Sunday, 29 May 2016

Battered Education, Bleak Future… Can Tax Justice Fund Quality Education?

A typical classroom in a low income school in Lagos. Photo Hannah OJO
There is a fascination to the story of Nigeria’s soaring mushroom schools which are often housed in cubicles and dilapidated structures.

If there is a place where a stubborn sense of hope defies the logic of reality, it is Adenike Memorial Nursery/Primary School, Bariga, a private school in Lagos, Nigeria.  The vision of the school contained in a cardboard pasted on the wall in the drab looking office of the head teacher reads: “To ensure that our pupils are best in school academic throughout Lagos state. Also, to prepare our pupils for future(sic).”
Vision of Adenike Primary School, Bariga. Photo: Hannah Ojo

To a visitor calling on the learning facility for the first time, the state of the structures did not seem to synchronize with the school’s avowed vision.  The infrastructure needed for the implementation of the lofty ideals needed for the avowed vision of the school is simply not in place. The classrooms were partitioned with planks. The fans were not working and there was little space for children to play.

Another Lagos community where low cost schools thrive as a result of lack of a school structure is Otodo-Gbame in the high brow Ikate area of Lagos. Theirs is a case of poverty in the midst of plenty as there is no government school to cater for the over 2000 children living in the community.

Other than poverty and diseases, many of the children in Otodo-Gbame are also missing out on education. On the two occasions the writer visited the community, many of the children who are of school age were playing around their home surroundings.  Those in the early teens were seen at the shore of the lagoon struggling to catch some sea food.

Despite the huge population and the large expanse of land in Otodo-Gbame, only two run down schools cater for the educational needs of the children.  For those who are privileged to attend school, they do so in tattered uniforms with no sanders or stockings. One of such school is Olutimi International School, a low cost nursery and primary school where children pay N50 daily for tuition.

Mr Olamide Edun, who founded the school two years ago said parents are beginning to show interest in sending their children to school as a result of the influence of the fine houses and cars they see when they go out to the community to transact businesses.  He however, lamented that the enthusiasm is not backed by purchasing power, since some of the parents find it difficult to pay the N50 daily tuition fees.
A school in Otodo-Gbame

According to UNICEF, Nigeria’s exponential growth in the last decade has put immense pressure on the country’s resources and overstretched public services and infrastructure.

“With children over 15 years of age accounting for about 45 percent of the country’s population, the burden on education and other sectors have been overwhelming. Forty percent of Nigerian children aged 6-11 do not attend any primary school with the northern region recording the lowest schools attendance rates in the country”, a quote on the UNICEF website on Nigeria reads.

Nigeria is said to be one of the countries with the highest number of out-of-school- children. With an economy going into recession and lack of purchasing power which left parents patronizing sub-standard schools in order to save cost, there is no doubting the fact that many more children could be faced with a bleak future.

Can tax justice help? Yes is the answer!
It has been said that a fair tax system could enable the unavailability of public services and social protection like schools and hospitals.

A fair tax system can also reduce inequality. The availability of quality education is one of the weapons that can fight inequality. With quality education, people are able to reach to the height of their potentials and create wealth to alleviate the suffering of their immediate families. That way, more people would be empowered and the cycle of poverty can be broken.

Already, Africa has had enough of wastage and underdevelopment which is brought about by the tax incentives given to businesses and investments operating on the African soil. ActionAid, an international organization leading the fight for tax justice estimates that elimination of corporate tax incentives in developing countries could raise over US$138 billion. If US$138 billion is invested into our educational system, imagine the effect on a continent which hosts the greatest number of the world’s out of school children?

Recently some Nigerian politicians were listed in the #Panama paper leak. This further serve to give credence to the reality of tax avoidance and evasion, one of the evil tactics used by a privileged few to further impoverish our continent.

ActionAid  peg the money lost in tax avoidance and evasion in developing countries to be between US$120 and US$160 billion a year. This is more than what developing countries receive in aid.

If it is indeed true that the over US$138 billion (the amount currently given away in corporate tax incentives) could pay for the education of 57 million children currently not going to school, there is no denying the fact that Africa can be set on a better future if both the government and the citizenry pay more attention to tax justice.
Education is a right, not a privilege!

Hannah Ojo

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Why Tax Justice Should Matter?

 I was discussing with Gilbert Alasa, a PR executive and I asked his opinion on what tax should achieve in the society. He gave an expected reply: “In my estimation, when I pay tax, I am investing in Nigeria. My expectation is to see that investment reflected in our schools, our rail system, our bridges and also   preserve our natural resources and ensure my safety.”

He goes to add: “I want government to use my tax to foster a social value chain that supports my dream and my ability to compete and hold my own anywhere in the world,” he concluded. A lofty ideal isn’t it?  Does it appear to be an elusive concept?  It should not be if we happen to get our acts right.  

