In September 2011, post-Tiger funding, I was setting up our video editing and graphic design room at our then new iROKO Anthony Village office. To ensure we could be as awesome as possible, I wanted the most powerful machines I could get my hands on to give to my then 10-person creative team. Unfortunately Apple didn’t (still don’t) have an official Apple store here in Lagos so, as I happened to be in the UK at the time, I thought I would just head down to the Regent Street Apple store to get some. Above is the result.
Around 9 months later, as I was helping KULUYA raise finances for their gaming / animation studio, I again had to help them acquire some pretty awesome yet very rare computing equipment. Cintiq 24HD, Gizmodo called it the digital artists’ heaven on earth.
On both occasions I got hit with an ungodly tax bill. So why am bothering you with this story? Well, in the UK, they have Value Added Tax (VAT), at that time it was 20%, so over and above the cost of the equipment I had to pay VAT in the UK. That’s fine, using the Apple bulk importation as an example, upon reaching our beloved Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMA) the Nigerian customs officials took a particular liking to my ten (10) carefully wrapped and gloriously white ‘packages’. After a 6 hour flight I then proceeded to spend the next 4 hours arguing and debating the importation tax duties required to bring this equipment into Nigeria. All manner of calculations were initially argued amongst the customs officials themselves, then when it was looking increasingly extortionate I thought I would pitch in myself to try and not get totally screwed without at least some resistance. In the end I ended up paying, if my memory serves me right, around N700,000 ($4,600). And guess what, just to twist the knife, they were seizing my goods unless I paid there and then. I have the payment receipt of this somewhere; it’s too late for me to dig it out.
I remember thinking and still hold that view today that if the creative or technological industries are going to really explode, the tools need to be readily available and at a reasonable price. Apple revolutionised desktop publishing by putting complicated yet easy to use machinery (tools) into the hands of the masses. Today, a young aspiring creative can easily get hold of a iMac from $1,299 in the US. The exact same machine bought from within Nigeria from iConnect or any of the eCommerce websites costs at least $2,612. The exact same machine. How are the leaders in tomorrow’s creative and technological tsunami going to ply their trade when they can’t even get the tools to at least try? This is madness and has to be addressed somehow.
Taxes and import duties are vital to help governments pay for education, security and infrastructure which hopefully fuels economic activity and employment and creates a wealthier overall community. But we all know the $4,600 I paid probably went nowhere; into the abyss which is the treasury of the government. The laptops the customs officials were using could barely turn on and stay on, so all the ‘calculations’ to get to $4,600 (exchange rates included) were done using informal spot-FX rates and their Nokia mobile phone’s inbuilt calculator. And because they didn’t have access to the Internet they couldn’t ‘research and verify’ the value of the computers so had to go on ‘past experience’ and simply assigned random numbers to them, hence the 4-hours of arguing.
Off the top of my head, I can think of 15 or so Internet companies who employ about a 1,000 (mostly young) people today. In the next 5 years that will easily be 100,000+ bright young things employed in Internet and technological related activities. The economic impact of this coming tsunami and wealth creation cannot be allowed to be stifled at such a delicate and fledging stage. If we aspire to such transformational highs then we need to give young people the tools to trade. We need some type of relaxation on import duties related to technology. Or at least more reasonable prices from retailers within Nigeria.
That’s it. Rant over.