Social Justice and Equality in Nigeria: ‘Tax, the Law, and the People’ -Terinwa Adesipo

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The world was beautiful before now, it was the best place to live in, then, humanity was one, united, progressive, loving and peaceful but the moment men began to embrace selfishness and found love in loaves and fishes and they sacrificed humanity on the altar of material things, everything changed, unity deserted humanity, love was crucified, and humanity was no longer the same. In this new era, man began to  feel he was greater and more powerful than his fellow men, this was the point where humanity took a turn away from equality and justice it once represented and began its journey to what now defines it today;  monopolization of wealth, social injustice, hatred, disunity and the oppression of his fellow men. This is sadly the reality today, at this patch of human existence, everybody wants to be richer, stronger, more powerful, more successful than his fellow men, it is now a battle for supremacy, nobody is enamoured by equality anymore, justice is an rarely manifested, everything has become “for self and self alone”, nothing bespeaks communal unity, greatness, cooperation, and a success-for-all lifestyle. It seems to be a gone days for the great virtues that once strengthened the world.

It was the Great Roman Philosopher, Marcus Tullius Cicero that said “the origin of justice must be derived from law. For law is a force of nature, the intelligence of a wise man, and the criterion of justice and injustice…”, Cicero, who was also a lawyer and politician understood greatly, the essential place of  law in any community, its indispensability in the course of justice of any society and above all, its unbreakable connection with the progress of man. Law in every society manifest a duty greater than that of any other, the duty of ensuring peace, unity and also the progress and continuing existence of man. To this end, it is fair to conclude law is the lifeblood of any society without which a society cannot peacefully exist. In this new era in Nigeria, everything that defines us are pronounced testament of injustice, inequality, and disunity. Laws here are enacted by the rich and powerful to oppress the common man, and such thing such as tax which was meant to contribute to social equality has been transmogrified into an instrument of subjugating the poor and empowering the rich. Ours is an ambience fashioned out in societal injustice.

Tax system is one major area where societal injustice manifest. Rather than tax people according to their possession, which includes imposing a low tax rate on low income earners and a high tax rate on high income earners, the reverse is the case. Extant tax policies and laws are made to favour not the common man but the rich and powerful, empirical reference can be seen in the electricity billing system, where, the poor are made to pay more for electricity not consumed why the rich are made to pay little since they are wrongly believed not to rely on them nor utilize them like the average man does. What is paid by a man with a gigantic house who realistically consumes a large percentage of electricity way farther than his counterpart who lives in a rented room and parlour are almost the same, if not the latter paying more exorbitantly than the former, the poor are made to feed the rich out of the little they have struggled to possess. Generally, the idea behind taxation was meant to be majorly as a means of giving back to the society just has a person has received from the society, but rather than this to manifest, what happens here in Nigeria is the contrary, the poor man gives to the society way farther than he receives from the society, why the rich man gives way lesser than he has received from the society, the poor get poorer and the rich get richer. Good student of economics as well as tax would know that one of the quintessential if not the most important rationale for paying tax is to ensure social equality and wealth distribution, this is the concept of redistributionism, this system understands that not everybody can make the same money as the other, or get paid the same salary as the other, the reality will always be that a person will be financially stronger than the other, but as a means of remedying the effect of this inequality in the society, tax must  be introduced to balk this inequality thereby serving as a medium of  redistributing wealth in the society, but rather than this to manifest, the contrary is the sadly the reality in Nigeria.

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Ours is a country where government facilities which are meant to serve those who are financially weak are nothing but expensive to enjoy. The government hospital in the neighborhood is not a place for the poor man to go, even when  sick and apparently ill, he must rather resort to local/native drugs if he must be healed  than  make  his way to one of the government health care centers, the reason is not far-fetched, rather than the poor man’s health to improve for the better by going to the hospital, the contrary is the reality,  this is because what he will be made to pay before he is ever allowed to even taste what can be called the treatment of his disease or ailment, will be one that will fan the flames of his ill health. This institution termed government-owned are not affordable for the poor, not to talk about the privatized ones, although understandably, theirs was created majorly for profit making, what is then to be said about that which claimed to be a non-profit making institution which was created to serve the needs of the common man, but all it does, is exploit the poor man of the little he has. As if this were not enough, this institutions are bedeviled by lack of necessary infrastructure and equipment. It was rather so disgusting and unheard of when a person who is fracture boned is instructed to make his way to a private health center for X-ray services, basically because the so-called government hospital do not possess the equipment needed to carry out such a medical operation. This is the common man’s lot in a Nigeria medical institution that claims to be governmental.

