Mr Samuel Okewoye is the coordinator of Tax Justice and Governance Platform in collaboration with Civil Society Legislative Advocacy (CISLAC). He speaks with VICTOR OGUNYINKA on the roles of the government and the community on taxing and what the organisation is about.
In the real sense, has tax payment been a problem in the country?
Yes, it is a problem both on the side of the government and the community. The inability of citizens to pay tax as at when due, and rightly, makes the government unable to get the revenue that is needed to improve communities. And on the part of the government, the ones that have been collected have not reflected in the environment; they have not been providing the necessary things and that is why it is so difficult for both parties.
According to law, who are those that are expected to pay tax?
Anybody from 18 years and above that is fully engaged in one business or the other are expected to pay tax from the profit earned.
How are these group of people supposed to pay tax?
The government has put machinery into motion as to how taxes should be collected. For civil servants and monthly earners, tax is deducted from their salaries. For the communities, they pay direct tax and we have the board of internal revenue in charge of that. There is also the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) that takes care of the federal tax but we are particular about the state and community.
What is the stake of your organisation on this?
Tax Justice Platform is a non-governmental organisation which plays the role of intermediary between the government and the people. We also appeal to the people in the community that are of taxable age to see this as a civic responsibility and pay as at when due. At the same time, we are appealing to the government to let the community see values for the money they pay by providing the necessary amenities and needs of the community.
Could you give us a highlight of who pays what to the federal, state and local governments?
Under the federal, there are about eight groups that are expected to pay their tax to the FIRS; the state has about 11 different categories and for the local government; you know they are the nearest to the community and the people, they have about 20 different avenues of collecting taxes and some of them include, shops and kiosks, tenement rates, on and off liquor license fees, marriage, birth and death registration fees, motor parks levies, market taxes and levies, excluding any market where state finance is involved, wrong parking lot charges, religious places establishment permit fees, among others.
How far has your organisation gone in this crusade?
We have done quite a number of community sensitisation and outreach creations for the people to know their rights, roles and responsibilities in all the three senatorial districts in the state. We have been to markets, public places, motor parks and media houses.
There has been the issue of multi taxation and artisans particularly have been complaining. What is your take on this?
This has really been a thing of worry. We conducted a survey recently about what and why people are not paying taxes and the result isn’t very encouraging. People are not happy and are not even ready to pay as at when due because they have not been seeing what they expected of the government. In fact, some of them are hostile to our research officers and almost mobbed them. It means the government really has to step up its attitude towards taxing and everything around it. The people are expecting to see better roads, power supply, good hospitals, schools and other social amenities.
You mentioned that you’re an NGO. Where exactly are you getting your support from?
Yes, we run an NGO and I must say we are not in any affiliation with a political group or another. We are just a group of passionate free-minded people willing to see their environment get better. We are in collaboration with the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy (CISLAC). They are present in the 36 states of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory and this initiative cuts across the federation. The initiative is very timely at this time when oil revenue is experiencing a decline; there is need for us to look inward to generate fund for sustainability and provision of social amenities.
Currently, we have a working relationship with the legislatives and the board of internal revenue in other to ensure that on the side of the government, things work out very well. We will also continue our sensitisation through radio programmes, talk shows, jingles and other media engagements and this way, the government will be accountable and transparent in the handling of tax payers’ money. It will interest you to know that our members cut across all walks of life; market men and women, religious leaders, trade unions, civil society organisations, community and faith-based organisations, landlord associations, youths and others.