#Aribigbola's Lines

Is cybersecurity tax next punitive policy?

By Afolabi Aribigbola

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In the last 12 months, a number of policy initiatives and actions that have serious negative repercussions on the socioeconomic activities, welfare and quality of life of Nigerians have been emplaced and implemented by the present administration since assuming the leadership of the country in May 2023. Some of the most important policy directives and actions that have far reaching consequences in the polity include the removal of fuel subsidy announced by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu during his inauguration as the 16th President of the most populous black African country. Others are the merging of the two existing autonomous official and parallel foreign exchange markets, hike in electricity tariff, increases in custom duties and other various taxes.

All these policy actions and decisions of the federal government translates into escalation in the cost of doing business and unprecedented inflation that resulted in high prices of goods and essential life support services including basic commodities that support good living. Whilst the masses are agonising on the effects of the escalating cost of living due to government actions and inactions to cater for their welfare needs, the next area is the introduction of cybersecurity levy purportedly to raise funds to address the hydra-headed unabated insecurity confronting the country and especially the novel damaging cybercrime that is fast gaining momentum among the young generations in the country. Indeed, it is absolutely incumbent on government to address the growing dangerous cybercrime in the country, but I don’t think it will be better by increasing the burden already foisted on the citizens of the country especially the poor majority that have not been benefiting from the past policies but suffer the consequences of their actions.

Indeed, Nigerians woke to receive the information on May 6 that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has issued a circular directing all banks, mobile money operators, and payment service providers to implement a new cybersecurity levy, following the provisions laid out in the Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc) (Amendment) Act 2024.Nigerians were told that in line with the provisions of the Act, a levy amounting to 0.5 per cent of the value of all electronic transactions will be collected and remitted to the National cybersecurity Fund to be overseen by the Office of the National Security Adviser. Of course, this directive by the CBN has angered many Nigerians motivating some organisations and individuals to approach the court to stop the obnoxious vexatious directive of the CBN. Among those that have risen against what has been termed as anti-people decision include the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Projects among others.

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Sensing the dangers ahead with implementation of the cybersecurity levy, the House of Representatives looked at the directive of the CBN and subsequently directed the suspension of then levy. Prior to the above, in the midst of widespread opposition to the directive of the CBN to the financial institutions to impose cybersecurity levy on all online transfers on customers, the President of the country has responded and directed the suspension of the levy by the CBN. Many people and groups have called for the reversal and outright cancellation of the cybersecurity levy because of its potential danger and burden that it will visit on the poor masses of the country.

This line of thought is hinged on the ultimate consequences of the levy by increasing the cost of doing business which will invariably increase cost of goods and services that are already beyond the reach of majority of Nigerians. This will escalate the economic burden and suffering in the land by the downtrodden.  It has been argued that the banks as their usual practice in Nigeria will employ the levy to exploit the unsuspecting public that have been subjected to all manners of levies that are only applicable in Nigeria.

 Also. it has the potential to discourage the use of banking services by the poor and hinder or hamper electronic banking that is being encouraged and promoted in the country in recent times.  If the government desires to raise more funds they should look elsewhere. The focus will be on the rich that have created the problems facing the country and not to seek to burden vulnerable Nigerians the more through another obnoxious tax that may be mismanaged like what happens during the Goodluck Jonathan Presidency where security funds were shared among party faithful and their cronies. 

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However, and with hindsight the present government have introduced a number of policies recently that have created instability and crises. As we all know many individuals, families and organisations are battling with the outcome of these policies and yet the government went ahead to introduce another policy that will further impoverish the people they were elected to cater for. Of course, why will the government introduce such a policy knowing full well that the country is already in financial and economic crisis resulting from their policies? The government should reconsider the policy by reversing it.

 This is because it will inflict more pain and suffering on Nigerians that at present are burden by high cost of living resulting from unprecedented inflation and high level of taxes. The government should realise or come to terms with the fact that Nigerians are already burdened enough without negative and perhaps unintended outcomes of their policy actions. Any additional pain may instigate unprecedented crisis of which no one can predict its consequences.

Instead of introducing and implementing policies that will escalate the present humongous sufferings in the country, government should seek ways to soot the already charged delicate pitiable conditions of Nigerians. The government should focus on resolving while the high level of cybercrime in the country instead of using it as a means of income generation to government and their friends in the banking industry that are found of extorting through many deductions on flimsy activities. More fundamentally, the government should focus on how to reduce cybercrime and other crimes in the country and find solution to them instead of increasing or imposing levy that will further the sufferings of the people.

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Widespread poverty which has been identified as the major factor motivating Nigerians to involve in crimes including cybercrime particularly among the youths that lack employment requires more actions. Inequality and oppression of the downtrodden by the wealthy and political class has contributed to the current level of crimes Inordinate crave for wealth by the youths need to be addressed so as to reduce cybercrime in the country rather than imposing levy on the people to fight the crime.

Thus, instead of searching for funds to fight crimes, the government should dissipate efforts on roots causes of crime towards eliminating them in the country.  The government should realise that life for ordinary Nigerians is tough and it will become worse if the cybersecurity levy is introduced. Therefore, the President must act beyond just suspending the levy to outrightly cancellation. This is the wish of the people of the country.

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