By Sunny Ikhioya
A story was told about the abolition of slavery in the United States of America in 1865. Many of the freed Black slaves did not know what to do with their freedom; some returned to their former masters, begging to remain with them and retaining the status quo; some others committed suicide because they could not cope with the challenges the new life created; while the rest of them trudged on.
Since then, we have seen Blacks breaking through the glass ceiling and uplifting themselves to the realms previously the exclusive preserve of the Whites, even becoming masters themselves.
Sadly, some of us are still at the realm of dependency and cannot do anything without the assistance of our White brothers. That is the burden of the Black man in the world today. And which category do we place Nigeria today?
Some are craving for the good old days of the ECN(Electricity Corporation of Nigeria) when 24 hours electricity was guaranteed without fail, smooth railway transportation from the North to the South of the country, of active and vibrant sea ports and of true peace and unity in the country as was witnessed in Kaduna, Jos, Lagos, Warri, Calabar, Port harcourt, Benin, Enugu and the rest cities in Nigeria which went a long way to foster true integration.
Sometimes, Nigerians wonder whether we are truly independent. If we are, why is life here so frighteningly choking? Do the good people of Nigeria really deserve this from their leaders or rather, the fact that the leadership has taken the people for a ride all through the years? In which of these situations do we place Nigeria?
Because of what we have seen in other lands over the years and the success of the Black man in different fields of endeavour, we will not argue that our problem is in the colour of our skin. Even if the White man has deposited massive filth on our land, we have the obligation of removing it at independence.
So, why, in the case of Nigeria, did we allow the filth to continue to grow? It will be senseless going into the long debate of the White man infiltrating our lands with strange cultures that defiled our tradition of fidelity and hard work because events have overtaken that. Can’t our leaders think? Why is it so difficult for a country so blessed like Nigeria to get out of the doldrums?
That is why at 59 years of age, the country is yet to take off, lacking clear-cut policies, divided across ethnic and religious lines, haunted by harsh and very risky environment for genuine businesses to thrive. That is why instead of a happy celebration of hope, prosperity and unity as envisaged by the people at independence, we are being burdened by lack and want, suppression and additional taxes and levies.
A country with so much resources that, if properly utilized, will go round all. But now the citizens feel traumatised on account of harsh economic conditions that have become a death sentence for businesses and may remain so if nothing is done urgently about it. Government must always consider its policies in the light of the impact it will have on the people.
Is government on the right track with its decision to impose multiple taxes on the people at this critical times? Has it exhausted other avenues of wealth creation for the nation? Has it plugged the drain pipes? Must the people alone bear the burden? Has government put in place infrastructures that will make the environment conducive for business and give jobs to the people? Are the monies generated by government being used for developmental purposes? If no, why should the people be made to pay for more? Are these monies not going into private pockets? If no, why would one pay as much as five percent to deposit his above five hundred thousand naira into a savings account? Are these monies deposited in the banks not meant for investment purposes? Is the savings account not supposed to attract interests? Do we have a precedent of such taxes anywhere in the world? If yes, what was the outcome or reaction from the people.
You see, in Nigeria, government officials are so far from the realities of the ordinary man; so, they begin to make laws and create policies that are anti-people. But when confronted by the realities of life after leaving office, they start singing different tunes. That is why it is being advocated that government offices must be linked only to public power supplies; no generator; that officials should start using public transportation, patronise public schools and general hospitals. That way, they will feel the impact of their policies on the people.
Workers salaries were increased without first thinking about where the money will come from. Now you are embarking on arbitrary increase of taxes and rates which will drive inflation and further eat into the salary increase for the workers.
What is the wisdom in doing the increases, after all? It is back to square one. Let us begin to think outside the box and not be overburdening the people, please. Efforts should be more in the areas that will boost local production at all levels, not increasing taxes. When you increase production, jobs will be created, and when jobs are created people will have money to spend and therefore pay taxes. We must plug our loopholes of waste. Increasing taxes will not help our cause; we have witnessed it in the continuous increases in the prices of petroleum products.
Each time the government wants to increase prices, they tell us it is to create room for infrastructure and other social benefits that will make life better for the citizens. But after the increases, things remain the same: no infrastructures built, no social benefits; in fact, tougher times resulted from the last, almost a hundred percent increase in fuel prices. We are too wasteful in this country and that is a big challenge for us. The Presidency must set the right example of financial discipline and allow the rest to take cues. Every single burden is passed on to the ordinary citizens at the slightest threat to the status quo.
You do not tax people because you want to force them to go cashless; you sensitize them and there are several better ways this can be done, beginning from the grassroots. Taking one’s money to the bank is optional, it is not compulsory. So, you have to find better ways to woo the people into bringing their money in and further educate them on the benefits of going cashless. And if you say that we are one country, why are you sectionalising its implementation? If tomorrow people come out to say that this country is not one, they will be accused of promoting divisions, when in reality, government through its policies, is promoting this. Also, when you dig into all of these taxes and debits from our banks, you will discover that a few people have constituted themselves into experts and consultants because of their “digital/IT” skills and therefore will be collecting percentages for every deduction made. That is fraudulent; it is such lazy approach to quick money that has resulted in the $9billion quagmire that the country is presently facing in the United Kingdom.
As we mark our 59th independence anniversary, government should be concerned more about relieving the people’s burden and not adding to it.