Sunday Magazine

Mounting bills: Coping with public, private institutions’ inefficiency

Having to pay for poor services (or non-existent service in some cases) is a burden a number Nigerians bear daily. This is even as they cough up heavy taxes amid harsh economic realities, causing many to take over the primary responsibilities of government for their comfort. LADESOPE LADELOKUN writes on the silent agonies of Nigerians

 

Until Franca Yong visited Nigeria, she had never seen a generator. But Yong is not from any of the Asian countries. She is a Cameroonian, who lived briefly in Nigeria for the purposes of a research project. But the picture of Nigeria in her mind’s eye failed to support the realities that confronted her.

“In Cameroon, we don’t have any need for it because there is always constant supply of electricity. Even when there is need to seize power supply, we are informed ahead,” she said.

But opting for the generator is a hard choice a Nigerian citizen, Ajijola Anjorin ,who lives in the Ashimolowo area of Mowe, Ogun State, had to embrace owing to what she called “killing bills” despite poor electricity supply, compelling her to rely solely on her generator. “I’ve told my landlord to forget about expecting me to pay bills because I want to rely solely on my generator for electricity. I can’t be working to pay bills alone. I don’t know how they calculate these things. But I know I’m being terribly ripped off.

What businesses am I running that would make me cough up N20,000 a month ?Where is the electricity?” She queried. Ordinarily, being a product of governmentowned schools, a public school, perhaps, should be the first port of call when choosing schools for his children. But not for Akinduro Akinyemi.

According to him, not a single public secondary school in his Iju-Ishaga area of Lagos State meets the minimum standard of his dream school. Now, with resumption date for a new term just days away, thoughts of humongous school fees of his three children, he said, gives him sleepless nights and migraines.

“It’s a shame that private schools keep flourishing at the expense of public schools. But it is what you get when government fails to be responsible. The school fees of my kids make me sweat. I have to worry about feeding myself and my family. I have to worry about house rent. I have to worry about business. You really have to be strong to survive in this country.

Even when you look at the school fees that’s raising my blood pressure, the school itself gives one reasons to worry about. Imagine a teacher teaching three, four subjects and at the end of the day, they want you to bribe your way to good grades during external examinations. It’s a reason to worry.”

Lamenting how residents in the Lekki area of Lagos pay taxes but can only get water that is only good enough for washing vehicles and plates, Pat Lawson told Sunday Telegraph that he had left the Ibafo area of Ogun State to avoid the frequent headacheinducing traffic and make life comfortable for himself.

According to him, he never envisaged a situation that would warrant him to spend as much as N30,000 a month to buy water because the one available is not useful for cooking and drinking. “The water here is brownish. It’s so bad that we can’t even wash with it, let alone drink it. We have to treat before it can be used to bathe or wash toilets.

The water is really bad. It’s so sad that a coastal area like the Island does not have the intervention of the government on water. Despite paying taxes, we can’t get potable water. I spend nothing less than  N30,000 monthly to get water,’’he said. For many, who feel acutely deprived of the essence of governance, every household, they believe, is its own local government.

They argue that government institutions and politicians can no longer be trusted to provide the most basic services expected as citizens and properly regulate the activities of existing private institutions that seem to provide succour.

From having to provide electricity to providing motorable roads, security to potable water, even amid spiralling bills without commensurate services, they say, the purpose of governance is defeated.

Taxing access to potable water despite failure to provide same?

Bemoaning what he called an “unfortunate scenario” of issuing of taxes and the levies on citizens before they can assess the natural resources graciously given by God, “because government has failed in their responsibility to provide pipe-borne water system”, the National President of the Association of Water and Borehole Drillers (AWDROP), Mr Micheal Ale, had recently advised the Governor of Oyo State, Engr. Seyi Makinde, against imposing the newly introduced policy of N30,000 permit for borehole drilling in the state, saying it will worsen the poverty stricken condition of the people.

“Several Nigerians are left to their fate when it comes to water supply, especially the good people of Oyo State in the South- Western part of the country.

The unfortunate scenario is the issue of taxes and the levies on citizens before they can access the natural resources graciously given by God because the government has failed in their responsibility to provide pipe-borne water supply. “When permits are made by law, they are made to serve as an instrument for safety and not for financial inducement.

The Oyo State Ministry of Environment and Natural resources, through their respective consultants, have perfected the means to make life unbearable for the citizens through their draconian law which speculated that before anybody could engage in borehole drilling, a sum of N30,000 must be paid. This is outrageous and will make life unbearable for the good people of the state. “Even in states where regulations work by the establishment of agencies, nobody charges that amount of money in this hard time.

