We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.
WINSTON S. CHURCHILL
The National Tax Debate exemplifies the propagation of the Gospel according to the Tax Club. The Club is a group of forward thinking individuals who saw the need to re-define the Nigerian concept of Taxation. Taxation, either as a profession or a field of study, has remained largely untapped in Nigeria. The importance of taxation cannot however be over-emphasized.
The Tax Club is a student organization founded in the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos. Its membership cuts across law students and students of accounting and economics. However, all students with genuine interest in taxation as a field are also invited. The Tax Club sees itself expanding to include more students in the University. The ultimate aim is to have a global presence.
With the rapid decline in Oil prices, the Nigerian Minister of Finance has continued to place on the need for austerity measures. There has also been the introduction of heavy taxes on luxury goods. Taxpayers in various states are keeling over from multiple taxes. The state governments have, as a result of dwindling revenue from the Federation Account, increased the burden on the shoulders of their citizens in order to increase their internally generated revenue. For instance, in Lagos State, Hotels have to pay consumption levy, in addition to the Sales Tax and the VAT. Although, the Court of Appeal in Eko Hotel V Fbir & Anor has declared the Sales Tax null and void, the decision is being appealed at the Supreme Court. The Lagos State government had initially invoked the Original Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in order to determine the validity of the VAT, but the appeal was dismissed largely on technical grounds with the Supreme Court holding that it didn’t have jurisdiction. Similarly, in Rivers state the imposition of an additional 2% levy on the income of individuals outside the personal income tax Act has been challenged successfully in the state High Court. What does this say? While the imposition of taxes may be a means of generating revenue, it would be naïve to ignore its attendant economic consequences. It only follows that the tax payers and the government understand not only the policies underlying any tax system, but how the laws made pursuant to this policies may be implemented and administered for the best results.
The National Tax Debate is, directly or indirectly, a possible solution. While, the tax club may have been interested in expanding its membership, there is no doubt that this is an avenue to work up awareness in youths about the raging issues in taxation, and their effects on economic growth and developments. They are not only exposed to the local variant of these issues, they would also be required to do some comparative analysis of the treatment of similar issues in other countries and on the international scene, with the aim of utilizing a holistic approach to arrive at long- lasting solutions.
THE MAIN DISH
The plan was to have a team of three participants from eight federal schools in each geo-political zone slug it out on the 30th and 31st of October at the Afe Babalola Hall and the Main Auditorium of the University of Lagos respectively. The invites were originally sent to the Univeristy of Nigeria, the University of Ilorin, The University of Abuja, Ahmadu Bello University, the University of Uyo, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, University of Ibadan, University of Benin, and the University of Lagos. However, according to the organisers, Ahmadu Bello University was suddenly not easy to contact two weeks before the event and the University of Uyo had unreasonable demands. Lagos State University was the only state school to be called upon, and they were contacted two days before the event. Yet, they performed exceedingly well. While they didn’t qualify for the semi-finals, the Lead Speaker Mr Tola Adebesin won the The Best Orator Award – #100 000 – sponsored by Mr Chijioke Uwagbute of GE (General Electric)
The seven schools that finally participated in the debate are: University of Lagos (UNILAG), University of Nigeria (UNN), University of Benin(UNIBEN), University of Ilorin(UNILORIN), Lagos State University(LASU), the Nnamdi Azikiwe University(UNIZIK) and the University of Ibadan (UI). UNILAG was paired with UNN on a topic revolving around the criminalization of tax avoidance. UNIBEN was paired with UNIUYO and had to automatically qualify for the semi – finals because UNIUYO was absent. UNILORIN was to compete against LASU, the topic for debate being the taxation of illegal income. UI was paired with UNIZIK to debate on the taxation of the informal sector. UNIZIK, UNN, and UNILORIN moved on to the Semi – finals which took on the next day. Unfortunately, the host school – UNILAG didn’t move past the knock off stage. The Lead Speaker, Seyi Bioku, however emerged the Second Best Orator. He took no prize money – the Chijioke Uwagbute Award was for the Best Orator.
On the second day, a speaker from each of the teams was to slug it out for the Best Orator Award. The topic to be discussed was the impact of free trade zones on economic development, with due consideration to the fact that it was potential loss of tax revenue. The first round of debate for the Semi- finals was between UNN and UNIZIK. On what grounds can the system of progressive taxation be justified? Should it be discontinued? UNIBEN and UNILORIN, in their battle for a slot at the final stage, debated on the pros and cons of the deemed income basis of filing of returns for non-residents. All teams presented sound arguments with confidence, but there were only two slots for the finals which were grabbed by UNN and UNILORIN. A major tax issue is whether more tax incentives should be offered or taxes should be increased for sustainable economic growth. UNN’s position was that increased taxes played an important role in economic growth. UNILORIN put up powerful rebuttals but this wasn’t enough to prevent UNN from being crowned Champions.
So, The University of Nigeria, Nsukka is the official Champion of 2014 edition of the Tax Club’s National Tax Debate.
The event, in spite of a few hitches, was a success. The arguments presented by the parties were enriching. One could tell that a lot of research had gone into it. The Judges were also top – notch. They had interesting profiles and very rich citations. On both days of the competition, the Judges announcing the results mentioned that given the sort of performance and intellectual discourse experienced there, there was still hope for this country. The whole thing was impressive. The organizers were on top of the situation, the participants were outstanding, and the Judges were very helpful, giving constructive criticisms and advice.
It was a thought provoking experience. The LIRS – Lagos State Internal Revenue Service and FIRS – Federal Internal Revenue Service sent representatives. The Judges were from General Electric, Deloitte, Addax Petroleum, Ernst & Young, Nigerian Breweries, just to mention a few. The President of the CITN – Mr Mac Anthony Dike – was present. This is laudable. Other sponsors include PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Samsung, KPMG, and NTA.
In addition to the laptops for the winning team, there were other sponsored prizes. Everyone was particularly impressed with LASU’s performance in spite of the short notice.
Conclusively, the Tax Club must be commended for putting this event together. I don’t think I would miss the 2015 edition for anything in the world. Nigerian youths must continually be exposed to platforms like this. In this age of information gathering and sharing, ignorance would be very fatal.
P.S I would like to thank Mayowa Olagbaiye and Gamaliel Olayiwola Fasuyi, the Director of Research and Assistant General Secretary of the Tax Club respectively for their contributions. Mayowa’s Report was very helpful and Gamaliel helped with the pictures. For more information on the Tax Club, you can click here and here.