In my civics class in elementary school, I was first intimated to the fundamental basic needs of man - food, shelter and clothing. I was given the reasons why they were fundamental - food is for survival from day to day; shelter is needed to shield from harsh environmental conditions and predators; clothing is needed to protect from weather since nature cheated us - no furs. These are must have; and according to the celebrated Irish writer, Elizabeth Bowen, "Everybody will tell the truth until there is something they must have". The masses in Nigeria are not different and must have this fundamental basic necessities; otherwise we will continue to live with our kind of embarrassed level of dishonesty in the society. We may, by default, have institutionalised corruption.
I once wrote that corruption in Nigeria has its utility - it could be as little as an individual effort to satiate a fundamental basic need the State has denied. Most people fall into this category. When people interact, moral codes are developed; philosophers, over the years, have opined that 20% of any group will readily break the moral code of that group, with 3% of those being dangerous. The survival of the society, therefore, rests on the conduct of the remaining 80% that would not readily break the moral code of coexistence; provided they do not lack what they must have. Even in the so called civilised societies there is corruption, but only at the top. Democracy is supposed to balance the right against wrong; provided the ordinary people in that society are shielded from lack of fundamental basic necessities that they must have. The needs of the masses are not grandiose and could easily be funded by the privileged paying their fair share.
The only other option is a revolution. Europe was at a similar crossroad 300 hundred years earlier; it was dealt with in two diametrical opposing views - violent revolution and public education. At that time, continental Europe descended into an orgy of decapitating the affluents in the society; it was a philosophy that would later be institutionalised by Karl Max, a son of a noble (affluent). In Britain, it was through public education and that was championed by the Fabian Society (a group of academics) who saw an ominous cloud brewing. Violent revolution was short, in France it lasted 10 years, but it consumed even the innocents. Whereas peaceful revolution (public education) took a while (about 50 years); in the end, the rich started paying their fair share, and today even the palaces have cut down on their excesses and have started paying tax. Unemployment benefits are borne by those that are in employment and by employers. In the end, everybody goes home happy - the poor survives, even if it is pittance, and the rich goes to bed with two eyes closed.
My well-to-do friends are not comfortable with my arguments, but the country cannot run away from these facts. I told some of them not to complain to me about what is wrong with this country any longer, if they are not willing to pay their fair share. It is myopic, because what we see as good-life is an alternate means to good-life. It pains to see that in this place and time, we will have to go through life where nothing works; why did we go to school? It is sure going to be an uphill task, unless there is something in all this for the rich also. What in return will the rest of society give back to the rich that my argument solicits? My friends are still my friends, as one of them pointed out the other day, because I tried not to blame a single Nigerian for our woes. I believe it's a system collapse and no particular person is at fault. For instance, we watched those who are powerful change, at will, the immutable laws the British bequeathed to us to suit particularly important persons on several occasions; but did nothing.
A robust tax system would impact on the future our children. It could be what the father of modern economics, Adam Smith, termed the "invisible hand" in "The Theory of Moral Sentiments (Part IV, Chapter 1). Tax money seems mystical as it leaves goodies in its wake. A government contractor, for example, is given a road to fix; he goes to company A to hire plants to execute the job; he goes to company B to buy materials; he goes to the unemployment market to hire workers. Then the government taxes the contractor, company A, company B, and the hired workers. In the end, the contracted money is back to the government treasury through tax routes; the road is fixed and beautiful; plus the social dividend of gainful employments reducing dependency on handouts. Someone, however, fears the people in government will embezzle the tax receipts. No sir, not when the rich in the society are compelled to pay a sizeable amount of their earnings as tax; nobody messes around with a rich man's money - nobody! The political class knows this. The argument continues.
Samuel Akinyele Caulcrick, Lagos.