This is a call to the Governor Makinde to temper justice with mercy and withdraw such law if it has been passed or made public or better still, reduce the amount drastically especially to citizens whose salary is just a take home and cannot drill a well.

“Oyo State has the highest number of drilling rigs in Nigeria, numbering to 109, hence, the need to regulate drilling operation is inevitable but this law should not be seen as a means of making money for the government at all cost, ” he said.

Earlier, Secret Reporters had reported how the El-Rufai-led administration in Kaduna had allegedly resorted to collecting “Borehole Royalties” from state residents through its agent, the Kaduna State Water Board. The “Borehole Royalties”, the report said, is collected monthly from every property or individual that taps or drills water from the abundance of earth’s crust either for personal or public use, as the powers to drill water within Kaduna metropolis presumable be-

longs only to the state owned water board. According to the SBU manager Aminu Usman, the law empowers the Kaduna State Water Board to collect N10,000 (Ten Thousand Naira) monthly as royalties per borehole. “No doubt, one of the dividends of democracy is the provision of basic amenities like road, light, housing, and most especially water, one of the natural resources which sustains life.

With this recent development in Kaduna State, one can only wonder the fate of the populace when their elected government who constitutionally are to provide such amenities but don’t, now turn to collect royalties from them,” the report added.

Meanwhile, the Lagos State Government ,through the state’s Water Regulatory Commission (LSWRC) had cautioned operators in the borehole drilling industry against carrying on with their activities without the requisite licence and permit from the agency. The government said erring practitioners would be sanctioned as such violates the Environmental Protection and Management Law 2017.

Reacting to the development, a good governance advocate, Kola Martins ,said: “Despite all the accolades the then Governor Akinwunmi Ambode got on his investment in infrastructure, it must be said that boreholes are a symptom of the failure on the part of government to provide potable water.”

 

Disquiet over planned call, data price increase

In spite of the tariff hike resistance by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Ali Pantami, the Federal Government said it would go ahead with the planned implementation of a five per cent hike in call and data tariff.

According to a statement from the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, the government will begin the implementation of five per cent excise duty tax on all voice calls, SMS and data services, in addition to the existing 7.5 per cent Value Added Tax (VAT), paid for goods and services across all sectors of the economy.

Ahmed was said to have made the disclosure at a stakeholders’ meeting, organised by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecoms industry regulator. With this, the excise duty would rise to 12.5 per cent, though estimated to generate about N2 trillion to the government annually, telecom operators had warned that the burden would be pushed to the consumers.

Pantami had said: “The Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy is not satisfied with any effort to introduce excise duty on telecommunication services. “Firstly, I have not been consulted officially and part of the rulemaking is to invite stakeholders to make contributions; I was not consulted officially.

Secondly, if we have been contacted, we would have challenged the submission. The sectors that are contributing to our economy today are few. What we should be doing is to ensure that all other sectors can also contribute. A lot of sectors are consumers; these are the sectors that we should be tasked to contribute. A sector cannot be a consumer today; each sector must contribute a certain percentage to the economy.

And if we fail to do that, we would be increasing the pressure and by doing that we would be destroying the digital economy sector. “Excise duty is introduced to discourage the consumption of certain commodities like alcohol, and tobacco. But today, without broadband penetration, how can you perform financial transactions, how can you deliver lectures without that, how can you work in a hospital; these services are a necessity.”

Commenting, President, National Association of Telecoms Subscribers (NATCOMS), Deolu Ogunbanjo, told Sunday Telegraph that the planned increase in call and data tax was far from being justifiable. “When the meeting on this matter was held, we were invited as stakeholders in the sector in Abuja. All the stakeholders were there. ATCON, ALTON, the Customs, NATCOMS and a host of other stakeholders and we agreed that they should not implement it at that meeting.

It was only the Customs that said they were going to implement it. Every other industry stakeholders said the plan should be halted. So, we are appealing to Minister Zainab. We are appealing to the motherhood in her to forget about this tax because there are 39 other taxes as confirmed by ATCON and ALTON. The Customs gave the example that in Kenya and one other country, these countries don’t have 39 other taxes.

So, they should not implement it but if they go ahead and implement it, NATCOMS will go to court. We will challenge it in court. Just like petrol, if petrol sneezes, the whole country will catch cold. It’s the same thing with telecoms. Cost of doing business will increase. A lot of other things will increase as well. It will compound the problems of the masses.”

Meanwhile, at the inaugural meeting of the Presidential Committee on Excise Duty for the Digital Economy Sector in Abuja, on Monday, September 5, 2022, Pantami announced the suspension of the proposed excise duty on telecommunication services, saying telecommunications sector was already burdened by excessive and multiple taxes.

