“XTA”: RESTRUCTURING AND THE NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT PUZZLE
Ease of Doing Business Index has made us smile. Ease of Paying Taxes Index has brought our faces rare glow. VAIDS have ensured the country’s purse swells by USD50 billion. With the present Nigeria, this smile and glow are once-in-a-lifetime trances. Even our easiest fantasies fail to confidently bring solutions to our plight as a sovereign state. So, let us smile and make merry. But how do we even get items for merriment? Oh. You think the 50 billion USD will reach your street? O boy eh, keep dreaming. You see, substantially, there is a wide divide, a chasm between the growth of the economy and its development. Let us not even veer towards sustainability yet. Without bridging this chasm? Let us take a short stroll before we wield the gavel.
Oil prices have nosedived and is nose bleeding gorily. Agriculture and solid minerals remain a viable source of national revenue but not at its optimal shape. Looking through the transparent test-tubes of history, history of the development of the developed countries, we find one curvy, nice-figure-eight appearance. Tax. Yes, tax is the real deal. Like solar power generation, tax does not make noise. Silently, steadily but surely, it goes on and on. Of course, what is constant if not death and taxes. But the truth must be sprinkled on this field straightaway. Taxes can only sustain a socio-political economy which is in itself, sustainable in values, principle and foundation. How sustainable is the Nigerian socio-political turf? Our searchlight must get brighter here.
In the 1960s when regionalism held sway, the budget of the Western Region alone superseded that of the federation and the other regions combined! Sounds quite outrageous right? But this was a budget whose arousal was borne out of regional necessity. There was a plan. The budget was meant to vehicle this plan efficiently. Each region was meant to be ruled, to grow and develop at its own pace, albeit healthily and competitively. Then suddenly, the Aguiyi of this world arrived and supplanted. Unification Decree No. 34 showed up. Regionalism was defiled and murdered in cold blood. Unitary Federalism began in earnest and would never be supplanted till this day. Nigeria’s problems are enormous and sometimes, amoebic and amorphous in description. It is evidently unfair to situate the reason for the inane aging of the Nigerian state on lack of proper federalism alone. Nonetheless, this piece will defy all odds and without noise, situate the blame on it. Let us defy the odds shortly.
The Federal government has been constitutionally made, extremely lucrative and juicy that little attention is paid to the development of the regions anymore. Make no mistake about this – the regions have not grown better than they were during the days of regionalism. VAT, Solid minerals, Companies, Policing, Defence, Petroleum and Liquid minerals, Maritime, et cetera are exclusively concentrated at the centre by the instrumentality of the Exclusive List of powers. If these powers are in the federal government, then just forget about the sharing and revenue allocation formulae deceit. The regions can never get serious, innovative and developed. They will continually slumber and live in economic putrefaction. Then, even if a region or state decides to wake up, the entire federation wakes up with such state but in full opposition to it. I mean, who are you to wake up when we are all sleeping? You are proud o. Enter, case study, Lagos State.
A short digression may be relevant here. Have you ever wondered why Biafra secessionist calls rise and fall like epileptic bouts? Have you not wondered why the notorious and dreadful Niger Delta militancy never ceases to cause alarming concerns? Why will you vandalize pipelines in your own home? Of course, the Nigerian state suffers from epilepsy. But the answer is not far-fetched. Ants can only destroy their castle when it is no longer theirs.
When sense of belonging is lost, the belonging itself loses regard. Historical facts and figures abound. Authoritative dicta abound. But the simple truth is one, and it is the call for the restoration of social, economic and political sense of belonging to the regions. Taxes are yielding record-breaking revenues. Oil prices have been projected to increase soonest. The ministry of solid minerals is showing some spicy promises. Agriculture now contributes over 5% to the economy unlike the abysmal less-than 3% previously. Of all these prospects, this piece sees tax as the mitochondrion of the economy in terms of steady and sustainable source of government revenue. On this note, I seize this moment to announce the solution to the puzzle “XTA” – TAX!
But hey! Do not lose guard just yet. These are all economic growth indices. But the pepper that must be pungent in this soup is the fact that there can be no true development without restructuring the socio-political economy of the Nigerian State. For the tax system, Companies income taxes and VAT should belong to the concurrent list of powers. The States must be made to manage, control and make the best use of their resources, natural and otherwise. Lagos State is the largest contributor of VAT to the Nigerian treasury. But it is one of the least-enjoying States of the same revenue it effulgently sources. Where is the sense of belonging? Where is the motivation to other States to work on their ease of doing business in order to compete healthily with the VAT kings? With the present system, it is a no way!
Our stroll reaches a final lap here. The chasm between the growths we are experiencing at this moment in our history and the fantastic development of our desires lies in Restructuring. Restructuring is just that missing link between the swelling of economic fortunes and the equivalent swelling of personal fortunes. The National puzzle for sustainable development has been unlocked. Then why drag our law-making feet again? Indeed, it is realized that the federal legislature is enrobed with the power to restructure as restructuring fundamentally has to be rooted in the grundnorm, the Constitution. Whether the “cameras” of both houses will capture them in the history books in a sonorous way is a ball in their respective courts. What ball is in our court? Optimism, our only weapon.
Olukolade O. Ehinmosan,
Aspiring Legal Practitioner.