Education is another of such facet of  life where social injustice is celebrated and manifested, to receive education in this country is nothing but an herculean task if not chimerical for the common man, although their exist plethora of name-carrying government educational institutions, they were basically and realistically not designed for the common man.. The fees of some government educational institutions in Nigeria are so expensive and grotesquely exorbitant. As if this were not enough, strike and disruption of academic calendar best defines this educational institutions, it has become a firsthand experience of where two elephants fight, the grass will be the one to suffer for it. Schools can be closed down for months if not up to a year for reasons hinged on nothing other than non-payment of salaries for teachers and lecturers. In circumstances where the schools are not on strike, it is disheartening to know that major equipment needed for the acquisition of knowledge are never present. Although, their exist nothing such as free education system in Nigeria,  even when education is being paid for what is gained in those institutions cannot be claimed to be adequate knowledge, if ever knowledge at all. The poor man is made to believe that education is only fitting for the rich man, as a result of that he cannot benefit from the system.

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In addition to this, the average Nigeria road is characterized by potholes which are synonymous or can also be baptized “death traps”, this is basically because of the fact that such things such as a durable, motorable roads is not for the average Nigerian. The rich and powerful are not in any way affected by this, since they can easily purchase a private jet or board an airplane but the average man must sleep and wake up in traffic jams, must be late for appointment because his car just went bad on the road due to the various potholes he needed to hurdle past before getting to his destination, he is made to know that the roads will undergo (non)durable repair every four years when election is at the corner. The rich man who does not have to board a plane when going to work has the road to his work place well tarred since he can well pay toll gate fees but the poor man, No!, he deserves something less. Sadly, there are ample records that attest to the fact that plethora of lives are lost on the Nigeria highway every day, this is  not because of excess speed or non-concentration of drivers when driving but because there is always that pot-hole turned death trap located on one side of the road which the driver just did not notice. This is another manifestation of Social injustice in Nigeria, just another of the poor man’s lot.

As if all this were not enough, laws made  to regulate the live of  the people in the country are testaments of this injustice and inequality, in a way, the laws are enacted to favour the rich and neglect, if not suffer the poor. Laws where a person who has stolen a pen must go to jail and the other who embezzles public funds must be glorified and praised and when asked why, the reply will be “you must uproot a tree before it manifest into a forest” “small-scale” stealing must be curbed so that it does not manifest into a big scale. The laws where the poor man can find no justice in court but where the rich man can frustrate the course of justice with employing the “best and finest” of legal teams. Laws, where the right of the poor man differs from that of the rich, where the rich man’s right begins where that of the poor man ended. A law where the lawmaker must be paid large amount of money coupled with pennies from heaven for sitting in the legislative house all day doing nothing but trying out boxing bouts, when the hardworking teacher who tirelessly impacts the lives of many young minds is paid nothing but a paltry sum while being told that “a teachers reward is in heaven”. A law where the poor man is not entitled to bail but must end in jail for simple offences but his rich counterparts enjoys the constitutional right of bail before 24 hours. This is sadly the law manifesting social injustice in Nigeria.

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At this juncture of the countries existence, it should be a gone days for those years of social inequality and injustice, tax should be made to serve as an instrument of wealth redistribution and not of overconcentration of wealth in the hands of a few, tax laws and policies should be implemented in such a way as to distribute wealth into the hands of everybody, people must be made to pay tax just as much as they have received from the society and not incorrectly and unjustly. Tax should accelerate the wheel of communal unity and societal love and not the contrary. The average man cannot come to terms with the fact that he has to pay exorbitantly high tax rate more than his rich neighbor who owns a gigantic mansion and fleets of cars, neither can he come to terms with the fact that he pays a higher electricity rate than his rich neighbor who possesses heaps of electrical beauties and technological appliances. Tax should be a means to ensuring social justice and equality and not the contrary.

It was the St Augustine, the Christian Philosopher that wisely said “an unjust law is no law at law”, a law that preaches nothing but social inequality and injustice should not be called law, and this is because it lacks the basic, essential characteristics of what is needed before it should be called such. Nigeria law are hallmarked by this injustice and inequality, bespeaking nothing but same. At this juncture of the countries existence, the important place of law as a necessary path to justice and also greatness cannot be neglected. What is needed are not laws that fans the flames of the weak and butters the bread of the strong and mighty. The law must be made to apply to everybody similarly. To live by such inequality is to allow disunity to thrive. Peace cannot be made to exist in a society where the common man is made to know that the man with lot of money will be treated differently from him. He cannot come to terms with the fact that he must go to jail for breaking “mere” traffic rules but his rich and mighty next door neighbor can unjustly slap him and will be made to go scot free without any sanction of the law. What will rule in such a society will be nothing but hatred, disunity and insecurity, the end of which will result in nothing but the backwardness of such a society?

Laws enacted by the lawmakers must not be made to be an instrument of oppression and subjugation of the poor but rather should be made to encourage and promote social justice and equality among all and sundry and when unjust laws are made. It was the Greek philosopher Aristotle who said, “Justice is the greatest virtue of all”, to which i believe every laws of men must be made to achieve same, , this I believe is Nigeria’s only way to glory.

Adesipo Adeterinwa is a third year law student of the Faculty of
Law,  Lagos State University.

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