Fred Ezeh, Abuja Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, on Friday, took the attention of guests and graduands at the 7th convocation lecture of the headquarters of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN). Obasanjo was the first PhD graduate of NOUN, having successfully completed his academic and other research works, that aimed him the doctorate degree…
Stories by Bimbola Oyesola, 08033246177
Issues of tax justice is in the front burner of the campaign being championed by the Public Service International (PSI), with an understanding that billions of dollars that could have been used for development in several countries are being lost due to tax evasion by the multinationals and the rich. Peters Adeyemi, the Deputy President of PSI, who is also the Deputy President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the General Secretary of the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU), laments that Nigeria, in the past four years has lost substantial amounts, which run into several billions and trillions of naira due to tax incentives. He spoke more on the need for minimum wage review, how the organised labour would ensure compliance and the way to tackle the refineries challenges.
Every global union is for the emancipation of the downtrodden. Public Service International (PSI), has been engaged in quite a lot of global issues, which cuts across tax justice, campaigns for decent work, against privatisation of key public utilities, water, energy etc. PSI has done very well in the area of decent work. In a package, we can say that as a global trade union, it has devoted considerable energy in looking around the world, fighting for the emancipation of common people.
There is a continental body on the fight against tax justice, and PSI is collaborating with. When we look at Nigeria and most African countries, majority of those paying tax are the public servants or average workers. Specifically in Nigeria, the past four years have witnessed a lot of tax incentives. Which have denied government substantial amounts, which runs into several billions and trillions of naira, in terms of revenue. Where government would just unilaterally grant tax holiday to foreign investors, under the pretence that they are trying to woo foreign investors. There has also been series of manipulative tendencies on the part of the investor, coming in with different names, in order evade tax. The campaign for tax justice which we are involved in, with the other continental body, is to insist that, those investors coming to our countries must pay tax. As Nigeria government presently is complaining of inadequate resources to fund capital projects, payment of salaries etc, we have advised that one of the ways that government can generate revenue, is to ensure that those who have evaded payment of tax, in the manufacturing and other sectors should be made to pay what they have refused to pay. This idea of unilateral approval of tax holidays, tax incentives for people, fraudulently done should be looked into so that we will not continue to put an average worker under intense pressure. With the limited salary, government increased electricity tariff, because it’s desperately looking for money. When people go to bank for transaction, they are forced to pay unnecessary charges, while leaving the multinationals who are carting away billions of hard currencies from our country without paying adequate tax. We are not limiting the tax justice campaign to Nigeria. We are doing it in collaboration with this continental tax justice body in all African countries. This is because the problem of evasion of tax cut across all these big men likewise. The case of Panama paper, where quite a lot of big men were involved is still fresh in our minds. Big men across the globe were involved in the Panama paper, which is clearly about tax evasion. People trying to go and put their money in Panama to evade payment of tax. So we are doing the campaign around Africa, and PSI is providing appropriate logistic and support and I think after sometime, the campaign will become more broader, it will become what everybody will be abreast of, and then government will be able to start responding appropriately. But clearly if we have to say, it’s one of the ways by which government has cheated workers. Because by the time a worker collects his salary, the tax has already been deducted.
We think the minimum wage is due for review and we will not hide away from say the minimum wage ought to be reviewed. But we are convinced about the fact that in the last couple of years, a whole lot of things have happened economically that has destroyed the so called minimum wage of N18, 000. Even the N18, 000, most states have refused to pay. And if you look at our currency presently, what is the value of N18, 000? So, there is clearly the need now to review the minimum wage, no matter what argument anybody tries to bring, we know Nigeria has the resources to pay its workers a minimum wage.
Recession and salary increase?
Absolutely it’s possible, I think so. Why I think so is that you have to find out whether if you are going to fight corruption you must continue to pay pea-nuts. If you are going to fight corruption, you can’t continue to pay salaries that workers will continue to look for other avenue. That is the truth. So you will be taking 10 steps forward and 20 steps backward. The war on corruption will not succeed. I am talking about the ordinary workers. The point is this. How much money have we lost through leakages. If we have a situation where you are able to block sincerely those leakages, we will realise that Nigeria has enough. I am not one of those who believe Nigeria doesn’t has the resources, I think we have the resources. Our problem is that when you are very comfortable you don’t make the effort. Our problem in Nigeria is that we have this oil, and oil money comes easily. But now that the oil money is not coming now as expected, Nigeria must look at the other ways. However, I don’t believe that what we are getting from the international market from the sales of crude will remain like this. It has happened before. During Abdusalam regime, it crashed so badly, but Obasanjo came, and Jonathan came and they were lucky. The price gone up. I am still very convinced that in a matter of time too, the price will move up. But I think hard lesson must be learnt that we can begin to look at another direction where we can get resources that we can use alongside with what we are getting from oil. But I tell you very honestly that it is doable. What are we talking about? N18,000. Let us be very honest with ourselves. What can N18,000 do in Nigeria with the current situation? How do you manage N18,000? As I am talking to you today, a litre of petrol now is N145. What that means is that the cost of transport has gone up, the cost of food stuff has gone up, and yet we are still talking about N18,000. N18, 000 for what?
