“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 Churchill
An International Monetary Fund (IMF) Staff team flew into Abuja on November 6, 2022 for Article IV consultation meeting with Nigerian government officials and private sector leaders. Discussions took place during the next 2 weeks in Abuja. The Executive Board of the IMF agreed with the IMF staff recommendations to the incoming Nigerian government. These recommendations included “the removal of fuel subsidies by mid-2023, the imposition of a unified exchange rate and the intensification of revenue mobilization, including through tax administration reforms, expanding the tax automation system, strengthening taxpayer segmentation, improving tax compliance, modernizing customs administration, rationalizing tax incentives, and raising tax rates to the levels of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)”. The IMF Staff also recommended “ (i) streamlining VAT exemptions; (ii) streamlining tax expenditures; (iii) increasing the VAT rate to at least 10 percent by 2023 and to 15 percent by 2027; and (iv) increasing excise rates on alcoholic, tobacco and other products.” Speaking on the Nigerian economic crisis on October 13, 2023, Abebe Aemro Selassie, Director, African Department, IMF said, “the exchange rate reforms that the government did was very, very welcome, trying to unify the rate, similarly the fuel subsidy. But that will not help and will not stick unless you also are tightening monetary policy, unless you’re also doing something to mobilize more tax revenues.”
In response to the IMF policies recommendations, echoed by his economic advisers, President Tinubu set up a Presidential Fiscal Policy and Tax Reforms Committee in August 2023. The committee was to make recommendations on “(1) revenue mobilisation, both tax and non-tax (2) quality of government spending and (3) sustainable debt management.” It was expected to provide “(1) Quick Wins within 30 days focusing on urgent interventions to cushion the effect of current socio-economic challenges (2) Critical Reforms within 6 months including measures to address multiplicity of taxes, simplify the tax laws, ensure policy coordination, drive accountability and transparent reporting (3) Implementation of structural revenue reform measures and critical fiscal policy changes.” The committee recommendations are expected to help the administration attain an 18 % tax-to-GDP ratio within three years. The committee submitted Its “Quick Win Report” on October 26, 2023. President Tinubu directed the SGF to commence the immediate implementation of the recommendations of the Committee in ministries, agencies and departments of the Federal Government. The Tinubu administration’s strategy is to mobilize more tax revenue by enlarging the tax base and increasing tax rates. Therefore, it plans to tax SME in the informal sector and increase the personal income taxes of market women, peasants and unwaged workers. This strategy is likely to meet stiff peasant resistance in the rural areas as it did with Tiv peasants in 1960 and 1964 and the Agbekoya peasants of Western Nigeria in 1968. We will examine these peasant revolts against increased taxation starting with the 1960 Tiv revolt.
The resistance of Tiv peasants to British occupation lasted from 1901 to 1934 when the last punitive expeditions and pacification missions were sent into Tiv land. The British imposed direct taxation and indirect rule. The Native Authorities implemented the colonial taxation policies. Tiv peasants disliked the Native Authorities and the system of indirect rule. The Tiv educated elites also disliked the Native authorities. Its members organised the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) to demand for a separate Middle Belt Regional State and to contest against the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) in parliamentarian elections. Thus, the UMBC and Tiv peasants were united in opposing the taxation policies of the colonial regime.
In 1959, the tax rate in Tiv land was £1 2s. per adult. The Northern Regional government planned to increase this tax rate to £1 7s. per adult in 1960 in order to fund its 5 year development programme. The announcement of the proposed increase was met with intensified anti-tax agitation in Tiv land. The agitation forced the Native Authority to postpone its proposed tax mobilisation exercise. The Tiv peasants voted overwhelmingly for the UMBC in the 1959 elections. However, the Northern peoples Congress (NPC) still retained control of the northern Regional government and it maintained the Tor Tiv and the Native Authority in power. The Tiv peasants resented the continued imposition of the Tor Tiv and Native Authority personnel that have been voted out of office. Matters were made worst when the Tor Tiv delivered a ‘pay your taxes for development’ speech during the Tiv Central Council meeting at Gboko. Some of the Tax revenue collected from Tiv land was used to maintain the conspicuous consumption habits of the Tor Tiv and the Native Authority officials. Therefore, the Tor Tiv’s speech was not well received.
