By Cajetan Mmuta, Awka
It’s always hard to appreciate the message an artist is conveying through his new music or song until a listener dissects with rapt attention the content of the message. In doing so one can conveniently understand the essence of the rhythmic sound and the artiste’s background, otherwise, the dance steps would be confusing.
For the Governor of Anambra, Prof Charles Soludo, it is not yet Uhuru. His coming into office of the number one seat at Agu Awka Government House on March 17, 2022, did not leave anyone in doubt that the journey will not be easy.
Of course, Soludo’s predecessor, Chief Willie Obiano, had danced and left the stage after eight years, to the chagrin of his admirers. Soludo, on the assumption of office, was greeted with the shocker of what was seen as a paltry left over, not even enough, for a mere breakfast for citizens of Anambra State.
Those believed to have presided over the affairs of the kitchen before his coming had licked the plates white and left the pots empty. Confronted, therefore, with the obvious reality of the challenge of starting things afresh, the ex-Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), had quickly adjusted and thrown aside the coat of corporate politics to face the heat of expeditious grassroots politics that usually sets kinsman against his own in raw and real terms.
On mounting the saddle, he was faced with the daunting tasks of clearing mountain heaps of refuse that dot every major road, street, and corner of markets across the state; deplorable or rather decayed infrastructure with inexplicable bad roads laced with deep potholes, erosion menace, an intractable wave of bloody secret cult rivalry, killings, kidnappings, armed robbery and other heinous crimes due to a dangerous state of insecurity that left the state as the den of unknown gunmen and die-hard touts that rule some sections of the state.
With an assemblage of a versed team of professionals and leaders drawn from various fields of human endeavours across the Southeast and South-South geopolitical zones, Charlie Nwamgbafor, has gone all out to walk the talk.
He is, therefore, poised to ensure that he not only saves his name and face as a global man but also brings his wealth of experience to bear on the task of salvaging the state from the grip of old order towards making the Light of the Nation-state, a liveable and envy of others.
As a seasoned technocrat and to match his words with action, he has since deployed the much-needed courage, resilience, and will in tackling the various issues. Already, the governor is not distracted by the glitz and glamour of 100 days in office as used to be the case with other governors. He had in his state-wide address to Ndi Anambra asserted that it’s not yet time for celebration, but rather a time for serious work, having been employed by the people to serve them alongside the Deputy Governor, Dr Onyekachukwu Ibezim.
Outstandingly, Soludo tasked the citizens and residents with the imperative of tax payment for an achievable speedy economic boom for Anambra. While decrying the nose-diving nation’s oil revenue, and rising unemployment rate, the Aguata-born political czar declared that there is no going back to a stable, secure, and livable state.
According to him, payment of taxes remain the major avenue through which the state can meet its set targets and obligations towards achieving a liveable, prosperous, and developed state. He urged the people both at and abroad to live up to their civic responsibilities by paying taxes as the state government cannot build roads to local government areas and communities as well as other set objectives with ‘bare hands.’
He emphasised that the moment calls for belt-tightening as the contribution of oil revenue from the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to the federation account since February this year has been zero and many states can no longer pay salaries.
He said that his covenant with the people, “is that your tax money must work for you,” pointing out that the days of collecting revenue on behalf of the government through various ‘revenue windows’ were over as the government is determined to collect every kobo due to it through digital processes.
“Thus, with declining revenue in the context of insecurity and a mountain of debt (including over N20bn in arrears of gratuity to pensioners since 2018) vis-à-vis the sky-high expectations from you (my employers), some fundamental disruptive changes are inevitable.”
He warned, “For those who made a living by collecting revenue on behalf of government through various “revenue windows”, we regret that those can no longer work as the government is determined to collect every kobo due to it through digital processes.”
“Ndi Anambra at home and abroad, “are called upon to pay their taxes to Anambra State government. We can’t build those roads for your local governments and communities with bare hands. Our Covenant with you is that your tax money must work for you, maintaining that, “The road ahead will be bumpy and every citizen must contribute to building a liveable and prosperous homeland in the context of dwindling resources.
“You will be called upon to bear some sacrifices. To my supporters and party members, it would mean that the State can no longer afford many political appointments. A nimble but effective government will be required.”
Speaking on the development, a former chairman of Eke Awka market Mr. Emeka Onyemaechi said “Last week Thursday I was inside my shop, they started ringing bell that everybody should come and pay for his shop and other fees. I asked them how much and they said N15,000 per shop.”
He explained, “On Friday I went to Anambra state board of internal revenue to find the true position. The information I got was that on Tuesday, they are coming to capture all shops in the market and everybody will pay N2,000 for the capturing, and government will give account numbers where traders will pay their fees.”
He noted, “Unfortunately, on Tuesday (holiday) they started the capturing and collecting of the N14,200. They forced people to the market office where over 20 POS were stationed and people without cash use their ATM to pay. After that, I called the revenue office again and complained they said we should pay.”
He called on the state government to quickly address the issues of hiring private persons to collect revenue for the state government.
Another trader, Mr Kene Obunna said it is sad that the government was just forcing people to pay revenue using those who do not shop in the market.
He disclosed that the chairman of the market is living in a hotel without a shop in eke Awka and he does not know the problems traders faced in the market.
