GSM Tax: Buhari Pushing His Luck Too Far

By Adekoya Boladale
A recent investigative report by Economic Confidential puts the total annual remuneration of President Buhari and his cabinet at 2.295billion 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 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.

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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 and elected officials whose cars are fueled from state purse, free food budgeted in abundance, given the highest level of security and move 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 3.4bn 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) 700million naira to help promote the campaign. Celebrities across the country got 100million naira as faces of the change campaign.

1.7billion 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 into the Aso Villa and rechristening of the Presidency to ‘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 the usual sound sleep on the Water-Mattress with blazing air-conditioning and our tax-powered-24-hour diesel generator light only to decide that the most befitting gift to the millions of people it betrayed, lied to, and deceived to get into power is to propose a GSM tax- a new tax regime that empowers the government to demand 10 percent tax 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) the Presidency armed with 10 excessive Presidential Jets, does not see the need to cut down its luxurious expenses and unwarranted allowances decided 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 pretend 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 Chad Basins, 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 hardened 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 demands but supply. This is a problem a serious government will cash 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 call.

A public corporated NITEL with its current facilities only need 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 unprecedented level of revenue for the country instead of a GSM tax introduction that will further empower Telecom companies like Airt*l 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.

Boladale is on Twitter @adekoyabee



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