Rampaging taxmen running riot in Calabar
Since Nigeria lost the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsular to neighbouring Cameroun, Cross River State also lost its oil wells to Akwa Ibom State. This effectively stripped the state of its status as an oil producing state.
With its finances in a parlous state considering its large wage bill, and compelling need for infrastructural development, one of the options open to it was an aggressive drive to bolster its internally generated revenue (IGR) through taxes.
Expectedly, as a result of government’s attempts to improve its IGR, its agents have had brushes with business owners in the state that is beckoning on investors to come do business in it.
However, while still struggling to make ends meet since after the International Court of Justice (ICJs) verdict, not a few were aghast when the Governor Ben Ayade-led government in January announced the abolition of all forms of taxation for low-income earners in the state.
Among those exempted from paying tax are people earning below N50, 000 monthly. Also, taxi drivers, tricycle drivers, wheelbarrows pushers and motorcycle riders, as well as, petty traders and hoteliers have all also been exempted from paying taxes.
Ayade, after signing the 2017 appropriation bill of N707 billion, reiterated the need to provide some relief to low-income earners in the state tax-wise.
“I am sounding the last warning that henceforth I don’t want to hear anyone who earns less than N50, 000 a month being taxed in any form in the state … In the same vein, I don’t want to see a hotel that is struggling to survive with challenges of diesel being chased by government officials over taxes. I have warned anybody, who is still collecting money from these people to stop forthwith…”
Nine months after that declaration by the governor, businessmen in Calabar, are threatening to shut down the state capital over what they described as multiple taxation by different agencies of government.
The activities of these tax and levy collectors, directly contravenes the governor’s pronouncement, in addition to making the state unattractive for investors and other business people.
Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of PMT, Dr. Sam Maduka Onyishi, in a protest letter to the Commissioner for Transport, titled, “Suspected Double Taxation, Harassment of Staff and Imminent Disruption of PMT Operations,” decried the harassment his outfit has suffered in the hands of various persons claiming to be revenue collectors, even after his company has met all its tax obligations.
He said, “It is with regrets and extreme worry that we bring to your notice, the persistent unfriendly activities of persons, who have been parading themselves as state and local government representatives on levies and taxes in various locations in the state.
“These persons have continuously inundated us with requests for all manner of levies and taxes, including those on which we have no arrears. The worrisome aspect is the manner of these demands, which is at best, menacing. Our staff on ground have been operating under unnecessary fear, intimidation and threat of harm.
“It is also worthy of note that the amounts of money quoted by these so-called agents are outrageous, out of tune with the times, illegal, and crucially, out of reach of our company. In reality also, most of these bills as presented and designated are at best, nebulous and inexplicable. It would be hard for even your exalted office to find justification for some of them,” Onyishi maintained.
Traders at the popular Henshaw Town Beach Market (Urua Esuk Nsidung), in Calabar South Local Council, are also affected by the activities of tax/levy collectors.
Consequently, they have vowed to stop all manner of business transactions in the market over what they described as unreasonable levy charged them by the CRIRS.
The market, where very large quantities of assorted sea foods, including dried fishes, and crayfish brought from the diverse fishing settlements in Bakassi Peninsular and along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, attracts buyers from across the country.
The traders under the aegis of Henshaw Town Beach Market Traders Union (HETOBMATU), said business was no more worth doing because agents of government were making things very difficult for them.
Secretary of the group, Effiong Bassey Udoh, said despite the fact that they were already paying huge amounts to the state government, with different subheads; another letter was sent to them from the CRIRS demanding an outrageous amount as economic development levy.
He said: “They categorised the said levy under what they called ‘Waterfront Land Allocation, Boat Registration Levy, Foreign Landing Permit, Local Landing Permit as well as Goods/Product Levy. The amount ranges from N5, 000 to N20, 000 annually for waterfront allocation. They also charge for cooked rice that we buy here to eat. They also want us to pay levy for things like garri, slippers, salt, beans, and sachet water, amongst others. This is very ridiculous.”
Also speaking, Chairman of Boat Owners Association, Nkereuwem Edet Bassey, expressed disgust that someone could dream of increasing the suffering of the masses with additional levy despite that they were already paying for tickets, landing fee, sanitation fee, security fee, and royalty,.
“Few years ago, when they introduced levies and different fees, which we are currently paying, we drew government’s attention to the deplorable condition of that beach market, and the government promised to provide amenities like electricity, convenience, and shops for us to keep our wares and to even make the place a bit clean, but till today, nothing has been done, only for another letter to be sent to us for additional levy.
“We will not pay the levy enumerated in that letter. We will stop all operations and business in that place until they reverse this draconian levy. They are charging levy on garri, salt, beans, and everything. Apart from the fact that we buy these goods to go and eat, our customers who happen to be the people we buy fish and crayfish from also come to Calabar to buy these goods to use in their different fishing settlements. But people in government say tax must be paid for buying rice to eat. We pay tax and other levies to Cameroon authorities, where these fishing settlements are located.
Surprisingly, the Executive Chairman of the CRIRS, Dr. Ukam Edodi, claimed ignorance of any form of extortion carried out by his men.
In a statement, the internal revenue service said: “This situation is even more worrisome that some service providing MDAs are now involved in revenue collection on behalf of the state government.
The revenue service added that the agency is by “…This announcement, warning all concerned touts and persons not authorised by law to generate, or collect revenues on behalf of the state government to forthwith desist from this negative act. For the avoidance of doubt, only consultants engaged by IRS are authorised facilitate revenue collection on behalf of government. All legitimate taxes, fines and levies are to be paid into government designated banks, using bank codes and not bank accounts. More importantly, no cash payment should be made to any government official or their agents. Members of the public are hereby advised to be guided accordingly.”
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