From Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
Recently, petty traders, streets traders and allied traders in Onitsha, Anambra State have continued to protest 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.
They wondered why the revenue officials could not come into the market and assess them individually before imposing the exorbitant tax, adding that government should come to their aid because they do not have any other means of livelihood should they be ejected from the market, as the revenue agents threatened to do.
According to them, “the worst is that they do not know who actually owns the revenue, whether it is the state or local government or revenue contractor, adding that we even learnt that when they extort this huge amount of money from us, they will share it between the revenue contractors, market leadership, state and local government officials”.
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 on May 4, 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, Gods 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.
Also on May 18, 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 shortchanging the government and people are made to pay the appropriate amount in the banks.
Also the President of Amalgamated Market Traders Association (AMATAS) in Anambra State, Chief Okwudili Ezenwankwo, said that those protesters were not genuine traders as they don’t own shops in the markets, saying that they were street traders who were sacked from blocking the major roads and streets with their business.
According to him, “they are not under my care, I don’t know why they are protesting because they spread their wares, goods along the streets and roads which the government has warned them to stop, but they refused. Like those who protested in Awada as far as I’m concerned it is a residential area and not a market, so they are not recognized as traders in the state.
“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, stall-age 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 stall-age 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.