By Odogwu Emeka Odogwu
Anambra tricycle operators protest revenue agents’ alleged extortion
The Commercial tricycle operators in Anambra State plying the Owerri/Main Market route in Onitsha took to the streets of Awka, the state capital, protesting alleged extortion and intimidation from revenue agents.
Displaying placards of different inscriptions, the protesters marched to the office of the Department of State Service (DSS) and the police headquarters at Amawbia.
The leader of the protesters, Dede Uzor A. Uzor, said they received harassment from the revenue agents on daily basis.
Some of their placards read, ‘Your Excellency, Our lives are in danger’, ‘Governor Willie Obiano, please deliver us from the hands Kwam Kwam’, ‘Stop Illegal tickets’, among others.
Uzor said the agents had severally manhandled their members with machetes and inflicted injuries on them.
He said the revenue agents would collect N2,000 per day from each tricycle operator as against N200 approved by the state government.
He said, “Government directive is that we pay a total of N200 daily as ticket for the Owerri/Main Market route.
“In fact, Anambra State Government public notice issued on October 6, 2016 and signed by Hon. Uchenna Okafor, Special Adviser to the Governor on Internally Generated Revenue, clearly stated that what the keke operators are supposed to pay N200, which is for keke IGR and ASWAMA ticket as one ticket for N150.00 and Ministry of Local Government traffic toll of N50.”
“However, above the two tickets approved by the government, illegal revenue agents and touts issue extra 10 tickets for which no tickets are issued.
“The result is that instead of N200 the keke drivers are supposed to pay daily, they end up paying more than N2,000 per day. Three notorious touts who are behind the illegal tickets and who feed fat from this process should be arrested”.
Speaking, the Chairman of Awka South Local Government Area, Mr. Leo Nwuba, promised that he would take their complaints to the attention of the state government.
Traders in Awka protest multiple taxation too
After that, no fewer than 1,000 Traders in Awka staged a protest against what they termed ‘multiple taxation and extortion’, by illegal revenue agents.
The protesters carried placards of different inscriptions such as, ‘over taxation, Governor Save our souls’, `hard economic condition for street traders over multiple taxation’.
They marched through the road leading to Ekwueme Square and then to Government House, Awka.
The traders who claimed they were paying their ASWAMA and Business Premises levies, lamented that they were also subjected to pay other fees such as Pollution, Fire Extinguisher, kiosk and street trading development levies.
Leader of the protesters, Mr Anthony Ebogha said the various levies imposed on them were adversely affecting their businesses.
Mr Bright Nwachukwu from Iyiagu section said they were made to pay about 12 levies which were becoming unbearable.
Mr Emmanuel Okoye, another street trader alleged that different people usually come to collect the same fees from them daily.
A dealer in Computer wares, Mr Joel Nwankwo at Aroma Junction axis noted that they embarked on the action to register their grievances over multiple levies.
A Special Assistant (SA) to the Governor on Project Management and Monitoring, Mr Kingsley Ezika and Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Project Management, Mr Julius Ndibe said government had put measures in place to address the issue.
Secretary to the Anambra State Government, Prof. Solo Chukwulobelu noted that government would look into their demands with a view to addressing them. He said government was already harmonising fees payable by traders in all areas of Anambra.
Tipper drivers struck, block Enugu-Onitsha road over extortion and illegal revenue
Tipper drivers took the state by surprise as they blocked the ever busy Enugu-Onitsha expressway in Awka to protest against alleged extortion by agents of the state government.
The protesters, numbering over 200 barricaded both sides of the expressway for over four hours, subjecting motorists to untold hardship while the protest lasted.
Leader of the protesters, Emma Ezeokafor, said, “How can we be paying between N700 and N1,500 for a trip of about N10,000? We were initially paying between N100 and N200 per trip until this extortion started. “We know the contribution we make to the state IGR. You can’t talk about the IGR of the state without tipper drivers. “We’ve been law abiding association. But even as we are protesting, the man asked police to shoot us, describing us as touts.”
