On the 17th of September 2019, Accountability Lab Nigeria hosted 35 concerned citizens at a Tax Justice and Budget Monitoring workshop on Fiscal Governance with support from Open Society Foundations, OECD, BudgIT and Follow Taxes. The primary objective was to create awareness on fiscal policies and encourage citizen engagement.

Held at the Ground Hall of Hotel Seventeen in Kaduna, the event featured BudgIT Tracking Officer, Dauda Ahmed, as well as Follow Taxes Co-Founder, Saied Tafida, who provided valuable insights on the intricacies of taxation and budgeting in Nigeria. They also explored the controversies related to contracting and project implementation in the state.

Accountability Lab Nigeria Country Director, Odeh Friday, began proceedings by explaining the vision of the Lab to the participants. “We need to hold government accountable and see how we can start to celebrate excellence rather than publicize mediocrity,” he said. Speaking on the Lab’s Integrity Icon program in particular, he explained: “What excites me the most about our project is that many don’t seem to believe us when we tell them that we discovered an honest police officer for instance. We conduct citizen engagements to see just how much people are impacted by these stories.”

Dauda Ahmed delivered a presentation on BudgIT’s work with the popular Tracka project, as well as the challenges they have faced and what they have achieved in Kaduna state. “We always advise that a proper needs assessment be done by every lawmaker to ensure citizens needs are met,” he said. “Lack of accountability is the reason many projects are abandoned in Kaduna. However, the task of building the state is a collective responsibility.”

Mr. Ahmed lamented the political undertones of many empowerment projects and also spoke on BudgIT’s sensitization efforts through town halls and community engagements. He also outlined some projects which had reached completion in the state due to the organization’s efforts, and addressed the challenges of insecurity in their line of work.

Aaron Sunday of African Network of Adolescents and Young Persons Development (ANAYD) proposed a partnership in tracking health budgets, which directly affects the lives of Kaduna citizens. Muhammad Bukar Umara of Community Development Hub shared his difficulties accessing information from MDAs, despite the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill.

The final presentation was delivered by Mr. Tafida who spoke on Follow Taxes’ efforts to redefine participatory governance. “Directly or indirectly, your taxes are being taken and the more you refuse to ask questions, the more you get left behind. The issues are usually more complex than they seem.” The PhD holder provided valuable insight into the monetary policies guiding the country, expanding on the national budget cycle and Value Added Tax (VAT), which he explained would soon be increased from 5% to 7.5%.

“VAT is a tax on any good not deemed a necessity by the government; there is no VAT on educational services and commercial transport for instance. It is collected by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) but the Federal Government receives only 15% while the states get 85%. We as citizens need to be able to do the right tracking and be in the know to ensure the right thing is achieved.”

Mr. Tafida’s engaging presentation almost took a philosophical turn as he spoke on Tax Incentives, their purpose and challenges. “One of the most questioned dilemmas during presidential election campaigns is increasing taxes on corporations versus increasing taxes on individuals,” he stated. “The higher your taxes as an individual, the lower your ability to invest and create wealth. On the flipside however, increasing taxes on corporations reduces their ability to expand and hire more people.”

Mr. Friday closed out proceedings by thanking participants and taking feedback on their challenges in taxation. Many participants, such as Ms. Nafisa Bala, responded that a lack of awareness was the main drawback. He affirmed their concerns by stating: “We also had a similar training in Lagos state and initially many didn’t know that they had the right to ask questions on budgeting.”