As pare of measures to get out of the present crisis caused by a crash in the price of crude oil in Nigeria, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, Governor of Edo State, has suggested the adoption of strict tax policy, which was applicable in the country before the oil boom of the seventies.
Oshiomhole, who spoke on Friday when Course 24 participants of the National Defence College, on a study tour of Edo State, paid a visit to his office, said that central to every debate to every country with mature democracy is the issue of tax payment, which he said Nigerians have to find the courage to be firm and just and to give commensurate service.
The governor said, “When I was growing up, the only thing we had was the Local Government Authority Primary school and everybody who was up to eighteen years and above paid a fixed tax. When villagers met at the village square to discuss and you made a bold statement, another villager would challenge tell to shut up because you had not paid your tax. He would tell you, don’t talk where men are talking because you had not paid your tax, that you are not a man.
“Villagers used to recognize that not to pay tax was not an option. And for you not to pay tax, you must show a certificate or evidence that you are ill or bed-ridden, and therefore you could not work.
“So even villagers were paying tax. So the school in my village, under Awolowo’s Free Education programme, it was free to the people, so it was free to the pupil but funded by adults who paid tax. And when the tax man was coming, if you had not paid your tax, you just found your way into the bush and once you were arrested , they took you to the barracks and you were charged appropriately.
“Somehow, at the peak of our oil boom, this practice was abolished, and today if you go to my village, they have a very beautiful school, but only few people are paying tax.
How far can we continue like that? For me, this is a national issue that government has to address, not just about Edo but the whole nation whether we truly can have a functioning state where 90% of the people are outside the tax bracket but are entitled to facilities.
“Central to the political debate in every country is question of taxation. Who gets what? Are you going to collect more taxes from the rich or are you going to collect more taxes from the poor?
“In Edo State, one of the tasks we faced in the course of revenue generation was that many of my comrades in the Civil Service were not paying correct taxes. In fact, I stumbled into a circular in which one of my predecessors agreed under pressure that notwithstanding the law on pay as you earn, that people should pay 7% of their basic salary and I discovered that the three arms of governments were guilty of this; both the judiciary, the House of Assembly and of course the executive including Commissioners, Permanent Secretaries and the entire Civil Service.
“My first task was to see that before we go out to ask other people to pay tax, we have to be on a stronger moral high ground to be able to do that beginning with ensuring that the executive arm pays correct taxes and this for many of my comrades in the Civil Service was not something they contemplated. In fact, they reminded me that when a comrade becomes a governor, they expected a tax free holiday.
“But a progressive government would ensure that taxes are paid, but it would be structured in such a way that the rich will pay more than the poor but everybody will pay something and it is the taxes collected from the rich that is used to provide a robust social safety net for those who are victims of so-called market forces and of competition.
“So tax, whether by government to the left or right are not contestable, they must be paid but who pays what is where the details lies and that is where the values of the government lies. So I am also proud to be able to say that whereas I cannot even say how many strikes I have organized in my life, but I can say without any fear of contradiction that I have never organized a strike against the payment of taxes because I understand the poor need taxes for the state to protect them and provide security.
“What Nigeria needs in terms of Internally Generated Revenue is to recognize that governance is about courage, about will and also about fairness. If you are going to apply the law, apply it without any discrimination.”
Real Admiral Samuel Alade, Commandant of the National Defence College, had earlier, said, “We have come around, we have seen for ourselves and for people like us who pass through this place at least once in six months, every time we pass through, we notice one change or the other.
“We want to commend you sir for this feat and we also want to thank you most sincerely for the support we have received since we arrived Edo State and want to ask for more because we know we will continue to have the interest in Edo State and any time we ask to visit Edo State for this kind of research work, we want to ask that you oblige us.
“The college objective primarily is to train middle level officers, colonels and even Civil Servants in the rank of Deputy Directors, Assistant Directors and Directors as it were, to become strategic leaders. That is the job of the college so that we can contribute to the development of the nation.”