By Dr. Tom Ohikere 

Nigeria is a paradox by all indications. A nation where the sentiments of religion and region reign supreme. A country where citizens pay tithes more than taxes yet expect development. Whilst not intending to question the moral pay offs of our religious doctrines and conceptions, our deeply religious citizens must not forget that their civic responsibilities remain an integral part of what God and mankind expect from true worshippers and good citizens alike.

The Nigerian attitude towards taxes are the reasons for Nigeria’s poor socio-economic development as the general level of tax compliance in Nigeria is still abysmally low. This is worrisome for a nation with decaying road infrastructure and huge housing deficit. In the past five years, the gap between the budgeted and actual revenues has widened, thereby forcing the Government to resort to huge borrowings to fund its planned expenditure. A country that pays only tithes cannot be prosperous like the country that pays their taxes and the government uses it for development. 

Raising revenue is one of the most basic responsibilities of any nation/state. Before a state can protect its citizens, provide basic amenities or administer justice, it needs to raise money. More government revenue most times results to more public infrastructure. A limiting factor in determining the government budget for its duties to her citizens is the capacity to tax. The level of taxation is used as an indicator of state capacity. Developed countries raise more tax and are, therefore, able to provide better welfare services to their citizens. According to Jim Young Kim, the immediate past president of World Bank Group, “fair and efficient tax systems, combined with good service delivery and public accountability build citizens’ trust in the government and help societies prosper”.

Putting into consideration that Nigeria’s informal sector is a significant portion of her GDP, moral suasion would do far more than the tax enforcement can do in improving voluntary compliance. It is imperative to note that for as long as the informal sector largely remains outside the fiscal net, the formal sector alone cannot generate the required level of taxes required to fund government expenditures. Considering that Nigerians are deeply religious, our churches and mosques have a significant role to play in fixing and promoting the fundamental social contract between citizens and their government which require tax payments by citizens in return for provision of social services from the government.

Churches in America helped to end slavery in the country and also helped them to develop positive attitude to charity. Till today, America is still one of the most philanthropic nations in the world. Our religious institutions should take a cue and prepare their religious believers to be good democratic citizens. Luckily, it appears that they are beginning to appreciate the need to be the agents of social change judging from the robust advocacy for PVC collection that came from the pulpits during the last voters’ registration exercise. The same drive or even a higher zeal would be required from our religious leaders in informing their congregations and laymen that it is, indeed, noble and theological to be a taxpayer.

Nigerians must strike a balance between religious obligations and civil responsibilities for the nation to transform to the country we all desire. To “give Caesar what is due to Caesar” is a divine command that Jesus used to reconcile religious belief with citizenship duties when the Jews refused to pay Roman led government-imposed taxes. It is, therefore, imperative for Christians not to see civic duties as optional but rather as a fundamental obligation that is firmly rooted at the very core of the Christian faith. Thus, we cannot in all honesty claim to be good Christians if we pay our tithes but refuse to pay our taxes. Christians and other religious citizens alike who ignore their civil responsibilities but fulfils their religious obligations and at the same time expect our society to be a good place to live, work and play, lose the right to be model citizens.