Taxation in Pre Colonial Nigeria

Topics: Nigeria, Yoruba people, Tax Pages: 69 (20645 words) Published: June 13, 2013


General Historical Overview of Taxation

Taxes are as old as the history of organised human society. During the reign of the Pharaohs in Egypt tax collectors were called scribes and taxes were collected on various items including cooking oil.1 In the ancient Greek city of Athens, taxes were especially important in times of war. The tax imposed during times of war was known as eisphora and no one was exempted from this tax. After the war, when additional resources were gained, the eisphora tax was refunded to the taxpayers. Aside this tax, the Athenians imposed a monthly poll tax called metoikion on foreigners.2

In ancient Rome, the earliest taxes were called portoria. These were custom duties on imports and exports. During the reign of Caesar Augustus, several tax reforms were carried out by the Roman government. These included replacing the publicani (tax collectors) with city councils as tax collectors, imposing a 5% inheritance tax to provide retirement funds for the military and a 1% sales tax on every item except sale of slaves which attracted a 4% tax rate.3

In England the first known tax assessment was during the Roman occupation which began in the year 43 AD with the invasion of Britain by the Roman Emperor, Claudius I and ended about 410 AD.4 After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Saxon Kings imposed various types of taxes such as danegeld (land tax), scutage (a tax paid in lieu of serving in the army) carucate (another land tax that replaced danegeld and was collected only on plowed land).5 Most of these taxes were either replaced or modified following the Norman conquest of England in 1066. The first law on income tax was passed by the English Parliament in 1404 and the first deduction of income tax at source was done in 1512.6

The point has been made in the preceeding chapter that the various pre-colonial Nigerian empires practiced various forms of taxation. In the northern territories, these included the zakat which was charitable tax levied on Muslims for religious and educational purposes,


A Comprehensive Tax History of Nigeria

the kurdin kasa which was an agricultural tax and the jangali which was a cattle tax levied on livestock.7 In the Yoruba states of southwestern Nigeria, pre-colonial taxes included the owo-onibode, a border fee similar to customs duty that was imposed on cross border trade; the tribute tax and capitation tax that were administered by the Bales (ward heads) on behalf of the Obas, just to mention a few.8 The Benin Kingdom also had an advance system of taxation which the British found upon their arrival at the close of the 19th century. In 1897, for example, the British Consul-General at Calabar directed the Political Resident in Benin to the effect that in assessing the people for tax purposes, the Resident should take into consideration the basis of assessment which the Edo people were formerly called upon to pay to the Oba of Benin, and ensure that the assessment by the Resident was carried out with more fairness.9

Following the expansion of the British Empire and the establishment of colonies abroad, Britain either introduced taxation into her colonies or modified the existing systems to suit British imperial interests. In the American colonies for example, colonists were paying taxes under the Molasses Act which was amended as the Sugar Act in 1764 to include import duties on sugar, wine and other commodities. These were subsequently followed by the short-lived Stamp Act 1765 which was the first case of direct taxation of the American colonies. In the case of Nigeria, the British introduced direct taxes first in the north in 1906, in the west in 1918 and the east in 1927.10 The introduction of taxation in eastern Nigeria sparked off rebellions reminiscent of the Stamp Act rebellion in the American colonies, prompting the colonial government to set...

References: 1 See A History of Taxation. Available at
TaxHistory.htm (accessed 14/1/2009)
4 Ibid, 2. See also England, Microsoft Encarta 2008 (accessed 5/1/2009).
5 A History of Taxation, op
8 Akanle, O., Nigerian Income Tax Law and Practice (Lagos: Centre for Business and
Investment Studies Ltd, 1991) 19
11 Akanle, O., Nigerian Income Tax Law and Practice, 21 – 22.
12 Omolewa, M., Certificate History of Nigeria (Lagos, Longman Group, 1986) 41
13 Ibid, 48.
14 Crowther M., The Story of Nigeria (London: Faber & Faber, 1962) 38 est
Topics on Nigerian Economic and Social History (Ile-Ife: University of Ife Press Ltd, 1980)
29 Willet, F., Ife in the History of West African Sculpture (London: Thames & Hudson,1967)
46 Akinyele, I. B., Outline of Ibadan History (Lagos: Alebiosu Printing Press, 1946) 72.
The Three Eras of Taxation in Nigeria 115
50 Hinderer, A. M., Seventeen Years in the Yoruba Country (London: Seeley, Jackson &
Halliday, 1873) 59 – 62
Political and Administrative (1913 - 1918) (3rd ed.) (London: Frank Cass & Co. 1970)
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