Those who think Africans do not pay as much taxes as those in other continents must redefine the meaning of taxes to include special levies. Not only do we pay taxes, we get little in return for it. This is not a gripe against progressive taxes. There is no doubt that if governments are not restrained, they will tax everything that moves or stands. That is how European and American citizens justify putting a leash on the ability of government to tax them to death. Unfortunately, we pay taxes to a variety of vigilantes and outlaws to buy security and peace of mind in Africa.

Oh well, the rich also pay taxes but not to African governments. They pay city, state and federal taxes on their foreign homes, cars, shopping spree, hospitals' bills, bogus companies to hide the cash transactions, and unsubsidized out of state fees for the education of their children. Each time they travel out, they pay heavy security and airport tax on their tickets. Most of the taxes as most of their foreign trips, they do not pay to African countries. Chei, jealousy nor go kill man.

Tax levy by governments on goods and services by pennies accumulates to provide services that cannot be provided by individuals at a profit. When people see what their taxes do and where it goes into, they complain less. If we look at other countries like Canada and United States, the complaint about taxes is not as loud in Canada. Though United States is richer, Canadian working class and the poor enjoy a better standard of living than those in United States. In spite of all the efforts in United States, to denigrate Canadian Healthcare funded from progressive general tax, it did not move most Canadians.

Another way little people are forced to pay to different outlaws is to levy them. We witnessed the struggle to collect local taxes between Governor Obi of Anambra and the Transport owners union. Some promised us heaven on earth to levy tithe. We have others that pyramid our levies into billions. We pay police, army, area boys, vigilante, mosques or church leaders. Honest folks, that neither think of tithes nor collect it, are not stupid. We still have human dignity left. But there are those that work hard to perfect exchanging it for salvation, bail and nothing. Business does it in a legalized way by selling unworthy products and services, sometimes too cheap.

The Trillion Naira Police Business is only one of many ways. Oil Farming by outlaws, bank Thief Executive managers and militants also collect. If it is true that Sabona, the militant leader had royalties from oil well, then Nigerian rulers would only share at gun point. Whoever wants a piece of Nigeria pie must have enough ammunition to fight either the army or the militants. It will be foolish to take any or both of them on with the power of prayers. Not in Nigeria anyway.

All attempts to reduce the number of police check-points levies on the roads were ignored. Some of the police confessed that it was their only reliable source of income since salary was not paid, and it's the only means to service their patrol vehicles. We knew it was too easy for armed robbers to operate because the police always show up after the robbers are gone. It got to a point in Lagos when police were heckled as they arrived.

If we thought these were enough to overhaul the police and change the corrupt culture, we are still waiting. The touching stories of individuals and a reporter, at one point, that were loaded while waiting at the bus stop and taken to the police station to post bail was a surprise to those of us that were not so unlucky. All the signs were there that our police have become unofficial tax collectors through extortion of ordinary folks on our streets. So much money is made from the common man, they have to share billions with higher officers in charge.

If these were not investigated with the help of international organization and given press coverage in international papers, committees and probes, after our representatives did, would be set up again to examine the facts already known. We are yet to see if all these disclosure will be archived or overtaken by events and the common man will continue to pay for extortion as taxes on our roads, bus stops and tolls on existing roads.

It all falls on the people that can be easily held, threatened and punished to pay as they earned or as they drive either in their own cars or as passengers in private or public buses. Of course whatever the drivers pays to the police on the street and at tollgate are added to the fares of the passengers. One is an outright bribe on the road while the other is a legalized extortion for leaving or going back home. In the case of Lekki Toll Gate where people anger boiled over, the authorities took the people for granted on a road that existed for years before collecting toll.

The big businesses, no matter where they are, always look for loopholes in the tax system. In Africa, big businesses get away easily without paying taxes. It is very difficult to get them to declare how much they actually make on paper. In Nigeria for example, most oil companies only pay what they want. We do not know the amount of oil going out of the country and if any of their ships is caught in oil bunkering, their home governments ask for their unconditional release. If we cannot get them to declare the amount of business done in the country, we are not sure of tax required from them.

Government may not get away with it as individuals. Governments are not supposed to be in a money making business that would crowd out individual business endeavors. If business wants you to buy their magazine that you may not be interested in, all they have to do is tell some folks that by subscribing, you stand a chance of winning a million naira. More people would buy the product than pure advertisement. Swindlers get away with millions by appealing to our greed. So if we curtail our greed, we still need to do away with other outlaws that collect levies.

The yoke on a people where any daring body can just set up shop and start collecting tax, levies, dues, tolls, tithes, ransom, or whatever, without benefit, is enough to drown us.

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Articles by Farouk Martins Aresa