Again I went on to ask another friend, Femi Olutade, an online retailer who in recent time has been consumed with a passion to see accountability on the part of the rulers to the ruled. He expressed his views thus: “Tax is not a charity or a free gift but a way of giving to the government. It is part of our income to develop the country, so if tax is not used for the intended purpose, it cannot be justified.”

 It happens that many times when we don’t get value for service and the government does not provide an enabling environment for the enjoyment of our civil, political and economic right, we are wont to lament “but I pay tax”? In as much as that is an aspect of justifiable lamentation, there is an aspect of tax justice we are not paying much attention to, which in my own reckoning boast of more dividends for development in Sub-Sahara Africa.  This is the tax holidays granted foreign investment by the government of most African countries.

So we have seen the furor generated over the 2016 budget in Nigeria and the anger with which tech savvy Nigerians condemned some of the items proposed in the inflamed budget of “change.”
I believe this type of “holy anger” unleashed on the budget would go a long way in creating the change we want to see if we can pursue tax justice on foreign investment with the same vigour. There is no better time than now to pay attention to the tax policy included in some of the foreign investment operating on our soil.  If we don’t, poor individuals risk being overtaxed in this period of austerity where even recharging a phone through online bank transaction carries a tax duty. 
Albeit, at this juncture, I believe it is best to raise some bullets on why we should place a premium on tax justice for foreign investment.  This brings me to the whys:

·      ***  Because Nigeria lost US $3.3billion as a result of an extraordinary ten year tax break granted by the Nigerian government to some of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies namely Shell, Total and ENI.  ( if in doubt, read the ActionAid report titled Leaking revenue: How a big tax break to European gas companies has cost Nigeria billions).

·     ***   Because US$3.3 billion is the equivalent of twice the Nigerian healthcare budget for 2015 in a country where 15 out of one hundred children die before their fifth birthday.

·      ***  Because an 11 months old investigation by PREMIUM TIMES revealed that the telecommunication giant, MTN shipped billions abroad, paying less tax through a complex but notorious tax avoidance scheme called Transfer Pricing.

Back to the matter - tax justice! If there is a time Nigerians ought to pay active attention to the issue of tax justice, it is now.  Now that price of oil has dwindled in the international market. Now that austerity times are here, because of falling oil prices. Now that the debate on alternative revenue sources has suddenly acquired a strident and interesting tone with one  of our senator,  Chief Whip Olusola Adeyeye (APC Osun Central) saying we should turn to taxing farmers,  text messages and beverages to fund the budget.

We should pay attention to tax justice as much as we do to European football leagues and entertainment trends. The perils of these times demand it. We all should join hands to demand that tax incentives must be based on a thorough analysis and a proper assessment of the impact on poor and vulnerable groups.  Let’s demand that consortiums for foreign investment should be made open for scrutiny and public deliberation. Aside being one of the oldest ways to redistribute wealth, tax is the most sustainable way to finance public expenditure. For this, tax justice should be important to us. Place  a premium on it!

Hannah Ojo

Friday, 26 June 2015

The Digital Journalist

“Tech-Savvy” is an appellation that many journalists of my generation like to add to our career profiles.  We believe it serves to bolster our perception as being in tune with the trends of the profession. Apart from the ability to further job prospects,   being tech- savvy is also an admittance of the fact that technology is driving contents and the traditional way of doing journalism is gradually fading.

With the rate at which  smartphones and tablets  are becoming the primary access point for news and information, the new reality for journalists who want to earn a successful practice is to embrace the truth that digital has not only  come to stay- it is indeed the future.

In the light of recent development in the media space where news and its accompaniments are produced and then distributed through the internet, the theme for the 2015 Women in Journalism conference which is “Truth and objectivity in the Digital Age is” is apt for the time.
The reality for an aspiring digital journalist is that it is not enough to be categorized as a ‘print’ or ‘broadcast’ journalist alone.   Say in 10 years from now, the peg question for employment would be “are you a digital journalist? 

The internet has succeeded in breaking restriction in job descriptions; that is why we have presenters engaging their audience with clips on YouTube and Twitter while some print journalists have taken the game a notch higher by including Vlogs in the body of their stories since video is also gaining prominence among news consumers.

In a way, both print and broadcast journalists are relying on comments generated by their stories online to gauge the pulse of the public. So this makes for a unifying point-that is using multimedia platforms to tell our stories as against the concept of a sole medium which used to be the norm before the dawn of digital.

The digital journalist is that person who has studied trends and come to realise that continuous education on the job and self development are very critical to enhancing one's status as a leader in the media industry, hence the need to learn how to be tech-savvy.