Obunna alleged that the market leadership is using young men to intimidate people to pay or risk beating. Also, an elderly woman, Mrs Nkiru Obiora, who hawks vegetables in the market, lamented that it was tough for them to come to the market and be forced to pay multiple levels of N200.
She claimed to be paying up to N600 any day she brings vegetables into the market, pointing out that if you argue with the revenue collectors they beat you up without minding your age.
A source close to the State board of internal revenue Service confirmed that the state government has approved the N14, 200 as payment.
According to the source who did not want his name in print, the government would commence the enumeration of all the traders in the market on Tuesday.
He said that after capturing everybody, they would be given a code number for payment into government-approved banks and POS.
According to him, the payment in Eke Awka is N12, 200.00, and N2, 000 is for the capturing of traders bringing the total to N14,200, adding that the capturing involves the sticker and identity card.
He explained further that the identity card is N700 while the sticker which they will place in their shop is N1, 300.
On their part, tricycle operators last week staged a peaceful protest to register their grievances over what they called an outrageous tax regime by the state government. During the protest they blocked the Enugu-Onitsha expressway, causing hours of traffic gridlock in the process.
In addition, economic activities were disrupted as the members of the body with placards complained bitterly against the high tax rate. “They (officials) are asking us to pay N15,000 to the Keke union, and a daily payment of N500.
“Our daily ticket used to be N450, and we were even appealing to the government to reduce it because it is high, but instead, they increased it to N500.
“Most of us here are graduates who are managing their lives because there is no job for others. Others are driving their Keke on a hire purchase basis, while most of us have families. The country is hard, how can they be forcing hardship on us, through these kinds of policies. We will not pay, let Soludo come to our aide,” they said.
In reaction, the state government denied any involvement in the plan to subject tricycle riders to higher taxes.
The spokesperson for the Anambra State Internally Revenue Board, Mrs Toochukwu Ngige, said the protest may not be against Governor Soludo as he has further simplified the payment of the tricycle riders.
She said, “Instead of many illegal payments they make in a day, which has even amount to over N1,000 daily, the governor has said they can only pay N600, and it won’t be an everyday payment, but they pay monthly.”
According to Ngige, “Every other money is embedded in it, all they do is to come out every day and do their work and go home, not paying toll every day.”
Speaking also, Mr. Osita Obi, a rights activist, said that the payment that triggered the protest is being championed by the ‘Keke’ riders union, who are working to cause their members to pay some money to them.
“I have mobilised Keke riders to resist it. The government has said they are not asking for any N15, 000 from Keke riders. It is one renowned cultist, (names withheld), who is trying to force the Keke riders to pay to him.”
In addition, Soludo stressed that there is no going back in efforts to rout criminals and their collaborators out of the state. No doubt, positive results have been achieved in this regard and there is relative stability in the past month across the state.
“Normalcy has returned with socio-economic activities at its peak except in a few areas. This is the evidence of doggedness and master stroke deployed by Soludo and men of the state Joint Security Taskforce who have been at the forefront of the war against insecurity.
“We have embarked on the restoration of the image of Anambra State as a responsible, trustworthy recipient of development programmes by World Bank, African Development Bank, UN, JAPAN, FGN, etc by paying Counterpart funding,” the governor assured.
According to Soludo, “The criminals masquerading as agitators have been exposed, and the nexus between crime, idolatry, and hard drugs has become evident. The narrative is changing and the people are seizing the conversation and initiative.”
He declared “zero tolerance for criminality and drug abuse, and declared war on all criminals in Anambra State. No forest, bush, or house can accommodate criminals in Anambra and government is determined to do sustained battle with them. It took some years for criminality to take deep root in parts of the State and we have a longer-term perspective on sustainable solutions.”
Interestingly, the 6pm to 6am curfew on motorcycles (okada), tricycles (Keke), and shuttle buses in the eight local government areas have been relaxed as a short-term security measure that will be lifted in no distant time while “work is ongoing to restructure and strengthen the community security architecture and deployment of technology in security.”
To this end, several kingpins of the criminal elements have been arrested. The governor had ordered the immediate registration of all native doctors operating across the 21 local government areas and senatorial districts of the state.
The move is part of efforts by the APGA-led government to deal decisively with criminal elements under the guise of unknown gunmen who patronize the native doctors to carry out their heinous crimes.
Commissioner for Information in the state, Mr Paul Nwosu said the action was part of the resolutions reached by the Anambra State Executive Council. According to him, this is because of the discovery that some of the native doctors were aiding criminals in the state and providing them with assorted charms.
Still not relenting, the state government had resolved over 15 community disputes which include re-instating four President Generals through the rule of law; resolved 11 community crises and successfully conducted 15 town union elections.” Also, the ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs has continued to engage with key stakeholders in the communities to resolve all the leadership crises in the areas. “Government has also ensured that communities are allowed to elect their leaders thereby reducing the appointment of caretaker committees.”
Finally, as funds remain key to solving all problems, Soludo had last week signed into law the revised budget of N170Bn for the year 2022. This is as he maintained that a total of N250Bn is needed to tackle the humongous infrastructural challenges in the state.
However, it is the expectation of all that Prof. Soludo should give government and governance a human face in Anambra state given his humble background and attention being paid by the global community to his administration.
He must not forget too soon the promises he made to Ndi Anambra during his campaign.
He has started well by his wise decisions to consult the people at all times and more needs to be done to assuage their pains and years of neglect by previous governments in the state.