Reverse Robin Hoodism as Buhari’s Governing Philosophy by Farooq A. Kperogi
To understand “reverse Robin Hoodism,” you first have to understand Robin Hoodism. Robin Hoodism is the willfully subversive practice of stealing from the rich to help the poor. It is derived from a daring 12th-century (fictional) English character by the name of Robin Hood who often got into trouble with the law because he always stole from the rich to give to the poor.
When President Muhammadu Buhari was elected president in 2015 in an unexampled electoral upset, people imagined that they had elected Nigeria’s lawful Robin Hood who would tax the rich to help the poor, who would save the poor from the torment of the gnawing poverty that was eating away at their souls.
But he has turned out to be a reverse Robin Hood, and his official governance philosophy is now reverse Robin Hoodism, which I once defined as robbing the poor to enrich the rich. Buhari’s reverse Robin Hoodism started when he hiked the prices of petroleum products by a steeper margin than any government has done in recent memory, which is the immediate trigger for Nigeria’s current recession.
Illegal bank charges for every deposit above a certain amount have been introduced, electricity tariffs have gone up, and everything that moves is now being taxed. Federal Inland Revenue Service Chairman Babatunde Fowler even said recently that presentation of tax certificates would soon be a prerequisite for the issuance of passports, which would leave those of us who don’t live in Nigeria “stateless.” At this rate, the Buhari government will start taxing Nigerians for the air they breathe and for the blood that flows in their veins—until there are no more poor people to oppress because they’d all be dead.
And all this while inflation has gone through the roof, while salaries are stagnant for workers who are “lucky” to receive them, while most state workers haven’t been paid for more than a year, and while millions of people are losing their jobs.
I just recently learned from the Facebook status update of Denja Yaqub, an NLC official, that “The Federal Government of Nigeria has quietly slashed the salaries of federal civil servants just when everyone is squeezing under the excruciating pangs of high cost of every consumable items and services without any increase in salaries.” I hope this isn’t true.
The latest targets of Buhari’s reverse Robin Hoodism are phone and Internet services, which started in June or thereabouts with Minister of Communication Adebayo Shittu sponsoring a bill in the National Assembly for a 10-percent tax increase on phone calls, text messages, and Internet data plans. Central Bank of Nigeria Governor Godwin Emefiele is also proposing that all phone calls that last longer than 3 minutes be taxed, saying, “government could earn about N100 billion per annum from this alone.”
Already, government has imposed a 600 percent tariff increase on all international calls to Nigeria. Those of us who live in the United States used to pay $15 for 600 minutes of call time to Nigeria. Now we get 150 minutes for the same amount.
So while serious countries are democratizing access to ICT by making it dirt cheap or free in order to shrink the world and expand cross-border opportunities for their citizens, Buhari’s Nigeria is instigating national insularity and the perpetuation of poverty by discouraging international communication, and even communication itself, through endless, off-the-wall taxes and tariff hikes.
But a government that says it wants to “diversify” the economy by encouraging alternative sources of income for the country is sure as hell killing entrepreneurship, especially internet entrepreneurship. Nigeria’s growing IT sector will collapse with government’s latest injurious polices on information and communication technology.
Even Nigeria’s vibrant blogosphere, which helped bring Buhari to power, will disappear. So will the country’s position as Africa’s internet hub.
The Nigerian Communication Commission said it has “suspended” its obnoxious and ill-advised data price increase proposal “until the conclusion of study to determine retail prices for broadband and data services in Nigeria,” but given this government’s compulsive predilection for reverse Robin Hoodism, you can bet that the data price increase will be executed sooner or later.
The Nigerian elite can’t help but nickel-and-dime the poor to finance their unsustainably immoderate lifestyles. No Nigerian administration in recent memory can outrival this government’s contempt for and insensitivity to the poor.
This is particularly troubling because when Buhari was looking for power, he feigned poverty and asked poor people to donate money to his campaign using the data on their phones. They did. They raised tens, perhaps hundreds, of millions for him. This had never been done in Nigeria’s history.
But they didn’t stop there: they also used the data on their phones to campaign for him gratis—and to rhetorically pulverize his opponents on social media. Now he is in power and wants to make access to phone data beyond the reach of the poor, the same phone data that enriched his campaign and helped put him in power.
In other words, he used the phone data of everyday Nigerians as a ladder to climb to power. After getting to power, he realizes he no longer needs the ladder, so he is throwing the ladder right back at the people who held it for him to climb to power. He will brutally injure them in the process. Watch out. This is the most conscienceless display of perfidy I’ve ever seen.
But Buhari is being short-sighted because he will need the ladder he is throwing away when—not if—he is climbing down from the giddy heights of the power he enjoys now. By then it would be gone, and he would crash like Humpty Dumpty!