By Odogwu Emeka Odogwu
Int’l Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law, (Intersociety) had in its 13th September, 2018 investigation Report tagged ‘’Harvest of sundry extortion and return of criminal entities in Anambra State’’ expressed worry over the return of roguish tax and revenue collectors in the state, warning that renegades must no longer be allowed to take over and oversee the collective affairs and patrimony of the good People of Anambra State. That alarm raised in 2018 even became a child’s play to what is happening now as all manner of IGR windows have been opened with desperate politicians manning them as ‘settlement’.
Intersociety led by BoT Chair, Nze Emeka Umeagbalasi insisted that: ‘’The Government of Anambra State is totally condemned for flooding or encouraging the flooding of all nooks and cronies of the State with revenue touts instead of adopting the global practice of unification and sanitization of revenue generation using data base management and digitalization’’.
Intersociety alleged that: ‘’We therefore make bold to say that the harvest of extortions unleashed on Anambra citizens and residents are partly, if not substantially fallout of blanket bans placed on commercial and private motorcycles and their owners in the State since July 2018. It is a settled knowledge that human survival is non-negotiable in life and as a living member of human family; survival by any means especially that dealing with basic necessities of life is inevitable; which is why Government must at all times be careful in its policies and conducts. Throwing over 40,000 Okada riders into joblessness and acute hunger without realistic remedies is socially disastrous. It is tantamount to raising more armed robbers and kidnappers of today and tomorrow.
Intersociety claimed that sometime ago, a trader at the Allied Tools Market, near Onitsha Bridgehead was forced under threat of violence to part with N800 (at N200 per pit) when he encountered four extortionist pits mounted by revenue agents of the Government of Anambra State. He had gone to Onitsha Upper Iweka to deliver a small carton of goods worth N10, 000 when he encountered four extortionist pits manned by fierce looking revenue touts hired by the Government of Anambra State.
‘’While one of the pits forcefully collected N200 from him and refused to issue him any ticket, the three others issued him tickets bearing: ”Government of Anambra State Onitsha North Senatorial District KEKE Daily Toll”, “Anambra State Waste Management Authority Loading KEKE/Mini Truck Sanitation Daily Toll” and “Ministry of Local Government Unified Anambra State Local Government Daily Toll Ticket”. The victim trader further told Intersociety that when he complained to the KEKE driver that took him to Upper Iweka, he got dumbfounded after he was shown ten tickets worth N2000 which the KEKE rider had already paid for before noon of same day.
Other markets in Onitsha Zone such as Bridgehead, Relief, Ochanja, Old and New Motor Spare Parts, Electronics, New Tyre, Stockfish, Foodstuff, Electrical and Ogbunike Building Materials and Bakery Markets are also not spared; likewise other markets located in Awka, Nnewi, Ihiala, Ekwulobia, Nsugbe and Nkwere as well as other areas of Anambra State.
Students protest extortion too
Students under the auspices of the Joint Campus Committee (JCC), similarly shut down the Enugu-Onitsha Expressway in Awka, the Anambra State capital in protest against alleged extortion and intimidation by officials and agents of the state government.
The students, numbering over 500 carried placards and chanted solidarity songs as they requested that Governor Willie Obiano should address them before they leave the Aroma junction where they had converged for the protest.
They carried placards with inscription such as, “Voice of students must be heard,” “Students say no to intimidation,” “Uju Akudo must go,” and “Commissioner for Transport encouraging touts,” among others.
Chairman of JCC in Anambra, Betty Okoye, said the students could no longer bear the situation where agents who claim to be working for government inflicted hardship on them.
Okoye said the agents of government allegedly frustrated the bus station designated for students’ shuttle park in Onitsha, and were forced to pay high fares to and from campuses.
Specifically, students of the Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe paid between N50 and N70 at the designated park but now pay between N150 and N200 in the agents’ parks.
He called on Obiano to stop illegal agents from conniving with government officials to cause hardship for the students.
Another student, Mike Okolo, lamented that students were suffering as they spend much money on transport and urged the state government to help their situation.
Nnewi women traders protest extortion
On same mission, over 1000 women traders on the aegis of Agboedo United Market Women Association staged a peaceful demonstration over an alleged extortion.
The women from Agboechi market alleged that they have suffered all manners of intimidation and extortion from the chairman of the market, Christopher Osuojukwu and his team.
The spokesperson of the protesters, Martha Mbonu, had said that the women in the market have been unjustly treated in the collection of levies.