In March of 1960, Tiv peasants refused to pay any taxes and commenced to carry out attacks on policemen and Native Authority officials. Soon, all NPC political leaders were being attacked and their houses burnt down. The conditions in Tiv land deteriorated. Amadu Bello, the Sarduana of Sokoto and the premier of the northern Region, said “There had been numerous incidents in Tiv Division, of refusal to accept lawfully constituted authorities and at present there was a serious feature- whenever Tivs gathered in public, they carried arms such as dane guns, bows and arrows and spears.” The Sarduana saw peasant resistance against increased direct taxation and the colonial institutions as a refusal to accept lawfully constituted authority.
In September, the Regional State intensified its police repression. One hundred and seven peasants were arrested on September 11, 1964. Two days later, two hundred and ninety nine more were arrested for refusal to pay tax. Tiv peasants responded with the burning of some houses belonging to Native Authority officials and set ambushes for the policemen. The northern Regional State declared a period of emergency because of the failure of the Tiv Native Authority to maintain law and order. On the next day, three hundred homes belonging to Native Authority officials and other NPC supporters were burnt at a village 10 miles from Ihugh. Policemen arrested eight hundred and thirty nine Tiv peasants .
A week later, Mr. J. S. Tarka, the leader of the UMBC/AG Alliance made an effort at conciliation. He handed over 5 of his party members to policemen at Gboko for burning houses belonging to NPC leaders. The men were given 3 to 5 years imprisonment terms. Thus, UMBC leaders attempted to sabotage the peasants’ resistance by delivering their members to the NPC dominated Native Courts. Twelve other peasants were jailed for one year and given 6 strokes of the cane for burning homes. Three hundred and sixty five peasants were ordered flogged 6 strokes each for carrying dangerous weapon. The public flogging of peasants pushed matters beyond the point of bourgeois compromise. Riots broke out at Adikpo, Ihugh, Igbir, Ilian, Wanune and other Tiv villages. NPC refugees streamed out of Aliede, Moigbo, Maka, Iharer and Ighogh. Eight hundred Tiv peasants, from Gboko, marched on Makurdi. They were intercepted by policemen and three hundred were arrested
One month later, 500 policemen were still at Gboko trying to pacify the peasants and arrest those accused of committing crimes. Between March and October of I960, there were 4,800 Tiv peasants arrested and 2,830 convicted of ‘criminal activities’. Most of them were charged with ‘going around armed and causing fear’. The most common punishment melted out was public flogging. The death toll had risen to eighteen and there was no sign of the struggle abating as armed attacks on policemen multiplied. The reaction of the Regional State to the continued peasant revolt was to dissolve the Tiv Native Authority and replace it with a British Senior District Officer. This officer and his Nigerian assistants were to find all culprits, assess the damage done to persons and homes and prepare all necessary information required for the application of the collective punishment ordinance. They were also to bring tax collection up to date in Tiv land. The Tiv peasant ended the revolt since the Native Authority was no longer in existence, their fellow peasants were released and nobody was seriously talking about increased taxes or tax collection anymore. It was not long before talks about increasing and collecting taxes began again and they culminated in another Tiv peasant revolt in 1964. We will examine the 1964 Tiv revolt against increased taxation in our next article. The 1960 Tiv revolt reduced the amount of revenue collected by the northern Regional State during a year in which the wage bill had increased due to the Mbanefo awards. The revolt showed the power of a section of the peasantry and the ability of the rural masses to fight for their economic interests.
The current neoliberal policies of the Tinubu administration are recycled IMF structural adjustment policies (SAP) that have led to increased poverty, reduced growth, economic instability, stagflation, recessions and underdevelopment in the past. The IMF – Tinubu administration’s strategy of widening the tax base by taxing rural peasants and market women will likely meet with intensified peasant resistance as the 1960 peasant anti-tax revolt in Tiv land have shown us. Our goal is to tell our own stories and prepare ourselves for the upcoming anti taxation struggles as a heavy tax burden is added to the negative impacts of the fuel price increases and Naira devaluation on the Nigerian masses in the rural areas.
E-mail: [email protected]