Tax brouhaha in Lagos

Lagos State has always had the fortune of having resourceful governors, active and focused. They apply themselves diligently and admirably to their assignments. I must begin from the beginning as they say in local parlance.

Step forward and take a bow, Lateef Jakande, (LKJ) the action governor and Baba Kekere. He laid the solid foundation for economic prosperity leap that Lagos is today. The structure and superstructure only came with succeeding capable hands in the saddle.

The state was so buoyant that it lent money to one State or so in that Second Republic. I recall when Jakande announced the introduction of free education and free health services for the citizens of Lagos on being sworn in on October 01, 1979, doubts about the purse of the state being able to carry the burden were expressed by even well meaning eminent people. But LKJ had done his homework well.

In the course of his preparation, he found that huge treasure lay buried in the sands of Lagos. He did his costing and all that, surrounded as he was by efficient aides, commissioners and civil servants, among whom was Bashorun who stood out in financial engineering. And Jakande delivered, clearly beyond expectation.

Then came Gbolahan Mudashiru who brought refinement consistent with his nature into the building of the structure, dotting the i’s here and crossing the t’s there. The super structure was begun by Bola Tinubu who has the talent for head hunting. He had a good team.

The person who raised the super structure to dizzy heights was Babatunde Fashola, the indefatigable young man, ever so prepared and thorough, scholarly in thinking, and matchless in application to duty. For him, every step must be worked to the last kobo and justifiable.

All can see the energetic drive Akinwumi Ambode has brought into his assignment as well, working in the mode of his immediate predecessor, with attention to details, and rightly desiring to outpace him.

He is giving everything into the work at hand and the result is everywhere for all to see, especially in infrastructural development. For him it is applause all the way.

However, he is about to overstep bounds; and that is what applause does to us human beings. I am referring to the new tax regime he has foisted on the people of Lagos State.

In all parts of the free world and liberal economy, tax is not what anybody wants to pay, neither the endowed nor the not so materially endowed, not to talk of the struggling man is in any mood to pay tax.

It should be remembered that Candidate Donald Trump could not produce his tax papers in 2016 and it was an issue between him and Candidate Hillary Clinton who waved the Democratic flag. Wars have been fought from time immemorial on taxation.

Those that come readily to mind are the battle between the Egba women of some 10, 000 strong led by Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the mother of the music maestro Fela, and the Alake of Abeokuta.

It ended in the dethronement of the Alake, Oba Gbadebo; the Aba Riots also by women in 1929 and the Agbekoya Revolt in the Western State under General Adeyinka Adebayo.

It took Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s intervention to resolve the issue and get the farmers to sheath their swords. Dr. J. K. Randle, father of Jaiye Randle, also fondly called J.K., led the showdown in Lagos over water rate.

The Oba of Lagos, Eshugbayi, had to go with it. In all these cases and more which space would not permit until another day, the Establishment was the loser.

The point being made is that the Lagos State Land Use Charge may get Ambode’s knees bruised if wiser counsel does not prevail and on time. Not only is the timing wrong, the tax itself is outrageous, insulting indeed indefensible. And we are talking of a sophisticated society like Lagos.

NECA says in a statement titled The Mathematical Facts and Truth that a company paid N420, 626.52 in 2017. The same company has been slammed N5, 804, 623.30 in 2018.

The Lagos State Government increased the assessed market value of the property from N106, 758, 000.00 in 2017 to N762, 762, 600.00 in 2018. NECA says the “alleged 40 per cent discount of market value by Government is not true as per the above Land Use Charge demand notice. It may interest the public to note that it is not automatic, but subject to the discretion of government.”

There are some other cases similar to this. There are all kinds of levies, even for boreholes in a state the government has failed abysmally in the provision of water. Did anybody give thought at all to the domino and ripple effects of this obnoxious and vexatious taxation in a state many firms downsize, unable to pay salaries as and at when due?

Is it when the nation is just emerging from enervating recession that this kind of taxation should be thrown into the faces of Lagos citizens and property owners who we know will pass it on to their tenants, families or medium scale firms? How do we solve unemployment problems when companies do not have enough margins and reserves? Ambode was trained in all these.

I want to believe that the sensible proposition made by the new President of the Lagos Chambers of Commerce and Indusrty was not lost on the Finance Commissioner Ashade. The Chambers chief said the government would rake in more money if it gets the citizens and organizations to pay what is generally affordable.

It is a matter of common sense that you would get more people to pay N1, 000.00 than you would get to pay N7, 500.00. The government does not have to take on many projects at the same time. Whatever is done must be what will endure so that other projects can follow.

The Land Use Charge must, therefore, be revised and made more tolerable, which must be followed by appropriate consultation with the stakeholders and community leaders.

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Lagostax
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