© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Business owners in Ebonyi cry out over ‘brutality’ of state govt, tax agents
Business owners in Abakaliki, capital city of Ebonyi State, are currently groaning under excessive taxes and molestation by the state government and its agents, who use all forms of force and violence to collect taxes from them, the ICIR can report.
The Ebonyi State Government under Dave Umahi is on an aggressive search for ways of boosting its internally generated revenue (IGIR) and thus recently introduced some taxes which citizens in the states say are not only strange but also outrageous.
Speaking at a round table between officials of the state government and different youth groups, concerned citizens lamented that taxes such as tenement rate and land rents had been increased by 200 percent.
The meeting was organized by South Saharan Social Development Organisation, a civil society organization, as a response to cries and hues by citizens over the tax burdens. The engagement was done under its South East Zonal radio broadcast known as “The Awakening,” an OSIWA and DFID project.
The state government was represented at the meeting by Okwuegbu Sunday, Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on IGR, and Chima Esema, head of the Department of Integrated Revenue Department at the State Board of Internal Revenue.
While the government claims that nobody has paid tenement rate in the state since 2012 and the rate given is an accumulated debt, citizens say heavy taxes are already forcing many small business owners out of the business.
Iduma Mayor, a landlord in Abakaliki, has been served a demand notice to pay a total of N546, 600 as tenement rate for his three-bedroom apartment. He was served the demand notice on March 3, 2018.
Among the charges on the demand notice are fire service and waste management.
Ukpabi Chris, leader of a youth organization, the Salt Youth Network, narrated how one of the beneficiaries of skill acquisition programme who just relocated from a village to Abakaliki was charged with N36,000 tax.
“This amount exceeds his rent and business capital put together,” Chris said.
Also speaking, Nwogodo Vincent of Young Visioners Association of Nigeria (YVAN) said agents of the state waste management board were in the habit of confiscating goods belonging to traders at their business premises while insisting they must purchase waste bins.
“These agents also beat up citizens in the process of recovering such levies,” Vincent alleged “They go as far as removing their sticker from the bin and say the individual has none. So they insist the bin must be the one they sell, and when you buy they insist on an annual renewal whether or not it is okay.”
He lamented that as a result of the heavy tax and recovery agents’ molestation, several entrepreneurs in the state capital had closed up their businesses, while some others only opened their shops at odd hours when the tax force agents must have closed for the day.
But reacting to these allegations, Esema said the tenement rate was only five percent increase, contrary to the 200 percent claim. He noted that incompetence on the part of the tax agents is the reason landlords are asked to pay as much 200 percent increment.
He said that the agents need more training on the job, adding that his department had held a meeting with landlords and property owners to tell them the actual rate to be paid as against current demands of agents.
Esema said the previous administrations in the state did not enforce the law guiding the payment of tax, noting that the demand being served is for three years. “The rate being given now is an accumulated tax,” he explained.
Both Esema and Sunday called on the youth to support the effort of the government, as the dividend of their taxes could be seen in the development of the state.
They admitted that some of the agents responsible for the recovery are incompetent and as a result overcharge the citizens. The youths suggested solutions to the problem which were documented in a communique.
In the end, it was agreed that the youths would work with the government in the interest of the development of the state, and that they would pay tax. However, they demanded from the government a more transparent process subject to assessment in the determination of taxes.