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The Agony of Taxable Income – A Hustler’s First Salary Story

Preserving income and having savings is one of many habits you never learn in a Nigerian classroom.

There are plausible reasons for this, chief among them being the issue that your assigned teacher cannot motivate himself enough for the course, when his thoughts often drift to his pay check. Matter of fact, the reason his attention is never fully focused on teaching you well is that he’s either agonizing over when the salary will come, making a mental budget of how to spend it few days before pay day, or wondering “what exactly happened to the salary I just received?”

Overtime, this teacher becomes used to something his students are not; that there is always a part of his insufficient salary that goes into rewarding the Government for not doing much to improve his ability to teach them better. A colleague of this teacher’s teases him that the deduction made on his salary is the punishment for his laxity in delivering his classes. “Your tax na for your lax! ha ha ha”

The joke is never funny. He thinks he has worked for ALL of it; therefore he should receive A-L-L of it. But the Government will have its way, anyway. Sigh

The concept of taxation is a problem, both for those who have to pay it, and for those who have to study it in school. It is one of those legacies that are inherited and never scrutinized. It mostly always goes up, coming down only when it is politically expedient or of advantage to the rich. Young people in school do not discuss it much because their hustles are mostly paid in cash, or through transfers from personal accounts, and always for the verbally agreed fee. In full.

But the young man, who graduates and gets a proper job where, though involving a verbal contract, everything is officially wired, suddenly gets the joke. He jolts in reaction to the account officer’s explanation that his alert reveals a 5% deficit because, what he had answered to the “how much can we pay you” question, had now been “adjusted” for tax purposes.

It triggers a trip down memory lane. All those years of receiving free pocket money — including for textbooks with “adjusted” author names and titles — free internship money, and 19,800 from NYSC, had not prepared him for this moment. Of course he had seen adverts about “Pay your Tax” on TV but waived them off as stunts Governments had to put up to make it look like they were really diversifying the economy. He rants a lot on Facebook and Twitter, he demands good governance from public officials, but it has never occurred to him that he would have to pay tax.

“Surely not on this first salary nah!” which he had anxiously awaited all month — he’s marked the calendar everyday — and has made a budget for the month, down to the last naira. He’s not so sure now why he was happy that KCee asked Huspuppi if he had any ‘taxable income’. Still in shock, how does he now get himself to focus fully on the job in the already running month?

If there is any consolation, he will not be caught by the VAIDS hammer when the month of grace expires in nine months. After all, he doesn’t even have the liberty to voluntarily declare and pay the tax sef. But he can now feel fully justified to make those demands of Government, and should anyone question his authority to rant on Facebook again, he shall summon of all of the annoyance from that first month’s deduction and respond: “I have the right to ask ‘cos I pay tax, do you pay your tax?!”

First posted on Medium

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