Addressing the protesters, the Secretary to the State Government, Prof. Solo Chukwulobelu, commended them for their peaceful conduct, but appealed to them to clear the highway for free flow of traffic.
They carried various placards with inscriptions like: We say no to double taxation, don’t throw us out of business, We are part of nation building, have mercy sir, Governor Obiano , our working governor, hear our cry, and so on.
Recall that the Tipper drivers last Christmas Eve blocked the Niger Bridge, with over 150 tippers laden with sand to protest alleged multiple levies and extortion by agents of the state government.
The drivers claimed that multiple levies imposed on them made them to resolve to be loading their tippers from Asaba, Delta State, which infuriated the revenue agents in Anambra.
The revenue agents then insisted that whether they got the sand from Onitsha or Asaba, they must pay the stipulated levies and this resulted in a showdown between the two groups, which prompted the drivers to block the bridge for hours.
That was the third time tipper drivers were having a showdown with revenue agents in Anambra. In the last protest, the President General of the tippers association, Chief Ebuka Davidson Unakwe, pleaded that they should be allowed to pay N200 for small tipper load of sand and N500 for the big tipper per day.
Vice President General of the Tippers Association, Chief Udenwa Ezekwesili, the General Coordinator, Chike Ezeala and the Secretary, Jerry U. Ifejika, accused non-members in-charge of IGR of causing the crisis in the association; adding that the allocation paper for IGR should be given to the executive members to manage it themselves.
But reacting to the allegations of the tipper drivers, the then Anambra State Commissioner for Tertiary Education, Science and Technology, Mrs Theresa Obiekezie, who the IGR is domiciled in her ministry insisted that what the government was collecting from the drivers was just toll for trucks.
Said she, ‘This is a road use toll. They do not pay for mining because they are not miners. What is in the exclusive list is mining.’
She said that nobody was asking the tipper drivers to pay mining fees and disclosed that the state government did not collect mining fees but the federal government under the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development.
‘The tipper drivers are like every other vehicle picking goods and passengers in the state.
They pay tolls or levies at the point of loading. As many times as they load goods or passengers, they pay,’ she clarified, noting that it was not cheating as it was the way the state generated revenue which it used in maintaining roads used by same tipper drivers.
The chairman of Internally Generated Revenue in the state, David Nzekwu, aligned with the submission of Mrs Obiekezie by also insisting that the drivers of tippers are charged what he called State Road Use Toll, which he said, was the revenue government collected from truck drivers who carried loads in the state.
He explained that the levy was for users of sand; that is the owners of the sand being carried by the tipper drivers.
Giving a breakdown of the charges, he said that small trucks paid N700; coupled trucks, N1, 000 and construction trucks, N1, 500 each time they loaded. He also said the amount was agreed on with concerned parties as far back as 2015.
Nzekwu also said the tipper groups were as many as 18 and that they had failed to come under one umbrella to make it easier for coordination and ending the confusion it caused.
Speaking on the court judgement, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mrs Uju Nwogu, said the government only collected toll on tippers and that as such, the judgement did not concern the government.
But for the Transport Commissioner, Mr Christian Madubuko, the tipper operators had a right to express their grievances.
CLO takes to the streets
As well in solidarity, no fewer than 200 members of the Anambra branch of the Civil Liberties Organization embarked on a protest over multiple taxation by various revenue agents and touts especially in Onitsha.
They alleged that the revenue agents brandish clubs and planks and ever ready to deal with any uncooperative person, lamenting that their activities have become a daily nightmare for the residents. They decried that even when government has announced the abolition of various taxes in the state and also disowned most of the revenue touts, the situation has not abated.
The CLO protesters, led by their state chairman, Comrade Vincent Ezekwueme, carried placards with inscriptions such as Too many extortions on traders and customers, Revenue collectors should be in uniform for easy identification, Corrupt market leaders must be sacked and stop multiple taxation, among others.
