A younger friend’s ‘factory’ was closed down last month by officers of the Lagos State Internal Revenue Service. It took him over two weeks to get it reopened. What the service demanded from him would wipe out his entire profit for the year plus some. During those two hectic weeks, he lost a few kilos and a lot of sleep trying to see anybody and everybody that he thought could help.
He lost new jobs and failed to deliver on old ones. At the end, not a penny was removed by the revenue authority. He had to borrow heavily to meet the initial payment and issued post-dated cheques for the balance. Everywhere he went, the refrain was ‘the government needs money’ or ‘we have been asked to increase our IGR’.
My friend is in the paint business which is saturated at the moment and the margin for good paints is very low. He learnt his trade from the leading international paints manufacturer in the country and is professionally disinclined to make anything but good quality paint which means he has to make his margin by cutting administrative costs. He does not have an accountant, he does not have a secretary. He is all of the above. He is also the head of operations.
His ‘factory’ is like a large sitting room with an open roof; or a small hall. It does not have any air conditioning; not even a fan. It is shorn of any form of luxury. He does not have space for storage and cannot afford one. So he manufactures mainly to order. His source of water is a deep well in front of his factory which he shares with other tenants.
His main source of electricity is from a generator at the side of the building the maintenance of which he shares with another business concern. This is where he ekes out his living. This is where he gets the income to pay for his children’s school fees, hospital bills and general welfare. This is what makes him the ‘de facto’ head of his family. This is what makes him a man.
This man attended one of the best secondary schools in the country in his time and graduated in engineering at the University of Ife over 30 years ago. Had he taken a different route and gone to Civil Service, he would perhaps have become a Perm Sec or a Director by now and he would have been on the easy street for the rest of his life.
Instead he chose to go to the private sector where he rose to become a senior manager in a multinational and recently retired to set up shop with his gratuities. His plan was to start small and grow. Unfortunately, his growth is threatened by the plethora of demands he gets from different authorities every month. At the last count, he had at least ten different authorities demanding one form of levy or the other. None is concerned about his welfare or survival.
None has bothered to find out if he needed financial help to make him grow. He is just a cash cow that must be milked to keep the bosses happy. The road to his ‘factory’ in Oregun which is just about a five minute drive from the Lagos State seat of government, has not been tarred since Jakande left government. Illegal diesel dealers who pack on both sides of the road have narrowed the once wide road to a single lane. Officials, including the police, visit these illegal traders to extort not to sanction.
The illegal trade is booming and the road is worsening. There is no evidence that any of the officials who daily visit the area for different demands has ever reported the state of the road to the relevant department. All they want is money, money, money.
This is the crux of the matter. Governments need money in form of taxes in order to improve the lives of their people. But ours are riddled with mismanagement and misplaced priorities. The most mutually beneficial initiative for any community is road construction. It is a large employer of labour and good roads benefit every-one; the rich, the poor, the farmer and the white collar workers. So why haven’t we used tax payer’s money to link communities, villages, towns and cities with good roads? Most importantly, how much have these governments sown from where they are planning to reap? How would my friend and people like him feel the presence of government except in the negative sense?
A close friend’s wife has spent all her working life in education and has been the Principal to three top private secondary schools in the country. Now, close to 60, she decided to leave a legacy and set up a first class secondary school in her home State in Ogun. She and her husband sold almost everything they had to buy a large piece of land and clear it. Now the government that had been co-operative with different permits suddenly sat on the big one.
The result is that the project has been stalled for almost a year now. Think of what a good school would do to a community; think of the cottage industries that would spin off it; think of the investments that would flow in and the revenues it would generate; think of how it would put the community on a national map. As an example, Ede was just a rural community until Queens College was established there by government and the community was transformed and its economic life boomed. Besides, given the critical state of education in the country, one would expect waivers from government not obstacles.
Four years ago, a regional investment company decided to concession a defunct newspaper title. A colleague and childhood friend pulled all the stops to acquire it. Then the management of the investment company changed and the new management decided to investigate the concession. That was over two years ago. Meanwhile, investment climate has changed, the economy has slowed and newspaper business has become a very unfriendly venture.
Yet this ‘investment company’ thinks it is doing someone a favour. It is unfortunately, doing a disservice to its name and the region it represents. A newspaper business is a major investment that gives employment to hundreds of people directly or indirectly. When successful, it pulsates with life and vigour. But it is a business the wise go into with caution. This company should actually thank the man who is trying to give life to a dead title because as a professional, I don’t see a major advantage in the title.
Finally, this business of government and parastatal officials believing that every investor and entrepreneur is a prospective millionaire who must ‘drop something’ for them before they can be allowed to start a venture must stop. Those on the inside should encourage new ventures and not hinder them. As it is, Nigeria is one of the most difficult countries to do business and its all born out of short-sightedness caused by greed. Governments at all levels must do something about this. They must sow more into the lives of their people if they want to reap more.