I STARTED the hobby of stamp collection in my late teens. Back in the day, it was a fad to have a pen pal, mostly from overseas with whom you exchanged ideas, memorabilia and subjects of interest between your countries. We always wanted to have a girl-penfriend while the girls were more interested in the boys from over the seas.
If you had one and were lucky to have had a picture of a girl-penfriend sent to you by that penfriend, you were the toast of the whole neighbourhood. To that end, each of us tried to outdo the other with our letter writing skills. We would open the letter like this: “The brightness of the day has led me to pick up my golden pen to write to you this missive. How are you? Hope fine…if so doxology!” Therefore, when I had the option of either starting a coin or button or stamp collection, I opted for the stamp.
In all the cases, your friend writes you a letter affixed with a postage stamp which you collected as part of the perks of having an Oyinbo as a pen friend. I couldn’t land an Oyinbo penfriend so I had to make do with the Liberians from Monrovia – the Chiehs. But the real decision to adopt collecting stamps came after I saw the stamps that my friend Anthony Efetevbia had been collecting over the years. In that album of his, I saw stamps of so many countries, and the way he arranged them revealed something of the Aeolian configuration of this philatelist – there were stamps of rare animals and birds and flowers and cities and historical personages, and there were stamps of special days like Christmas, Easter, Halloween and etcetera.
So I took to being a philatelist – that big Oyinbo to mean that I was a stamp freakazoid – by day and by night, the radar in my nose blinked and beeped anytime a choice stamp was close by. Of course all of this was beginning to become more than a hobby, particularly with the kind of monies I began to learn I stood to gain if I was lucky enough to land a rare one.
I learnt, for example, that there is certain stamp called the Penny Black – the world’s first adhesive stamp, produced in Great Britain and was sold for only a penny at that time. A complete sheet of that stamp is today at the British Postal Museum, and I learnt that if you ever have the good luck to run into one of them you’d instantly become a millionaire – a penny black today rakes in three to four thousand pounds.
But there was another way I was told that I could translate my hobby into raw cash. Here’s how: let’s suppose there’s a case in court, and it had be about establishing the authenticity or thereabouts of certain documents in the early 40s, 50s and 60s. How does that bring you money? Simple – the parties make their documents available to the court but it is usually the document with the little Nigerian stamp with two elephants and their baby, or the one with those rare weaver birds prancing about their nest that’s often adjudged the legit one.
That stamp would probably have cost ‘1d’ – honestly I don’t know whatever that means or what that currency is. I still have stamps of N1k, 5k, 10k, N2.50k, and as the case may be (sorry the ‘k’ is not thousand but kobo). Most of the time, a lot of the people would have the documents but didn’t have the stamps and would approach you the philatelist for a mutually agreed fee.
Nobody has ever approached me for this sort of arrangement and I am just content with the fact that my son or daughter would grow up one day to know that we used to spend monies known as ‘kobo’. He would probably know about the rhesus first from my collection of stamps before his teacher or encyclopedia would teach him so. In the Nigeria of those days, especially in the 40s before the discovery of oil, these tiny little pieces of paper racked in a sizable income for the colonial administration as indirect tax. The colonial government required that every transaction had to be signed, sealed and delivered with a postage stamp.
And therefore as I gaze at my golden little nuggets of paper, I begin to realize how much our life as a nation has taken a slide in the things that we no longer hold dear or cherish. Take for example the other day, I was in Abuja and visited the main post office. My reason for visiting was not to post a letter – today’s world is the dot com and blue chip where letters get sent at the touch of a button. I was there to see the philately department and enquire how I could procure another stamp album for my ever-expanding stamp collection. To my dismay, the officer had no idea what a stamp album was and as a matter of fact did not know what I meant by ‘philately’.
And to a large extent, that much represents much of the tragedy of what has become our country. When I read in the news recently that the Central Bank of Nigeria was re-introducing stamp duty on some kinds of transactions, and that that move could rake the government of the day as much as N66billion or more my spirits were lifted not because of the realization that hey, here’s a chance to reintroduce a value-added value that easy money from a dependence on oil revenue has flushed down the toilet. But no be Nigeria we dey? The elite were the first to try to shoot the idea down, what with the kind of uppity disdain with which it has been lampooned.
We seem to forget that our country is already at the brink: according to the Economist newsmagazine, oil prices took a dive from $64 to $32 a barrel recently. Growth fell by half in 2015 from 6.3 per cent to just three per cent, with a government deficit that’s expected to widen this year. All of this is against the backdrop of the fact that oil accounts for over 70 per cent of our revenue and is nearly the only commodity we export. The naira is still N300 to a dollar with the prospect of devaluation staring us very hard in the face.
Very often I hear our people refer to monies stolen by politicians as ‘tax-payers’ money’. But as a matter of fact, this is not so. A lot of our people and employers of labour do not pay tax. What monies get stolen are the easy monies accruing to Nigeria from oil. In 2014 when the economy was rebased, Nigeria became the largest market in Africa and the 26th in the world – the service sector increased from 21 per cent to 51 per cent percent while the agric. sector suffered a decline.
But none of it translated to any meaningful gain to our people, and the reason for this was that in spite of the growth in the market, oil prices were still rising and there was more money from oil than from the ‘growth’ in the economy. Therefore, what gives any Nigerian the power to take a government to the cleaners and demand to know what it does with the tax money is in the fact that we indeed pay our tax, and not because we exercise a mundane civic duty called voting.
Just as I write this, my bank wrote to me that it would be charging me a ‘maintenance fee’ of a N1.00 for every N1, 000.00 for customer initiated debit transactions. I have no idea what they mean by this but if it in any way represents what the government wants to do to build its revenue base apart from oil proceeds, by all means they should take the money.
But my friend is adamant that there’s a snag somewhere. He tells me that he has read Sections 4 and 5 of the Stamp Duties Act, STD, Capp 441, LFN, 1990, and nowhere did it say that the government can collect his money without giving him a stamp.
He claims that if his interpretation of both sections is correct, and if his understanding of the function of the stamp as pre-payment for postage is also correct, then it means that the government is cheating us all. I don’t think so. The collection of stamp duty is a symbolism of what an indirect tax looks like. It does not mean the actual thing. But what I really wish would happen is for stamps to form part of our lives again – there’s a thirty five year old teacher I know who has never bought a stamp nor posted a letter with one.
Etemiku is ANEEJ communications Manager @DsighRobert.