Labour movements and civil rights organisations are on a collision course with the President Muhammadu Buhari administration over the proposed communication tax.
Groups, including the Nigeria Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress, Civil Liberty Organisations, in separate interviews in Abuja on Friday, vowed to shoot down the GSM bill.
The bill, which has been submitted to the National Assembly by the Ministry of Communications, will empower the Federal Government to impose nine per cent taxation on all calls, texts and data packages if passed into law.
The General Secretary of the NLC, Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson, described the planned telecommunications bill as a bad policy with potential to deepen poverty in the society.
“If they go ahead with it, we will also, through the National Assembly public hearing, before passage into law, make our input to it, by submitting a memorandum,” he said.
Ozo-Eson said that the tax was regressive as it would have more adverse effects on the poor than the rich.
He said that the poorest segment of the society needed telecommunication to run their lives and their small businesses.
Ozo-Eson stressed that while the NLC believed that the Federal Government should come up with taxation to raise revenue, the burden should not be on the poor.
He said, “We believe it is a bad policy, it will visit more hardship on Nigerians by the very nature of the tax, it is a regressive tax because even the poorest require communication to run their lives.
“Even the small traders depend of communication via GSM to be able to transact their businesses and therefore the tax that is imposed across board is regressive.
“And the burden is higher on the poor. While we agree that the government should design taxes that should raise revenue, we believe that progressive taxation would be the best way to do that.”
He urged Buhari’s administration to focus on the rich in the drive to regenerate revenue through taxation.
He said, “We always insist that you must do a tax system that does not put unnecessary burden on the poor. We need a tax system that is progressive, not regressive.
“When you have a tax system that is regressive, it means you are placing undue burden on the poor in the society. A progressive tax system gives relief to those at the very bottom of the income ladder so that they are not taxed, or are even placed on minimal taxation. That is how other societies function.
“And then, of course progressively, you tax those that are more capable, and who have more income and more wealth. This is what we think Mr. President must strive to put in place, to target the rich and the wealthy.”
Ozo-Eson, who also commented on the claim by the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi, that the current administration had created millionaires through the sale of foreign exchange, urged the monarch to provide more facts on the issue.
The Trade Union Congress also condemned planned tax
The group, in a statement by its President and Acting Secretary-General, Messrs. Bala Kaigama and Simeso Amachree respectively, wondered how the government would expect workers in a country with a minimum wage of N18,000 to pay such a tax in the face of aggravated economic difficulties.
They said that the policy, which according to them, was designed to exploit the impoverished masses, would discourage investments and cause job losses.
The unionists warned the Federal Government to suspend the bill as the masses expected to cough out the tax were already over-burdened with multiple taxation.
Kaigama and Amachree said that it did not make economic sense to initiate policies that could stifle businesses and worsen the woes of the citizens.
The TUC leaders faulted the claim of the Minister of Communications, Chief Adebayo Shittu, that the country could earn as much as N20bn monthly from the passage of the proposed bill, and could help to alleviate the economic challenges facing the country and fund budget deficit.
Also, the President of Civil Liberties Organisation, Igho Akeregha, said the planned GSM tax by the Federal Government would amount to excessive oppression of Nigerians who had been severely burdened by the government’s “warped economic policies.”
According to him, it is either the All Progressives Congress does not articulate a sustainable political and economic development plan for the country or President Muhammadu Buhari is insensitive and bereft of ideas on how to govern.
Akeregha said, “The CLO shall resist the obnoxious and tyrannical plan to further impoverish Nigerians by way of foisting devious tax on them. We have a great tradition in the CLO of standing with the people and defending their rights when the need arises.
“The CLO will definitely join forces with our allies in labour and the CSO’s to resist the GSM tax which clearly is an extortionist agenda. Enough is enough of this undemocratic assault on Nigerians.”
Akeregha said although the CLO had deliberately refrained from joining issues with the current administration, it had become irrational to be silent in the face of the unprecedented suffering that Nigerians were going through.
He asked, “How can any sane person propose a bill to tax Nigerians for use of GSM when the people are already too poor to feed themselves? This idea is criminal as it seeks to abort and significantly infringe on the rights of citizens to freely receive and impart information as provided and guaranteed in the constitution.
“Already, Nigerians are paying so much for the use of GSM as all kinds of taxes and levies are hidden in recharge cards while the network providers rip citizens off through unsolicited network services amid poor quality service.
“It’s only in Nigeria that citizens have remained docile and complacent while being daily subjected to inhuman and degrading policies by the same government they elected to govern them. It is the inalienable right of all Nigerians irrespective of status, creed or tribe to enjoy democracy dividends.”
On his part, the Board Chairman, International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, Emeka Umeagbalasi, said that Nigerians were already over-burdened.
He said, “People are passing through challenges in the hands of the Buhari administration. Nigeria under him has already graduated into a jungle. Big businessmen and importers of consumable goods have shut down their importation businesses and are divesting outside the country. Exchange rates are acutely unsteady, unavailable and unaffordable.
“Even if you are able to source for foreign currencies locally, then how will you remit them to your foreign business partners or factories? The worse is that 95 per cent of imported items in Nigeria cannot be manufactured locally. Recent media reports have it that 272 major industries have shut down their industries in Nigeria and relocated beyond the shores of the country and 180,000 jobs lost in the process.
“Imposition of GSM tax on consumers or network users will have no meaningful effect on the embattled economy. It will go the same negative way of payment of the forceful lodgment duty of N50.00 imposed on every cash deposit and the Treasury Single Account; yet nothing meaningful has happened.”
Umeagbalasi said that the economy would only thrive where government’s credibility among its people was positive.
He stated, “Unless Buhari’s administration reverses itself in all the areas of its governance blunders, the country will continue to rigmarole in intractable absurdities and confusions.
“We totally oppose any form of the so-called GSM tax. Nigerians are already over-taxed, yet nothing to show for it. This is eight months into the 2016 fiscal year, still Nigerians are yet to feel any positive impact of public governance except mass hunger and poverty, falsehood, deceit, propaganda, violence and bloodletting. It saddens our heart!”
Faulting the proposed tax, a constitutional lawyer and Chairman, Egalitarian Mission for Africa, Dr. Olukayode Ajulo, said the proposed bill was absolutely anti-people and a sure way of “killing” the telecommunications industry in Nigeria.
He added, “The bill, if passed into law, will be impracticable due to the social, political and legal irregularities imbedded therein that would embarrass the government of President Buhari. Politically, almost 110 million people in Nigeria have access to mobile services that is about two-thirds of Nigeria’s population. With two-third of the population without a mobile connection, you can imagine the consequence.”
On what the group will do, he said, “We are playing down the option of street protests as we believe that once premium is given to superior arguments at the National Assembly public hearing on the proposed bill, the bill will find its rightful place in the dustbin of history.”
Shittu, had at a private sector dialogue session organised by the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Lagos last week, said that the planned tax, which had passed first reading in both chambers of the National Assembly, would help the Federal Government develop the ICT sector and implement its policies and plans in an integrated manner.
According to him, the country will earn as much as N20bn monthly if the bill is passed into law.
In his reaction, Special Assistant, Media, to the Minister of Communications, said, Mr. Victor Oluwadamilare, said, “The bill in the National Assembly is not an executive bill; it is a private member bill.
“What the minister has told those against the bill is to aggregate their views and present them to the National Assembly.
“The government is doing its best to address the recession in the country. If there is no money to run the government, the government can look into all the sectors.
“There is need for all stakeholders to get involved and address their positions to the National Assembly.”