April 17, 2024

The issue of the recent Land Use Charge (LUC) hike in the ‘State of Aquatic Splendor’ that has been called obnoxious in some quarters is not about taxation on asset value as some will have us believe. It is about gutting an already pauperized but docile populace and squeezing out more gravy from the looting train that the state government is, for we know whom. It’s also about the now seeming arithmetic and economic illiteracy of a government that has a famed Uber accountant as the helmsman.

Where else in the world do you hike charges for essential public services and living by as much as 400% in one fell swoop without major upheavals in the political economy? If as according to reports of the defence credited to the ‘We are coming and have arrived’ leader, charges have not changed for long, do the current economic reality conduce to such inhuman burden on a populace already reeling from unprecedented hardship on every front? Assuming without conceding that charges being unchanged for long justify the hike, wouldn’t a sensible government that acknowledges deriving its mandate from an electorate phase the hike with plenty of advance orientation and sensitization for public buy-in with adequate handholding and palliatives to boot? Wouldn’t the government be seen as anti-people otherwise? Isn’t this a perception that a responsible leader will be wary of and guide against? But as ours has been described by one foreign Trumpeter as a certain-type-of-hole country, and we must prove him right, anything goes here. Or how else does one rationalize increases in MOLUERT (public transport) fare, toll tariffs, water rates, vehicle license and registration fees, introduction of a radio tax and now hike in land use charge at rates between 75-500% all at once within a year and call yourself progressive people’s government? Which one exists for which, the government or the people it governs? But why am I not surprised? In Nigeria, the word government connotes not what it does elsewhere, where the general consensus is catering to the welfare and security of the people. Here, ‘government’ is an euphemism for looting machines protected by state-funded police that is 80% bodyguard for public and private VIPs and operated for the benefit and interest of a few thousand politicians, some hundreds of thousands, maybe a million civil servants and some dozens of private sector cronies, amounting to about 1% or less of a 180 million population via the instrumentalities of hyper-inflated public sector contracts, legislated monopolies, unpatriotic concessions, perfidious salaries and pensions for ex-rulers and outright stealing of public funds by way of diversion, embezzlement, misappropriation, and grand larceny; all captured by the omnibus ‘treasury looting’. It means lootocracy.

I mean think about it. Inflation officially stands at about 15%, according to federal authorities. Before the recent hike, LUC for real property valued at approximately 20m averaged about N50,000 annually. How does a subnational government wake up one day and jack it up to N250,000, i.e. by 400% or 27 times the national inflation rate, inflate tolls by 70-80% or 5 times, vehicle registrations by 320% or 21 times respectively of the national average rise in prices? How do you deplete a people’s income at rates over and above so-called official inflation in a recessed economy through legalized tax and revenue monopolies without impoverishing them?

Consider what will happen if this land use charge hike sees the light of day: landlords and commercial property owners will increase rents. Tenants will then transfer the charge to cost of goods and services provided to customers and clients through rented premises. Those ones will then increase the cost of food, transport, school fees, healthcare, etc in response. Artisans will charge higher. Basically, the price of everything else will rise. That is to say, the current run-away inflationary trend will balloon and worsen. And a long suffering people will be further systematically and legally fleeced to satiate the money-guzzling appetites of political juggernauts and economic cannibals.

But why won’t the current government do this? They sense that they will get away with or close to it. If the people comply willy nilly, as we usually do, it would be bonus for the political godfather, his loyal godson-in-chief and a handful of cronies. All will be kosher.

