The economic realities in Nigeria have pushed most states in to look inward for alternative sources of funds. This thirst triggered different clamors for the restructuring of the tax environment either through consolidation of State and Local Government Revenue Committees; invitations and involvement of consultants in tax collections and or overhaul of the tax authorities within the states. States has introduced the presumptive tax regimes, extra consumption taxes, and some road toll fees among others to harness the informal tax environment. However, the State has little or no inclusive plan to educate the taxpayers on the implications of the new system/regime and how it works, hence opening more room for opacity, corruption and friction between taxpayers and revenue generating agencies.
Followtaxes brought together citizens, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), states and federal revenue services, investment promotion agencies, Anti-Graft agencies, the States Houses of Assembly, Media, Private Sector, Professional Bodies, Academia, Youth Corps members (NYSC), University students, Market Associations and other Ministries Departments and Agencies, in different states in Nigeria to a Public Policy Dialogue (PPD) to discuss out challenges and ways forward. The PPD under this project was held in Kaduna, Kano, Abuja, Sokoto, Kwara, Bauchi, Taraba, and Lagos. The PPD involved a town hall meeting to create a face to face dialogues; enrich contacts; ease communications between stakeholders, and create working relationships. Understanding that not all citizens can attend our town hall meetings, and of course, a lot of our target population do not have access to the internet to engage us on dialogues via our websites, we created radio programs around the project. Using both National and local radios in Nigeria, we held interactions in popular programs and acquired time slots to build radio dialogues programs to reach Nigerian Citizens. At this juncture, we must pause to appreciate The US Embassy Nigeria who made the execution of this project possible through the YALI Transparency Grants
The dialogues which held in Lagos, Abuja, Kaduna, Kano, Kwara, Bauchi, Taraba, and Sokoto, provided a platform for all relevant stakeholders on revenue generation to discuss, showcase successes and challenges with the view of agreeing on tenable decisions for effective revenue/tax collection and utilization for service delivery improvement. Policy dialogue leads to a key policy decision with the buy-in and ownership of a wide range of stakeholders – this is crucial because policy implementation is directly dependent on buy-in from those stakeholders who are involved in implementation. It is a government responsibility to use revenues generated for developmental purposes. And if development is seen as the process of changing economic and social policies for the benefits of the entire citizens. It is then also the responsibility of the citizens to demand good governance through engagements. The agreed decisions at the end of each PPD is communicated to the State Governor and or the head of the right agency as an agreed recommendation for better and effective results.
The rationale for the dialogue is to provide government authorities, taxpayers, and professionals with a platform to among another issue:
- Clarify the mandates of the agency and other revenue collection agencies
- Present overview of tax/rates collection strategies
- Sensitize citizens on its Annual targets and performance
- Disseminate the sanctions and penalties on defaulter/evaders.
- To ask relevant questions on processes and procedures
- To voice out challenges and advice on ways out
- To enhance collective ownership.
- To train the youth (NYSC and Students) as train the trainers in tax transparency.
- It is also expected that discussion will revolve around the following issues:
- Role of taxation in budgets and the wellbeing of citizens
- Double and Multiple taxations
- Following Taxes (Using taxpayers money for service delivery improvement)
- Convenient ways of paying taxes/rates
- Innovation in tax collection (Using simple mobile apps)
- Improving awareness of taxpayers’ rights and obligations
- Providing community support to volunteers that will further the engagements
The PPD was organized to specifically achieve the following key objectives:
- To improve policies and decision-making processes around IGR collection
- To enhance participation and interest of citizens around government spending for service delivery improvement
- To create a sense of ownership,
- To strengthen ownership and sustainability, as stipulated in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) commitment area on Taxation and fiscal transparency
It is with great pride we will say that we have covered all the 8 states we planned to visit and conducted national radio programs on the current project. We have partnered with different states, organizations, and institutions including International institutions to further strengthen governance and fiscal transparency in Nigeria. We have invitations to facilitate, speak or organize similar projects in other states and with other organizations. We had agreements of partnerships and the freehand to lead the OGP subnational steering committee in Kaduna, and we have trained volunteers to further continue enlightenment in the rural areas. The future of followtaxes and this project is an enormous success with a clear plan on continuation.
Success, Challenges and Ways Forward
The overwhelming success of the project cannot be overemphasized. Our evaluations and ratings of attendants of our PPD before and after the event is high, showing that there is a good understanding of what we have set to achieve. We have compiled issues and concerns that bordered around taxation and fiscal transparency. We sent the observations and suggestions to the governors and or chief executives of the agencies corned. We are sending to the other governors of the remaining states. We have different organizations, states and institutions asking for the partnership to advance the course considering the importance of what we are doing and we have shared concerns and issues including success and challenges between the states we visited so that they will all learn from each other and or avoid the same errors.
The project is affected by two major impediments, Human resources to run the project effectively and funds to reach out to more communities that are extending invitations. Firstly, the human resources angle impedes more, the project currently has no budget to hire more staff to dedicate and execute the activities of the project effectively. The number of volunteers used is always limited to when the volunteer wants to move on and or when he gets a better-paid job that we can not counter. Presently the project is working to overcome that. Secondly, different organizations including some consultants from the private sector who are impressed by the results of the project want the project to expand her activities. Presently the project is running on small grants that can only cover a limited space. We intend to expand, but we are limited by the resources.
We owe it to the entire team including The US Embassy, and the other authorities who made our journey so far a success. We have covered all the targeted states and communities. We have conducted national radio and local radio programs in the current project, we have partnered with different states, organizations, and institutions to further strengthen governance and fiscal transparency in Nigeria. We have invitations to facilitate, speak or organize similar projects in other states and with other organizations. We had agreements of partnerships and the freehand to lead Open Government Partnership Steering committee. The future of followtaxes and this project is an enormous success with a clear plan on continuation. We have secured funds and support to hold another interactive session in the second quarter of 2018 with KADIRS and other stakeholders but in a smaller group discussion to discuss some of the issues raised during the PPD to deepen and extend our reach and to rural areas. The project will be supported by PERL-DFID Looking at the past event, we are optimistic that the future will yield same great results if not better.