Recently, I was privileged to be part of the 7 journalists trained by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in partnership with the United Nation Foundation on the coverage of the 17 new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This was an opportunity I got through Facebook. Opportunities like this abound for both print and broadcast journalists to advance since the internet does not only provide us with better avenues of telling our stories but also access to opportunities that can align us with the demand of the  new age.

Women in journalism stand at a great advantage if we are quick to embrace this reality and start thinking like computer scientists. Digital should not scare us, we cannot wish it away.  


Monday, 4 May 2015


To be real is to exist and be seen.  It is not an attribute that can be feigned. It is an inner trait that exudes feminine grace and virtue.  Real women are those who know that the future is living, so they start acting out their prospects and do not delay till a ‘convenient’ time. They are not afraid to take bold steps towards self-realization because it makes them less desirable as a ‘wife material’. 

For them, the bible is not a book of ornaments to be adorned ceremoniously on Sundays. A real woman understands that the bible is the best instructional material that had ever existed. From it, she learns not to compare herself with others because those who do are not wise (2COR 10:12). She does not make for herself role models from women of the world, she is aware of the sad reality that some of them are denizens of inordinate ambitions. She is an imitator of the virtues of Deborah. She rises to the occasion with courage and absolute dependence on God; the way Deborah did when she led the children of Israel to battle. Real women multitask. Our great matriarch Deborah was a Wife, Mother, Prophetess and Judge. It was not recorded that she could not bring herself to the submission of her husband because of the position her God given abilities conferred on her.

There is no gainsaying the fact that every female, either they have undergone the three blood splitting cycles  or not have to be conscious of the responsibilities God placed on them as life bearers.  To be a real woman is to possess the important quality that is required for one to be so called. 

I was privileged to attend a seminar where big wings in the communication industry gathered to discuss the opportunities, challenges and prospects of Brand Nigeria.  A germane point which came to the fore that I think we all should identify with as a matter of urgency is the need for the family to serve as a fertile ground to raise values that would reflect positively in the development of the nation. The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. The best person to build a nation is the woman because she molds the character of people who inhabit the nation. It is in cognizance of this fact that Ruby Manikan, an Indian religious leader wrote in the London Observer saying of the week that “If you educate a man you educate a person, but if you educate a woman you educate a family”.  

Men are the backbone in a home, but the fact remains that the head cannot stand without the neck. The man is the head, the woman is the neck. A real woman instills values. She brings up her children to be intellectually, emotionally and spiritually strong. As opposed to what we have been used to, men ought to take the lead role in shaping the degree of spirituality in their family, a real woman is aware of this and she inculcates it in her children.  

It is instructive to mention at this point that we live in a bizarre world where insanity has replaced normalcy with the increasing tides of man inhumanity to man. This would not have been the case if humans submit to the dictates of values rather than greed.

Real women are not born, they are made and regenerated through a life of submission and obedience to God’s will. Like excellence, to be real is a habit built consciously. How you can be one? Simple, the training manual is available. Read through Prov 31: 10-31. Mediate, internalize and launch yourself into a new discovery of purpose as a woman of destiny.  

Hope you enjoyed this piece, would love to read your reactions . Do you agree with all I wrote? Let me hear from you. 

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Deployment Instructions to Mr. Man

I am sending you to go and bring a woman who will open the doors of favour and opportunities onto you. She will also partner with you to achieve your goals.  She cannot be like you at all. She is fragile and very sensitive. You are the head and she is the neck, so you both are partners in progress. You’d be surprised if she finds it bizarre that you did not realize she’s there to help! So, to help your task, here are some vital instructions:
  1. Don’t ever try to ignore her but correct her in love if she ever develops a fault. Like our elders say; ‘to remove a creeper waved around the hunter’s neck requires patience’. You’re a husband, a representative of my image on earth. I don’t particularly like it when you shut her down. Talk to her lovingly because I the Lord your God I’m love. You should be a physical manifestation of my love to her. You can only make her better if you love her my way.
  2. Well, I’m your God and first love, but your wife is next and your first partner. To get the best of her, you need to respect her like you would your Mom.  She is not an empty barrel; she was created for a purpose too, so help her achieve her dreams. Your savior’s earthly father; Joseph, the husband of Mary is a replica of this, so learn from him.
  3. You will realize that she fumes and complains about many things. She is as Shakespeare wrote: “Do you not know that I am a woman? When I think, I must speak!” I know your ego does not like being questioned, so resist the urge to get confrontational. Remember, our level of maturity can be seen by how much it takes to get us upset.
  4. She is a woman of God but still human. She needs your words of assurance to aid her self-esteem. Tell her she is beauty the way she is. Tell her you love her-always. Even though she may find it awkward to make the first move, she also has need for attentions so don’t play politics with her emotions.
  5. She hates competition; don’t give her the impression that there’s someone out there she has to share your attention with.  She wants to be the centre of your attention and appear chic; that’s why she is crazy about fashion. But there is a trait she wants you to develop: enduring love. So be to her a better teacher, lover, father and more considerate, patient and faithful.
  6. She respects intelligence so go the extra mile to develop yourself so she would be able to trust your sense of judgment and respect you. She also wants you to look attractive for her; neat haircut, trimmed nails, neat cloths, good oral hygiene and good physique. With your tight schedule; I know this may be a tough task but you are a man, you should be on top of your game!
I’d give you more but these are what you need for now. You will learn more as you progress into the union. Meanwhile, keep in touch with me in prayers and communion. It is through this that you will get the wisdom needed to rule your family without strife and confusion and you will be able to build a house where I am God like the Psalmist wrote in chapter 144: 12-15 “so that our sons may be like plants grown up in their youth; and our daughters may be like corner-stones, polished like a palace building; and our storehouses may be full, furnishing kind to kind; and our flocks may breed thousands and ten thousands outside”. Love her like Christ loves the church and she will be to you, the wise woman in Proverbs 31.
Follow on twitter @ HannahOjo