According to her, “we the women traders decided to stage a protest because the chairman of the market has come up with the idea that we will pay for an identity card of N500. We vehemently objected to that because most of the women in the section of the market are petty traders who are only dealing on vegetables and minor soup supplements whose investment are not up to N2000.
Reacting on the development, the chairman, Osuojukwu said the protesting women were not his members, stressing that the ID Cards is optional for shop owners.
Protest at Onitsha drug market over police extortion, intimidation, petty traders too
Over 20,000 traders, including pharmacists, importers, representatives of pharmaceutical companies dealing in medicines and other medical products at Ogbo Ogwu International Market, Bridge Head, Onitsha, Anambra State, had protested profiteering from them by one police officer Ogbonna
Petty traders, street traders and allied traders in Onitsha, Anambra State protested what they described as new high rate of tax payment, intimidation, harassment and assault by revenue agents at the markets in the state.
First, market women at Nkpor Main Market under the aegis of Nkpor Main Market Women Petty Traders Association took to the streets, crying out to Governor Willie Obiano over imposition of new revenue regime. They called on the government to revert to the old fees collected from them.
The women protesters described the increase as a conspiracy by officials of the market and some government revenue agents to impose astronomical levies on them in the name of tax.
The protesters numbering over 1,500 stormed the Idemili North Local Government Secretariat, Ogidi with their placards trying to see the council chairman to lodge their complaints.
Some of the placards read in part: “We can’t afford to pay as much as N30,800 per head as tax in the market because we are merely petty traders”, “Is it from the sale of vegetables, fruits and plaiting of hairs that we will get the N30,800 to pay to the revenue agents?” “Both state and local governments should help to liberate us from these shylock revenue contractors”.
The spokesperson of the women, Mrs Veronica Eneh and former secretary of the association, Sister Juliet Nwokoye said the Chairman of the market, Lawrence Okonkwo had brought in some persons he introduced to them as state government revenue agents to inform them that they would henceforth be paying tax and other revenues amounting to N30,800 per person annually which they rejected.
They said initially, they were paying only N192 as revenue to the government until few years ago when it was increased to about N4,800 and when they protested and refused to pay, the then state government taskforce on revenue collection popularly known as Ndi Mpiawa Azu (those who break peoples’ backs with sticks), unleashed terror on them, making them to go to court to challenge the harassment and increase in payment of levies.
The women stated that as the matter was still pending before the Magistrate Court, the same group of revenue agents came into the market again and told them that their total payment for tax and other revenues was now N30,800, adding that to worsen the matter, they were told that the new fee would be paid in arrears with effect from 2013.
They noted that previous chairmen in the market had never levied the petty traders so much until the advent of the incumbent Lawrence Okonkwo-led market executive, insisting that they cannot afford N30,800.
The Chairman of Idemili North Local Government Area, Emma Obi Idemobi who was not in his office during the demonstration denied the allegation on phone, saying that it was normal revenue collections in the market.
But the chairman of the market leadership, Okonkwo insisted that it was not the market leadership that imposed the levy, but the state government, adding that the only role he played was to invite the women to come and listen to the revenue officials from the state government.
Also, the traders under the auspices of United Street Traders and Artisans Association, (USTAA) Nkpor Agu, Idemili North took to the streets to protest against the hike in levies and taxes introduced by revenue agents in the state.
The traders said they were mandated to pay 200 per cent astronomical hike in levies which led to several assaults, harassment, intimidation and seizure of their goods and work tools by revenue agents in the market.
The protesters numbering about 1,000 members came from different units, as Udoka, Igwebuike, Ifeadigo, God’s Own, Favour of God, Obinwanne, One love, United Amafor, Ifechukwu, Ofuobi, United Amafor West, Enekwasumpu Nwannedinamba and New Market Road Units, disrupted human and vehicular movements in Nkpor.
They gave reasons for the protest to include; increment in Business Premises levy from N2,500 to N4,000 and N12,000 depending on the size of your business, Sanitation levy N2,400 to N3,600 to N12,000, Stallage Fee N500 to N4,000 to N20,000, Minor industries levy, N1,000 to N2,000 and N8,000, among other yearly levies and fees.
The traders carried placards with inscription some of which read: “Revenue agents stay in air-conditioned office and write amounts impossible for one to pay and force on us,” “We cannot be intimidated by agent workers,” “Things are hard now, please Governor Obiano don’t allow revenue agents to kill us with outrageous levies,” “We do not see money to feed let alone paying outrageous levies,” “Please our beloved Governor we are being swindled by revenue agents,” “Willie is working but revenue agents are destroying his good works”.
