GSM Tax: Buhari Pushing His Luck Too Far, By Adekoya Boladale

President Buhari should be advised (if there is anyone left in his cabinet with honour) that the office he holds is held in trust and continuous formulation of policies that are anti-people such as this is a betrayal of that trust.

A recent investigative report by Economic Confidential puts the total annual remuneration of President Buhari and his cabinet at 2.295 billion naira. In the extensive report, President Buhari and his vice-president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo enjoy a hardship allowance pegged at 50 percent of their annual basic salaries. This is less than the 250 percent constituency, accommodation, furniture, domestic staff, personal assistants, utilities, newspapers, vehicles, entertainment, maintenance and estacode allowances enjoyed by the duo. The remunerations and other perks enjoyed by ministers and cabinet members are sour stories best told another day.

If not that life is brutish, nasty, and unfair, who truly deserves the hardship allowance between citizens who toil day and night to make ends meet; buy food at exorbitant prices and still have to provide water, electricity, security and road to move on for themselves and elected officials whose cars are fueled from state purse, fed freely in abundance, given the highest level of security and moved around the world at will with luxurious fleets?

Before you breathe that in, the recently launched “Change Begins With Me” campaign according to Daily Independent newspaper has already gulped a whopping 3.4 billion naira within one week of its inauguration. According to the news report, the government paid civil society groups (whatever their importance is to the campaign) 700 million naira to help promote the campaign. Celebrities across the country received 100 million naira as faces of the change campaign. 1.7 billion naira went into artworks, logo and jingles, while the remaining balance simply, as they put in political parlance ‘went to the boys’.

These are coming at a time when Nigerians are being fed daily with excuses of dwindling revenue as the hindrance against government performance, most especially the so much “Maggitized”, “Thymed” and “Curryed” change. While it is crystal clear that the administration ushered into office last year has compromised not just the standard it portrayed while seeking office, the indoctrination of outright nepotism in the Aso Villa and rechristening of the Presidency as ‘Buhari,Daura and Co. Limited’ backstabs every criticism we had against the Peoples Democratic Party led governments.

As if the present distasteful condition of the economy and unending hardship is not enough, the presidency woke up after one of their usual sound sleep on water mattresses in air-conditioned rooms powered by tax-powered-24-hour diesel generator electricity only to decide that the most befitting gift to the millions of people it lied to and deceived to get into power is to propose a combination tax, which seeks to empower the government to collect 10 percent taxes on phone calls, text messages, data and more.

If not for ‘Ai feni p’eni, ai f’eniyan p’eniyan, to mu ara oko san bante wo lu’ (an arbitrary insult), a presidency armed with 10 excessive presidential jets, does not see the need to cut down its luxurious expenses and unwarranted allowances but decides to make our already hardened life more rocky.

While I accept the possibility that our inability to protest the recent hike in fuel pump price may have given the president and his advisers the nerve to throw any ridiculous and highly anti-masses regulations at us, posterity demands that Mr. President at least pretends that there is still a little part of him with empathy.

If the government is truly serious about sourcing for alternative revenue (though this is doubtful with the continuous pumping of acclaimed scarce resources to oil exploration in the Chad Basin, a feat similar to finding Godot( apologies to Samuel Beckett), it should focus on creating a separate platform rather than milking what is left of our already difficult life.

The moribund Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), with all its facilities, should as a matter of urgency be redesigned into a public corporation with data services as its core focus.

With the rapid penetration of internet into Africa and the unprecedented level of acceptability in Nigeria, the major challenge facing mobile communication companies is no longer demand but supply. This is a problem that a serious government would cash in on. Already, Nigerians are at the mercy of undependable and unstable mobile telecommunication companies who are struggling to keep up with the demand for data while still providing statutory voice calls.

A public incorporated NITEL with its current facilities only needs to embark on massive fibre optic cable laying and substation construction nationwide. With cities and villages connected to a far cheaper and faster internet connection, selling data voucher in the similar marketing strategy of recharge cards will not only create instant employment but generate huge levels of revenue for the country instead of a GSM tax introduction that will further empower telecom companies to continuously shortchange and rob us of our actual data allocation.

President Buhari should be advised (if there is anyone left in his cabinet with honour) that the office he holds is held in trust and continuous formulation of policies that are anti-people such as this is a betrayal of that trust.

Adekoya Boladale, a public affairs analyst and political commentator, is on Twitter @adekoyabee