Tuesday, 30 April 2013


When this reporter met him on a sunny afternoon at under bridge, Oshodi bus stop where he plies his trade with consummate diligence, Agba as he is fondly called was reluctant to spare some minutes. One of his co-traders under the bridge; a lady who sells recharge cards was later to comment that Agba is not in a good mood.  “He has a pain in the leg. He was trampled on in a stampede during the morning rush.  Also, some days ago, he was injured as a police man tried to yank him up in a playful mood which might have strained his muscle”, she explained further.

One look at him says it all. He suffers from growth hormone deficiency. His form of dwarfism is a phenomenon that beggars description.  He hardly fits into the size of an inc and walks on his bottom, dragging and pushing to meet his ‘customers’ who are passengers waiting at the BRT lane.  He gives his name as Anu Akinyande, but he is popularly called Agba by his acquaintance at the park. His bearing gives him away as a beggar with a choice, one who has come to see his condition as permanent and has exchanged despair for hope. His dream, he tells this reporter is to be in charge. He wishes to have workers under him and he wants to sell electronics.

Asked about his decision to beg for a living, Agba, a native of Abeokuta, Ogun state says he does not want to continue to be a burden. In his own words, “Every man is on his own”.  Even though both of his parents are still alive, the midget size man does not see a reason why he should rely on anyone since he is no longer a child. He gives his age as 40 although he has no official document to back up the claim.
A typical day starts for Agba at dawn when he prepares to resume the day’s duty with his younger brother called Dare who carries him from Ifo, Ogun state down to Oshodi, Lagos via public transport.  “I come here around 8: a.m. and leave by 5: p.m.

For someone who works under the sun and has to drag himself to and fro the tarmac to reach his benefactors, he would certainly be a kind of super human if he does not fall sick often or swallow drugs on a daily basis.  Yet, he boasts of having a strength that will rival that of a horse. “I don’t fall sick. Since I was born, I cannot recall the time I went to a hospital. If I have any business there, it is only to visit people”, he submitted amidst riffs of laughter.

Agba believes he is better off a beggar than a thief. He has no royal gear to lay claim to. His lame feet adorn no shoes.  His face-cap which should be a fashion element is used to shield his face from the furry of the sun.  His cloths, tardy and untidy are soiled by sweats which drip from his face.  But in his circumstance, he still finds time to jokes with passengers. Even traders and road workers around the area testify to his cheerful mood.  How much does a beggar of his stature make on a daily basis as income? “It is what God says I will make in a day that I make”, he said tactically avoiding quoting any figure.

One thing that stands him out, apart from his deformity is the audacity of his dream. Agba is a big dreamer who has big plans for the future. One thing you cannot take away from him is the audacity of his dream. “My dream is to own a business. I want to be an Apase (commander). I know my condition will not allow me to work in any organization but I want to run a shop where people will answer to me. In a country where even abled bodied men are cheated by their employees, Agba claims he is too intelligent to be an object of trickery.  “You think if I have a shop today somebody can come around and cheat me out of my gains?” he confidently asked this reporter. “Emi  gangan baba gbigba (I am the father of trickers)!. I have native intelligence so I can manage money”, he said.

On how Nigerians can help him, he said. “I want Nigerians to help me. I want to get a shop where I can do business by selling things. I have been begging for about six years now but I want a change of pattern”.
Asked if he has challenges in the course of his job, he confessed that begging to earn a living could be hard. “Sometimes, some people just look down on you but I enjoy the pity of many, especially women”.