Adaranijo: Politicising Taxation In Lagos Elections
IT was not on the usual campaign trail but at a very formal stakeholders meeting on taxation that no less a person than Lagos State Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola made the unforgivable gaffe that PDP governorship candidate Jimi Agbaje is a serial tax defaulter and should not be electable as governor of the state. That should be the most potent example in contemporary Nigerian politics of the misuse of taxation as a political weapon to intimidate and disgrace a political opponent, by any sitting power holder or incumbent state governor in recent times. It was a blow below -the-belt; undeserved by the target. Just as it was quite unworthy of the assailant, a distinguished Senior Advocate of Nigeria from whom much is expected in terms of political restraint and circumspection, who had literally thrown caution to the winds in not being able to distinguish between a serious meeting of taxation stakeholders and a political campaign as well as the message to deliver to either audience.
Definitely, the outgoing governor of Lagos state is unaware that taxation is an apolitical topic in any civilised society. It is a personal, confidential civic responsibility of citizens. It is a duty they are expected to perform and the revenue collecting institution or authority has a similar duty to impose sanctions if they fail to discharge such duties and responsibilities as and at when due. That is not the duty of any governor to discharge not to talk of divulging information on a political opponent at a stakeholder’s forum on taxation. That is a breach of confidentiality inherent in the imposition and payment of taxes. Did our SAN governor not know this before his outburst? That is misusing the privileged position of a governor to cut an opponent down to size. It is an avoidable misuse of power for political gain in these Lagos governorship elections.
It is note worthy that the Jimi Agbaje’s campaign people has reacted and shown evidence that their man has paid his taxes as and when due. That, however, is not the point, which is the derailment of a normally cool governor over a mere taxation issue. The governor should be reminded that some politicians have gone to prison on such frivolous, trumped up charges by their opponents like him in power, only for such oppressed victims coming back to claim power triumphantly. Nkrumah was elected from prison where he was facing political charges. The same applied to Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya. Even though Jimi Agbaje has paid his taxes, the governor has placed Agbaje on a higher pedestal in this campaign in the way he, the governor, has vilified an innocent opponent in this 2015 Lagos guber elections. The governor’s desperation, however, is a great sign of the fear of a man like Jimi Agbaje succeeding him after the guber elections of 2015. To Lagosians, however, the fear is well founded because this attempt to tarnish Agbaje’s integrity and quality of citizenship has exalted and boosted his image amongst majority of Lagosians who want a change at Alausa; a fact that is giving the outgoing governor goose pimples all over his body. Again the governor‘s fear may be excused on the grounds of campaign fatigue. The governor is the man in charge of fund raising for APC Presidential Campaign. Perhaps the venue of the Taxation Shareholders Forum misled him into thinking it was a fund raising matter and he mistook Agbaje for one of those yet to contribute to the coffers of the APC, an aberration. Or the governor, who is having an uphill task raising funds as expected while shooting the party in the foot with his utterances has really run out of ideas to counter the bandwagon effect of the fast moving Agbaje Change Train, which is picking up thousands of Lagosians at each campaign stop of the PDP candidate in Lagos State. It is a fast moving PDP train gathering momentum very fast in terms of the expectations of Lagosians that change will replace Fashola for real with Agbaje. Not the facade of changes that Ambode offers. That is a change process that has gone too far for even a false charge of taxation to counter or stop. It is Agbaje for governor in this Lagos State.
• Adaranijo, who writes from Lagos, is a public analysts and commentator.