I was taken aback a few days ago, when the Federal Executive Council meeting, chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, announced that it had empowered Nigeria, by implication, President Muhammadu Buhari, to sign the Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) billed for endorsement by African heads of state in Rwanda a few days later.
It sounded suspicious, especially as President Buhari, who was visiting the trouble spots in the North, was not at the meeting. To me, it meant either of two things: the President was either trying to fly a kite, or someone was trying to railroad PMB into something. Up till this moment, I don’t know which is the correct position, except to say that I was not surprised, therefore, when news filtered out a few hours to the signing of the agreement that Nigeria was withholding ascent to allow for more consultations. Something is definitely fishy. But it’s only one of the many dizzying things about our country. The more you look, the less you see.
And talking about dizzying stuff, a few days ago, a few friends and I were discussing the comedy of errors we call Nigeria, over a few bottles of not-too-alcoholic drinks at a poolside bar in the Asokoro area, when one of us made a very salient observation about that rich neighborhood of Abuja.
According to him, those who looted Nigeria in the past, as well as those who are presently looting Nigeria, are all living harmoniously in Asokoro.
Those who are declared wanted and those who declared them wanted share fences in Asokoro, and probably meet regularly to share a drink. In fact, it’s not impossible for one to forewarn the other of impending arrest, or for the two to, before hand, agree on the modality for arrest, the lawyers to engage, and which court to take the case to.
The next day, they would then appear in public like adversaries, and the rest of us plebeians would be bursting our nerves and breaking our heads, in support and opposition of them.
I just love this country!
Every morning, I rush out of bed to catch the morning discussion programmes on TV, flicking from one station to the other. And, station after station, I see analysts, armchair critics, the serious and the ridiculous, all hitting their heads on the wall over one issue or the other. If it is not budget, then it’s election timetable, security, herdsmen and farmers, anti-graft war or 2019 elections. People flex vocal muscles over whatever bone the politicians throw at us, by way of national issues. We spit into the air and collect the sputum on our faces. Yet, whenever, the executive badly want anything from lawmakers, they give the legislators whatever they want, and the budget is passed. Ditto for election timetable. I’ve refused to join the debate because there is nothing wrong with any of the timetables. I also know that both INEC and the Presidency on the one hand and the National Assembly on the other hand know that the first timetable favours Buhari, they also know that the NASS version better serves the selfish interests of the lawmakers. But none of them is saying it as it is: they’d rather make it look like they are fighting for our interest. And some of us have bought the deceit, and have since gone to town defending what we don’t understand. What a country! As for me, I’ve chosen to ignore all of them. I have put my TV permanently on Supersport and Telemundo. I can’t come and go and die for nothing.
…And the taxes?
It was from the US that I first picked up the concept of “sin tax” a few years ago, as they moved to impose bigger taxes on spirits, cigarettes and other such indulgences.
Nigeria, under President Buhari (who, by the way, neither smokes nor drinks alcohol), is set to walk the same path.
Yes, those of us sinfully inclined to booze and smoke, including some Buhari ministers, now have to pay a price for the bad habits we picked up along the way.
Of course, it’s no use complaining that many of us smoke to calm frayed nerves, and booze to find solace from the stress and recession-induced hardship that buffet us from every side.
Luckily, the bulk of the new taxes are on imported brands, not on ‘illicit gin’ the derogatory name we shamefully call our own local brews. Thankfully too, Burukutu, Kwaya and Tombo liquor are not affected.
I wouldn’t also know if Kwale weed is included. No, that one is alleged to be illegal, even when it is openly smoked by some of our uniformed personnel.
I think it’s time we officially tell Mr. Fowler to work out a tax regime for weed too.
And, talking about new tax regimes, I am one of those who would be ‘adversely’ affected by the new property tax regime recently rolled out by the Lagos State government. However, as painful and injurious as it is bound to impact on me, I dare say, I haven’t the moral right to fight it. At least, not now. Why? I feel that I, like many other supposedly enlightened Lagos residents, am now paying the price of my complacency to governance and the things happening around me. It is the same price that we’ll pay in 2019, if we fail to go get our PVC today.
