Deputy president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Peter Adeyemi, in this interview with OLAJIDE FABAMISE, spoke on minimum wage review, tax justice and how Nigeria’s refineries can work amongst others.
How justifiable is our tax system, is everybody on the same page?
When we look at Nigeria and most African countries, majority of those paying tax are the public servants or average workers. Specifically in Nigeria, the past four years have witnessed a lot of tax incentives which have denied government substantial amounts, which runs into several billions of dollars and trillions of naira, in terms of revenue.
Where government would just unilaterally grant tax holidays to foreign investors under the pretence that they are trying to woo them, there has also been series of manipulative tendencies on the part of the investor, coming in with different names in order evade tax. The campaign for tax justice which we are involved in with the other continental body is to insist that, those investors coming to our countries must pay tax.
As Nigeria government presently is complaining of inadequate resources to fund capital projects, payment of salaries, etc we have advised that one of the ways that government can generate revenue is to ensure that those who have evaded payment of tax in the manufacturing and other sectors should be made to pay what they have refused to pay.
This idea of unilateral approval of tax holidays, tax incentives for people, fraudulently done should be looked into so that we will not continue to put an average worker under intense pressure. With the limited salary, government increased electricity tariff, because it was desperately looking for money. When people go to bank for transaction, they are forced to pay unnecessary charges, while leaving the multinationals who are carting away billions of hard currencies from our country without paying adequate tax.
We are not limiting the tax justice campaign to Nigeria. We are doing it in collaboration with this continental tax justice body in all African countries. This is because the problem of evasion of tax cut across all these big men likewise. The case of Panama paper, where quite a lot of big men were involved is still fresh in our minds. Big men across the globe were involved in the Panama paper, which is clearly about tax evasion.
People trying to go and put their money in Panama to evade payment of tax. So we are doing the campaign around Africa and PSI is providing appropriate logistic and support and I think after sometime, the campaign will become broader. It will become what everybody will be abreast of and then government will be able to start responding appropriately. But clearly, if we have to say, it is one of the ways by which government has cheated workers. Because by the time a worker collects his salary, the tax has already been deducted.
What are the challenges facing our refineries?
The biggest crisis affecting our refineries is corruption. Is it not erroneous that we who produce the oil do not have functional refineries? But countries that do not produce oil even around us have built refineries. So when we carry our own crude, we take it to our neighbours and they do the refines and would bring it here.
But you know that if we have refineries in Nigeria and we refine our crude, there are a whole lot of things beyond the refined product that can also fetch us money and create jobs for our people. There are a lot of other things from the crude that can be used to produce a number of things. But when we take this crude out, we lose all of that to those environments where the refining takes place.
Licences have been given out for several years now, but we have not seen refineries. Every time they tell us about Turn around Maintenance (TAM) that consumes billions of dollars and these refineries never work. So, I tell you, it is clearly about corruption, because if there is the will, there must always be a way. If actually we want to have refineries in this country, we will have refineries and they will work.
The problem is the moment you build functional refineries in Nigeria; you take some cabals out of job. That is the problem. So, for as long as some Nigerians make cool money from this importation, all efforts directed at making the existing refineries to work will never work and all efforts towards having refineries built will never work. So, we are still dealing with the same issue of corruption of a few people running the government.
They say it all over the world that the engine room of development is the private sector but what do you see in Nigeria. They use government money to develop the private sector. If you see all the guys that are buying government properties, they must be sponsored by people in government and they use government money to get those things done. That is how bad it is. I still believe very strongly that the issue of refineries is doable.
I believe very strongly that for a government that is determined to ensure that we have functional refineries and that we can refine our crude in this country, this problem of fuel scarcity and marketers holding Nigerians to ransom can come to an end. What this government needs to do, if it is sincere is to set a time frame for itself within which to do this.
Who can government at all levels curb leakages in governance?
First let this government trim down the numbers of political appointees. What we had before was an insane arrangement; we had lots of duplications of duties. Are you not surprised that you have a ministry that has a minister, minister of state, permanent secretary and so many retinue of advisers. If you go to the presidency and you see the number of offices there, you will shiver.
You can run an effective government without necessarily carrying a large size. Secondly, the National Assembly salaries must necessarily be reduced. They are the highest paid in the world. Some of their allowances are not known to anybody. The question is will this government be able to curtail the excesses of the National Assembly? Everybody must be accountable. If we say that the resources are not there, everybody will have to make sacrifice.
And when I talk of lean government, I am not talking about the federal alone; I am also talking about the states. There was a time the number of the political aids in Bauchi State was running in thousands. We cannot afford that because that is a state also that cannot even pay salaries. And when they quote these over bloated figures on what they spend on recurrent, you ask yourself, what is the percentage of that figure that they are parading that is paid to the ordinary workers?
The biggest chunk of the money that they claim is spent on recurrent is expended on political appointees. Beyond that, we have too much deceit. Why must our political office holders sleep abroad every day? When one government functionary is going on chartered plane, the whole place is filled up with retinues of other government officials.