With the dwindling revenue occasioned by the sudden but sharp decline in the price of crude oil, many states in the country have found it difficult, if not impossible to cope with scarce resources. What is government‘s responsibility then if not how to manage crisis. Any state or country that has serious downturn in resources will have an even bigger headache to manage the crisis that will follow. For us, not that there were no attempts to expand the state’s revenue base, however, truth is told, the people never took it serious. And because of fears of political backlash, most often than not, government buckled under the pressure of the unknown. Because it is only when you have political power that you can begin to implement your lofty ideas.
However, income slide from a high of over $115 per barrel in crude sales just less than two years ago to less than $30 dollars just two months ago, many governments in Nigeria suffered loss of confidence. President Muhammadu Buhari revealed just last week that 27 states cannot just pay its staff salaries. Last year, the federal government, through the Central Bank of Nigeria proposed a bailout funds so that states can pay backlog of salaries. At the time, 30 states were owing salaries, some up to one year. Those not owing up to a year’s salaries were owing other emoluments and deductions. That was a very ugly situation that could have degenerated into a civil disobedience.
This ugly situation also means we know that the states are not just looking at other possibilities. Because of the “curse” of oil, the citizens, just like their government, became lazy, dodged taxes and looked away even if its elected officials are accused of corruption. But like every other thing in life, change was inevitable. Indeed, for any government to function optimally, its major source of revenue has to be from taxes. Taxes have a way of making citizens hold government accountable because individuals feel the pinch when they have to dig deep to pay their taxes. So they see government work or project as theirs. Because simply, if they don’t pay, then no project. And if they don’t pay taxes, even civil servants will go home hungry, as such, even civil servants will be responsive to demand for better service.
Hitherto, any tax at all was paid, it’s mostly by big corporations and civil servants. Even at that, these categories of tax payers paid peanuts. But it is now time to expand the tax base of the state. It is now time to expand the pool, the basket and help the state run better by obeying the tax laws of the state. With what we have seen, Kwara Internal Revenue Service, KWIRS, which was recently re-invigorated is not imposing new taxes. The agency is not making new rules. The governor of Kwara State, Alhaji Abdul-Fatah Ahmed is just pushing the agency to do their constitutional job of plugging revenue holes and delivering resources for the state government to function for the benefit of all. While commissioning the new office of KWIRS, the governor was clear as to what the state expects from the reconstituted board.
Hear Kwara governor, “to achieve the second highest Internally Generated Revenue, IGR per capita in Nigeria by 2019, Kwara state, I am convinced, has the population, commerce, resources and opportunities necessary for achieving that target of N60Billion annually…” Critics may argue that the governor is over-stretching his luck. But there is no gain without venture. And indeed, setting targets is the hallmark of quintessential management principles. Let the state try first and see whether this target is achievable or not. Moreso, when this state is one of the largest in terms of land mass suitable for expansion of agriculture and agro-allied business.
We call on the state residents to abide by the state’s laws. This is an opportunity to show government that patriotism is not a mere slogan. How better can citizens practice patriotism if not by paying their taxes to hold government accountable. Of course, these taxes are tokens from personal income. One is only expected to pay according to one’s earnings. Even as individuals, it is also time to cut back on some of our extravagance. We cannot be driving two cars or live in tastefully furnished apartments but tell government we don’t earn income. The same way we expect artisans and traders to cooperate with the tax agency. You can run a shop with a monthly turnover of N1, 000, 000 yet decline to pay a token of say N300 a month for tax -yet expect to drive on good roads.
Paying of tax is in our interest, because it affords us the opportunity to hold government on their promises and audit the money we pay to government as tax to ensure prudent application.