No fewer than 200 members of the Anambra branch of the Civil Liberties Organization embarked on a protest over multiple taxation, especially in Onitsha.
Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
In Onitsha, the commercial nerve centre of Anambra State, residents and commuters are groaning over the menace of various revenue agents and touts.
The operatives forcefully collect money from people under the guise of shoring up the revenue profile of the state.
Brandishing clubs and planks and ever ready to deal with any uncooperative person, the agents and activities have become a daily nightmare for the residents. Though government has announced the abolition of various taxes in the state and also disowned most of the revenue touts, the situation has not abated.
Unable to continue condoning the excesses of these touts, two groups – tipper owners and drivers and a civil society group, The Civil Liberties Organisation recently organised separate peaceful protests to drum to the ears of government the need to take more drastic actions to curtail the situation.
The tipper owners and drivers from the 21 various units of their association took total control of the service lane of the Onitsha-Bridgehead-Asaba Expressway with their vehicles during the protest, and causing a gridlock.
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.
Addressing journalists at the scene amidst chanting of solidarity and protest songs, Hyacinth Okafor and Oge Ndozie, Chairman and President of Tipper Owners and Drivers Welfare Association, Anambra State noted that members of their association used to pay N200 per trip as revenue to the state government during the former administration in the state, adding that the present government increased it to N1000 for small tippers which was later reduced to N700 after negotiations and 1400 for bigger tippers.
They noted that the grouse of their members now was the sudden announcement of an additional daily pay of N500 from an agent of the state government. They lamented that the agent had already commenced immediate collection of such levy without consultation, noting that thugs were being engaged to brutalise any driver that failed to immediately comply.
Other leaders of the union, Chinedu Ezeuka and Jekwu Attah said with the N700 and N1400 being paid per trip, each driver remits a minimum of between N5000 to N7000 per day to the state government after taking up to six trips in one day.
They appealed to Governor Willie Obiano to come to their aid by calling the agents that had been harassing them to order. They noted that they had been law abiding while contributing their quota to the revenue profile of the state.
Lamenting the activities of different revenue touts and agents extorting money from them while brandishing various printed receipts purportedly from government, they called on the state government to address the issue. The tipper owners and drivers said they would continue to resist any levy from unapproved sources.
The protesters alleged that some drivers, who objected to payment of the multiple levies, were brutalised by the agents, with some of the victims still receiving treatment in the hospital.
In another development, no fewer than 200 members of the Anambra State branch of the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) also embarked on a peaceful protest over multiple taxation, especially in Onitsha. They also protested the refusal of the government to conduct local government election in the state.
The protesters, led by their state chairman, Comrade Vincent Ezekwueme, carried placards with inscriptions such as Too many extortions on traders and customers, conduct Local Government election now, 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, said the CLO also condemned the non-conduct of local government election in Anambra State. He said Governor Willie Obiano, a beneficiary of the democratic process, must conduct council polls as the greatest democratic dividend to the people.
He called on the state House of Assembly to stop further extension of tenures of local government transition committees, describing such as undemocratic and unconstitutional.
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.
“Anambra citizens must henceforth cease to be docile followers and ask questions on how their representatives represent them and call on them to render account of their stewardship as yardstick for their re-election, or their mandate must be withdrawn for poor performance during next year’s general election,” the CLO stated.
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.