 

Questions over ‘misplaced priorities’

Recently, controversy trailed the announcement of the release of N6.25 billion for cattle ranches in Katsina by the President Muhammadu Buhari’s government. While some hailed the action, a number of people knocked the government over what they described as misplacement of priorities, especially at a time university lecturers and students are out of school over poor funding of Nigerian universities, among other reasons.

Explaining its essence, Deputy Governor of the state, Alhaji Mannir Yakubu, disclosed that the Federal Government had released N6.25billion for the establishment of cattle ranches in local councils affected by banditry in Katsina State Yakubu, who is also the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Rural Development, added that the local government areas where grazing reserves would be established are Jibia, Batsari, Dutsinma, Safana, Danmusa, Kankara, Faskari and Sabuwa Dandume. Earlier, Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, had faulted the decision of the Buhari government, describing it as the height of deceit and hypocrisy. His words: “So Mr. President approved N6.5 billion for ranching in Katsina State.

What kind of hypocrisy is this? Are we a serious country at all?” Meanwhile, the House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts, headed by Hon. Wole Oke (PDP, Osun) recently announced that it had begun investigations of the Ministry of Agriculture over the award of contracts said to be about N18.9 billion to firms during the COVID- 19 lockdown.

“During the lockdown of the country as a result of COVID-19, some companies took contracts worth about N18 billion for bush clearing from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture for land preparation, rehabilitation of soil plant laboratory and others.

“We cannot shave their head in their absence. So, we have invited them to come and give us their own side by responding to the issues and showing us the places they are supposed to have cleared. They have to take us to the land they cleared.

“We have invited the Ministry of Agriculture and they have made a submission. But some of our members whose constituencies these projects were supposed to be domiciled doubted the existence of these projects and for a fair hearing, we have invited the companies that got the contract for them to come and tell this committee where and when the jobs were executed.

“We will wait till the end of the hearing today to see if they will appear. If they are not here, we will have to do the needful to get them to come.” But, contrary to the allegation that the Ministry of Agriculture spent N18.9 billion on bush clearing, the ministry said it only carried out bush clearing and land preparation of 3,200 hectares in eight states of Osun, Ekiti, Edo, Cross River, Kaduna, Kwara, Plateau and Ogun as allocated by the respective state governments, at a total cost of N2.5billion.

 

According to a statement issued by the ministry’s Director of Information, Dr Joel Oruche, other projects executed by the ministry during the COVID-19 period that sums up to the total quoted included the construction of rural roads in the six geo-political zones of the country, soil sampling and mapping, farmers registration as well as rehabilitation and the equipping of four national soil laboratories in Umudike (Abia State), Ibadan (Oyo State), Kaduna and FCT Abuja.

Why we are where we are

Baring his mind on why a great number of Nigerians appear to have lost faith in the government, a public affairs commentator, Achike Chude, reasoned that, “Nigerians have not known effective governance in this country since independence. If we look at where we’re coming from, you could say there were even golden moments in the history of this country. We might not have been perfect but we were far better than what we have today.

When you look at it deeply, you will realise that a country that is blessed the way Nigeria is blessed with abundant natural and human resources has no business being one of poorest countries in the world; has no business being one of the most insecure countries in the world; has no business being the country with the highest out-of- school children in the world.

“We have no business being a country where lecturers are perpetually on strike because government is not interested in education. So, this is where we have found ourselves. So, the reason people have become government unto themselves is simply because they have given up on governance. So, if there’s no electricity, they go and get generator, or solar panel. We used to have pipe-born water. Now, it has disappeared. People now generate water.

The insult is that in a place like Lagos and Ekiti and if care is not taken, other states will replicate it, is you now have to take permit from the state government to put a borehole in your house and you have to pay for it. “For someone who has used their money to put a borehole in their house, it will not surprising if government comes tomorrow to say they should pay for the borehole they provided despite failing to give potable water. There is no other way you can explain why a country has so much yet has nothing. ”

For his part, rights activist and public affairs commentator, Ayo Kolade, urged cheated Nigerians to be more vociferous about issues concerning violation of their rights, adding that religion has successfully neutralised the resistance against evil. “It’s not enough to blame leaders for their failure and even that of private institutions.

 

We are too religious in this country and I believe that is one of our major problems. When we are cheated by the government and any these private institutions that rip people off ,we just leave it to God and move on. We won’t make much progress with this attitude.

We need to fight our battles, even when we invite God. There is a need for more citizen participation in governance. People must know their rights to know when they are violated. When people start to resist every act of injustice by every known legal means, I believe we will have some peace. ”

 

 

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