If not, that is, after making some noise and/or blowing some grammar as we are wont to, and don’t go back to our docile corners; the administration will launch the next phase of the plan to increase the lootocratic takings. Some pittance from the payoff will go to finance stomach infrastructure in the lead up to the 2019 elections. Meanwhile, media hirelings will be detailed to set public agenda to demonize the upper middle class and the rich, the property-owning elite, for trying to dodge appropriate taxes that will enable government perform its important responsibilities to both rich and poor. Pundits-for-hire and emergency analysts and opinionists will regale us on social media with the benefits of taxation as a measure of wealth redistribution. We will hear that tax-based economies consistently outperform resource-based ones. Some ethnic slant would be invented, inserted and circulated to explain why those opposing the hikes are enemies of Yoruba, Awori, Egun, and others of the indigenous peoples. We would be told the resistance, if any, is orchestrated by the discredited former ruling party at the center. Anything and everything to ensure people won’t unite against rulers. We learnt divide and rule from our former British overlords and have since extended its frontiers. Cashivist Imams and Pastorpreneurs would be procured to declare those who oppose the increment as the very progeny or siblings of Satan or Antichrist and sundry enemies of God. They will pre-qualify, right here on earth, opponents of the deepening dips into the people’s pockets for eternal damnation and hellfire in the afterlife. We will be reminded that Jesus admonished that we “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” and that Mohammed PBUH taught that “Leaders are elect of God and that piety dictates obedience to constituted authority lest one suffers in this life and face a severe punishment on Judgment day”. Then we will tremble and quake in morbid fear. The dime-a-dozen traditional rulers will not be left out. Some of the jokers they call celebrities will endorse. All will popularize the refrain “It pays to pay your tax”, howsoever extortionate and unjust.

The poor and lower middle class will embrace it as their cause and opportunity to get a well-deserved pound of flesh off the rich and privileged for selling them out on the toll tariffs hike last month. Didn’t they argue that “Tolls are paid in America and Europe, so ours cannot be different”, “Government alone cannot provide infrastructure, it must be done through Public Private Partnerships (PPP)”, “PPP operators and foreign investors must recoup their investments”. Let them go and pay their tax. Everyone will conveniently forget or ignore the income earning vs social and physical infrastructural development differential as well the total lack of prudential management of public funds in our country vs developed Western nations or that we effectively pay a higher living cost in most instances despite our poorer incomes and for worse value in goods and services. Nobody will mention that the collections will go to paying our over pampered politicians the highest wages in the world or that every kobo that accrues to government has a more than 50% chance of developing legs and wings and disappearing into private pockets. The government will set the poor against the rich. After all only the rich own property. The poor will say to themselves, like the Hausa, “inna ruwa na?”, what’s our own? Then government will agree to negotiate, then reduce the hike to say 100 or 200% increase, perhaps the original target. In this economy, bargains are important and the price of everything must be haggled, from purchasing meat in the open market all the way through to the dealing between a con artist and his mark and would-be victim. Then we will hail government as having ‘listening ears’. And we will reward the administrator, his political backbone and sponsoring party with reelection for ‘performance’ at the polls in 2019. And we will live happily ever after, as we have done since independence in 1960.

How do I know all these? Am I a stargazer? You see, I don’t need a crystal ball, just commonsensical ‘anointing’ to reflect, permutate and forecast. Was it not just last month that the Lekki and Ikoyi toll tariffs hike happened? Only it bites the poor and lower middle class more. And we adjusted. This is a repeat episode of an unfolding drama. It’s happening now with vehicle registrations. It will happen when Visionscope or whatever the brand new straw into the waste management juice jar fully rolls out. Just as it will with every other sector where Alpha Kappa ‘consults’ for government to yoke us and exact tribute. And we will em and aw. And adjust. That’s our way. We are Nigerians and proud denizens of or sojourners in the Center of Excellence. Better by far than our ‘ara oke’ or ‘Ndibush’ compatriots in the backwater hinterlands. When pushed, we never quite hit the wall, we adjust. And even we do hit the wall, we don’t fight back. That’s the stuff of sheeples. It is beneath us. We enter the wall or climb over it. We are the happiest and most savvy people on earth.

I must end this piece, now, to contemplate how the plethora of new taxes, levies charges, fees and fares will affect my ability to procure for self and family from a recessed purse, services for which government must be paid, but which one must nevertheless provide at full cost or higher to enjoy. To avoid double jeopardy. After all, the preacher that foretells a famine wouldn’t feed his household on scripture.

Shior!

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