The General Chairman of USTAA, Mr Tijani- Kazeem Olaiya alleged that they were forced to pay market traders levy, market development levy, market stallage levy/fee, registration of lubricant dealers levy, registration of mechanical repair workshop, decongestion, loading and offloading fee, and registration of spare parts stores.
Others levies are capitation levy, cyber café operation permit, eating house permit, health rate, artisan levy, sanitation levy, sanitation fines, registration/renewal of business premises, liquor /tavern and advert permit.
“We did not say we won’t pay but our complaint is that the amount is too much, we are street traders, if we are able to afford shops in the markets and major roads in Nkpor, we will not be doing our businesses inside these streets, government should see reason with us,” he pleaded.
Another set of street petty traders along Awada road took to the streets to protest indiscriminate tax regime meted against them, calling on the state government to look into the new taxes.
The protesters who do their business from MCC down to ABS radio station road were complaining about the hike in revenue that was being forced on them by revenue agents in the state.
The Revenue Agent and Managing Director of Charlie Links Integrated Services Limited, Chief Raphael Nnabuife said government has not increased any levy in the state, saying that rather all those agents who collect below the amount government stipulated as levies have been dropped because they were short-changing the government and people are made to pay the appropriate amount in the banks.
Former President of Amalgamated Market Traders Association (AMATAS) in Anambra State, Chief Okwudili Ezenwankwo, now Member House of Representatives representing Orumba North and South federal constituency, had said that protesters against tax were not genuine traders as they don’t own shops in the markets. He had said that they were street traders who were sacked from blocking the major roads and streets with their business.
He even supported government: “The allegation of government collecting high tax or revenue is false, who are they paying to? Government has approved agents who collect taxes and tolls in the markets which is paid into the designated banks. There is no increase in revenue collection since Governor Obiano came in. We always appealed to traders to pay their revenues because government cannot work without the revenue.
“We pay development levies, traders tax, stallage levy, sanitation levy and every trader must pay these revenue. What we pay, for government market is N12, 200 yearly per shop while private market pays a total of N7, 400 yearly, they don’t pay stallage levy. We checkmate the revenue agents to ensure that they do not fake.
They don’t even carry the traders’ goods even if you are owing arrears they will give you remind notice to pay after which they may decide to lock your shop, they don’t arrest or carry traders goods,” he said.
Government warns town Unions over illegal ticketing
Some town Unions were even issuing unapproved tickets to commercial vehicle drivers like Obosi Town union did before government warned them against that.
Shuttle bus drivers plying various routes in Obosi staged peaceful protest at Borromeo Roundabout end of the Enugu-Onitsha Expressway, over alleged issuing of tickets by the town union.
As well , traders in Awada in Obosi, near the commercial city of Onitsha in Anambra, protested against multiple taxation and levies by the state and local governments.
The protesters, who carried placards, claimed that they were forced to pay same taxes and levies to revenue officials the state government and Idemili North Local Government Area.
A trader, Mr Kelechukwu Duru, said that they were paying levies for stalls/business premises, sanitation, minor Industry, etc.
“The revenue officials collect monies even above government’s stipulated amounts.
“We are forced to pay as much as N24,000, N18,000 and N12,000 for sanitation, store and minor industry respectively, as against the flat N2,500 being paid in the past.
“We are not saying we will not pay levies and taxes but we are being over charged.
“They are asking us to pay based on what they see in our shops. This is not correct”, Duru, the President of Live and Let Live Store Traders Association, said.
While appealing for the intervention of the state government, Duru called for a flat and single rate for every levy and taxes to be imposed on them.
Secretary of the association, Mrs Chioma Osuchukwu, said the small money the female traders started businesses with had gone into taxes and levies.
Osuchuwku urged the wife of the Governor, Ebelecuhukwu Obiano, to plead with her husband to look into the activities of the revenue agents.
Some of the placards carried by the protesters read: ”Anambra State Governor, please check if what revenue contractors and agents are collecting from us is what you approved.”
Other placards read: “Willie is working, revenue agents and contractors are destroying APGA government”, and ”Gov. Willie Obiano, will you allow revenue contractors and agents to milk us dry?”
Continued (Part 5) The burden of multiple taxation in Anambra and the relentless war thereto, amidst COVID 19 Pandemic (Part 4)
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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