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International Tax Fun Fact: Nigerian Tax Soap Operas

2 min readBy: Gavin Ekins

Taxes are a common theme on news shows in the U.S.; you may have even seen the TaxA tax is a mandatory payment or charge collected by local, state, and national governments from individuals or businesses to cover the costs of general government services, goods, and activities. Foundation’s very own Kyle Pomerleau speaking about the presidential candidates’ tax plans. However, Americans rarely see a sitcom or drama where actors discuss taxes, and why would someone want to infuse their fiction with the realities of “death and taxes” anyway?

Although American might scoff at a show about taxes, Nigerians have created a 13 episode drama about the benefits of taxes and the pitfalls of not paying them. The drama is called Binding Duty and it is a project of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, the IRS of Nigeria.

Although this project was funded by the FIRS, Binding Duty was written and directed by well-known individuals in the Nigerian media community. The drama features veteran actors and actresses of Nigeria’s “Nollywood” and is directed by an established director.

The episodes cover a wide range of tax policies and situations in which a Nigerian might find themselves. The episode Burrowed Time focuses on unremitted VAT funds, To Have and to Hold focuses on withholdingWithholding is the income an employer takes out of an employee’s paycheck and remits to the federal, state, and/or local government. It is calculated based on the amount of income earned, the taxpayer’s filing status, the number of allowances claimed, and any additional amount of the employee requests. tax proceeds, Ostrich Syndrome focuses on tax arrears, and Double Jeopardy focuses on personal income taxes. Throughout all the episodes, Doorshima Jang, the Director of FIRS in Binding Duty, outwits the would-be tax evaders and brings them to justice.

Before dismissing Binding Duty as another after-school special, the FIRS has argued that tax compliance in Nigeria is as much a cultural problem as an administrative problem. Nigeria has a high rate of tax avoidance and few would say that filing their taxes is part of the culture.

However, the World Bank has ranked Nigeria as the 3rd worst place to file taxes in their Ease of Paying Taxes global rankings for 2015. The onerous 908 hours required to fulfill tax obligations in Nigeria does not help engender a culture of tax compliance. Binding Duty may help Nigerian understand and navigate some of the tax system, but it does not reduce the burden on tax payers.

The IRS is unlikely to spring for a Law and Order style show on taxes with Alan Arkin as IRS Director John Koskinen, but the IRS could consider making their website at little more user friendly. Although some American feel that searching through pages of tax documents is entertaining, most of them would rather be watching Law and Order.