I always knew that such a tax law was in the works. I even saw the adverts by the state House of Assembly, inviting Lagosians to the public hearing on the bill. But I did nothing, not even attending the hearings to feel the pulse of the people.
Now that the bill has gone through all the processes and become law, I’m too ashamed to raise my voice against it. All I wanted to do was to appeal to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode and the Lagos House of Assembly to forgive our complacency and take another look at the law.
Thankfully, the governor did just that last week.
Your Excellency, we know you need the money for our mega-city vision, and you just can’t keep borrowing. Sir, don’t misunderstand me: We are not saying we don’t want to pay, it’s just that we don’t have the ability to pay, not with this economy, which, on paper, has continued to grow in leaps and bounds out of recession, even as our pockets remain deeply mired in the same recession.
Your Excellency, you wouldn’t know the favour you did us with the 50 per cent reduction. Many of those who posture as landlords today can hardly feed their families. Sir, you wouldn’t want to know the hunger that goes on behind those fancy fence walls property owners have used to imprison themselves in their own homes! And even if you exempt these owner-occupiers, retirees, etc, there is still more tales of woe. For many of those landlords who have tenants in their property are not really smiling to the bank either. If you doubt this, you might want to know how many of their tenants are actually up to date with their rents.
Many landlords are in court with tenants who have not only not paid their rents but have also refused to vacate the property, not because they enjoy defaulting, but simply because they have run out of options in this distressed, but curiously not recessed economy.
If you had refused to take another look at the implementation of this property law, Your Excellency, you would have needed to build bigger prisons – to accommodate tax defaulters.
Of course, confiscating the affected property of defaulters would be the answer, but what happens to the confiscated property? Politicians, senior civil servants and their fronts would ultimately buy up all the seized houses at ridiculous prices, if they ever pay. And the tax? The same civil servants would do some creative accounting to balance the books, even when no money ultimately gets into government coffers. We have done it before, and there’s nothing on ground to suggest we have changed our ways.
But there is a lesson in this new property tax law for all of Nigerians: As my brother Kehinde Bamgbetan, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information, advised at a media gathering last weekend, we need to take more interest in what happens at the legislature, rather than being fixated about the executive, which merely implements laws already passed by the legislature. At the time we go after the executive’s jugular, it is often too late to reverse the situation, at least in the short term.
Yes, more looting takes place in the executive arm than in the legislature and the judiciary arms put together, but if we’re ever going to rein in the looting and retrieve our country, the legislature is still our best bet.
Unfortunately, we (including respected professional bodies) do nothing when bills that could redefine our professions are smuggled into the legislature by all manner of self-serving individuals and groups. We either remain aloof, or conclude that the lawmakers would do the right thing.
Oftentimes, they don’t even know what the ‘right thing’ is.
For starters, very few of them employ the researchers we pay them to employ. They just swallow the money as part of their jumbo pay. And woe betide us if some ill-intentioned persons or groups want the Bill twisted in one direction or the other. Money exchanges hands, and the criminals get their way. They’re soon armed with a brand new law to terrorize the rest of us.
But we invited it upon ourselves: They smuggle in a toxic bill, we don’t follow it. It passes first reading and second reading, we’re still not interested. They do public hearing, but the gods clog our ears with wax. We hear nothing, see nothing and say nothing. Suddenly, it becomes law, and then the reality dawns on us, and we begin to raise hell to stop its implementation. But it’s already too late.
Clearly, not all the people we sent to Abuja and the state and council legislatures are there to represent us. They do deal with whoever is pushing for the law, collect what they want and give the sponsors their law, and leave we, the people with the short end of the stick.
So, as the Igbo say, whoever is surrounded by enemies, must necessarily protect himself round the clock. In other words, eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.
If we, ordinary citizens of Nigeria, take our eyes off the ball for one second, these politicians would rape us without condoms. And it does not matter if they are PDP, APC, or even SDP. It’s all same of the same.
I guess, that was what Deputy Senate President, Prof. Ike Ekweremadu, tried to warn us about recently. But we soon meshed the timely warning in desperate politicking, accusing him of calling for a military coup. Haba!
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