Curbing leakages in government
First let this government trim down the numbers of political appointees. What we had before was an insane arrangement. Insane in the sense that we had a whole lot of duplications of duties. Are you not surprised that you have a ministry that has a minister, minister of state, permanent secretary and so many retinue of advisers. If you go to the presidency and you see the number of offices there, you will shiver. You can run an effective government without necessarily carrying a large size. Two: the National Assembly salaries must necessarily be reduced. They are the highest paid in the world. Some of their allowances are not known to anybody. The question is, will this government be able to curtail the excesses of the National Assembly? Everybody must be accountable. If we say that the resources are not there, everybody will have to make sacrifice. And when I talk of lean government, I am not talking about the federal alone, I am also talking about the states. There was a time the number of the political aids in Bauchi State was running in thousands. We can’t afford that because that is a state also that cannot even pay salaries. And when they quote these over bloated figures on what they spend on recurrent, you ask yourself, what is the percentage of that figure that they are parading that is paid to the ordinary workers? The biggest chunk of the money that they claim is spent on recurrent is expended on political appointees. Beyond that, we have too much deceit. Why must our political office holders sleep abroad every day? When one government functionary is going on chartered plane, the whole place is filled up with retinues of other government officials. We are amazed when we hear that our president goes for a meeting in the United Nations and the whole village goes with him. And you know that a little drop of water makes an ocean. And when they draw budget, so much will be expended on entertainment and so on and so forth. Then you move from that to dealing with the issue of corruption. There are a lot of people who shiver when they say Buhari will probe. If we have to recover money from people who had taken money illegitimately, it should be done. Because you find in our country a situation where a very minute percentage has all the wealth and the bulk of the people within the society are living in abject poverty. It’s a system that kills. Because when somebody has made it, he continues to make it. He occupies this position today, tomorrow he occupies another. It has become something like a right forever. If he is not a governor today, he will be a senator. If he is not a senator today, he must be an ambassador. As if this country is created for them alone. And it is only these privileged people that can get their children and grand children into lucrative jobs by issuing complimentary cards. So you have to apply some hard measures. But how can you do that? Some of you will still remember the Elumelu committee and the more you look, the less you see. N16 billion, gone down the drain. Today at least, there is something you can point to, whether it is disco they call it. They said that there is disco now, and there is this and there is that. But even with Obasanjo, we didn’t see any disco, not to talk of disco light. So, the problem is huge and it has accumulated over a period of time. Then how do you deal with saboteurs who will never want government to succeed? For instance, you want to fix electricity but you allow generator all over the whole place. So if you fix this power, how will these generator guys succeed? You can’t fix power without first of all banning generator import. Because for as long as the market is there, you fix the light, they go home and they become bankrupt. There is a lot of problems in our country, I hope that as we move ahead with this change, things will begin to change.
The biggest crisis affecting our refineries is corruption. Is it not erroneous that we who produce the oil don’t have functional refineries. But countries that don’t produce oil even around us have built refineries. So when we carry our own crude, we take it to our neigbours and they do the refines and would bring it here. But you know that if we have refineries in Nigeria and we refine our crude, there are a whole lot of things beyond the refined product that can also fetch us money and create jobs for our people. There are a lot of other things from the crude that can be used to produce a number of things. But when we take this crude out, we lost all of that to those environment where the refining takes place.
Licences have been given out for several years now, but we have not seen refineries. Every time they tell us about Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) that consumes billions of dollars and these refineries never work. So, I tell you, it is clearly about corruption, because if there is the will, there must always be a way. If actually we want to have refineries in this country, we will have refineries and they will work. The problem is the moment you build a functional refineries in Nigeria, you take some cabals out of job. That is the problem. So, for as long as some Nigerians make cool money from this importation, all efforts directed at making the existing refineries to work will never work, and all efforts towards having refineries built will never work. So, we are still dealing with the same issue of corruption of a few people runing the government. A few people making money out of government. They say it all over the world that the engine room of development is the private sector but what do you see in Nigeria. They use government money to develop the private sector. If you see all the guys that are buying government properties, they must be sponsored by people in government and they use government money to get those things done. That is how bad it is. I still believe very strongly that the issue of refineries is doable. I believe very strongly that for a government that is determined to ensure that we have a functional refineries and that we can refine our crude in this country. This problem of fuel scarcity and marketers holding Nigerians to ransom can come to an end. What this government needs to do, if it is sincere is to set a time frame for itself within which to do this.