Addressing newsmen during the protest, Ezekwueme, who brandished various receipts collected from the victims to buttress his claims.
On the multiple taxes and levies as well as the proliferation of revenue touts in the state, the chairman, who was flanked by the secretary, Comrade Chidi Mba and other executive members, recalled that prior to the swearing in of the governor, the CLO had unfolded a 12-point agenda for the governor as a recommendation to solving the numerous problems in the state, among which was eradication of illegal revenue agents and their sponsors, multiple taxation and reduction of cost of governance, among others.
“Today, the situation has degenerated from bad to worse. It needs an urgent attention from government, as illegal revenue agents have taken over the state, especially Onitsha and environs. It is very pathetic and painful. Even the poorest of the poor are being extorted and exploited. Currently, auction permit of between N20,000 and N50,000 are being collected from petty traders and roadside hawkers. Tricycle operators pay tolls of between N450 and N500 daily while bus drivers pay from N1,000 to N2,000.
“Wheelbarrow pushers pay between N150 and N250. There are about six extortionist points between the main market and Ochanja/bridge head markets.
“Market leaders have turned themselves to conduit pipes, exploiting and extorting traders and citizens of the state. They have become a law unto themselves. Citizens are afraid of them, even as they unleash evil on the citizens, traders and visitors. Government should constitute a committee made up men of impeccable integrity, including credible civil society groups, to eradicate these illegal revenue agents most of who claim to have their authority from government functionaries,” he stated.
Government raises alarm
But, Commissioner for Information, C. Don Adinuba said the government had been inundated with several complaints in that direction. He explained that the ban on illegal tolls in markets was to be enforced with greater vigour in the state.
“It has come to the knowledge of the Anambra State Government that despite several measures and programmes to make life better for our people, a number of criminally minded persons and groups have continued to devise all manner of methods to extort money from our people. Quite painful is the fact that the majority of victims of the extortions are the poorest in society.
“There is perhaps nowhere where this unconscionable practice takes place as much as the markets in the state. These criminals collect levies unknown to the government while this practice has forced some people to start doing business outside the state. The extortionists claim that the tolls are obtained on behalf of the Anambra State Government but we would like to state for the umpteenth time that these tolls are not only illegal but also unconscionable.
“Even in the middle of the recent recession, when various governments in Nigeria introduced different revenue generating schemes so as to meet their basic responsibilities, Governor Willie Obiano rather introduced an economic stimulus package in a bold move to lessen the economic burden on the people.
“Cart pushers, often referred to as wheelbarrow men, were among the first set of the most vulnerable members of society to be exempted from paying not only taxes but all kinds of revenue to the government. It is, therefore, heartless for any group of people in the market, or anywhere for that matter, to harass hapless citizens going about their legitimate business for payment of so-called government tolls. Let it be emphasized here that wheel barrow tolls, pitchers tolls, petty traders tolls, obstacle tolls, land tolls, container tolls and barrow tolls remain abolished by the Governor Obiano administration.
“The state government has authorised all security agencies in the state, especially the Nigeria Police Force, Department of State Services and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, to arrest all the culprits who make life difficult for our people, especially the less privileged, in the markets,” he said.
Despite the explanation, wheel barrow pushers and all hawkers still pay levies of different magnitude across the various markets in Anambra state till date. In fact the harassment from revenue agents on hawkers and other vulnerable groups are intense now than ever. A hawker with a total good worth of N120.00 pays N100 daily levy to the revenue collectors without qualms or have your wares confiscated. Who dares challenge them?
Cornucopia is a weekly column of Odogwu Emeka Odogwu, PhD. Odogwu, a culture and tradition aficionado and a foodie is a known Journalist, Editor, Media Consultant and famous Blogger, as well as Social Media Entrepreneur, publisher and Conversationalist @ www.odogwublog.com among others.
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