanga.html