-AIRS, Emblem Reps, Clear Air …
By Chioma Ndife, Mercy Hills, Alexander Johnson Adejoh and Precious Ukeje
As Anambra State embarks on Tax Awareness Week, TAW, citizens, home and abroad, have raised concerns over what they termed the illegal payment of tax, revenue and other payments in the state.
Fides, however, gathered that the 2020 Tax Awareness Week organized by the Anambra State Internal Revenue Service (AIRS), is aimed at helping tax payers in the state to become more informed about protecting themselves from tax-related identity thefts and scams.
Fides also learnt that tax-related identity theft occurs when someone generates a Social Security number and uses it to claim a tax refund from tax payers.
Consequent upon this, Anambra State tax payers recently flayed what they described as illegal and unprofessional mode of payment of government revenue into various accounts belonging to individuals in different offices.
Speaking to Fides, the Communications Director of the Catholic Diocese of Awka, Rev. Fr. Dr. Martin Anusi, narrated his experience and termed the manner of the operation of the revenue collectors as an ‘unprofessional act’.
Fr. Anusi recalled that in the month of March, a bus belonging to the diocese was stopped around Aroma Junction by some road workers, demanding for payment for what they called emblems.
He said, ‘I think what is normally the standard everywhere is that government has dedicated accounts for levies, taxes and other payments, but it’s a bit strange finding out that an account number given to you to pay is an individual account.
‘We have our ANSSID number but I wonder why agencies in the state would continue to give individual accounts for payments,’ the communications veteran lamented.
He however called on the Anambra State Government to come out clean and enlighten the public, even as he equally challenged, the Anambra State Internal Revenue Service and other concerned government agencies to address the anomaly with immediate effect.
He feared that this could mar the image of AIRS and other agencies saddled with the responsibility of collecting public fund, thus making the public to lose confidence in them.
Similarly one Mr. Sunday Nnamdi, a Keke Driver at UNIZIK Junction Awka, disclosed that they paid N450 as daily revenue, amounting to N14, 000 in a month, unlike the case in Enugu State where, she said, Keke drivers paid N100 as daily revenue. He said that Anambra was the state with the highest revenue in the South East.
At the popular Ekweme Square, Fides also spoke with Danladi Musa, a keke driver, who lamented that the money paid as revenue was exorbitant.
‘I come from Taraba State where daily revenue is N50, but on my arrival to Awka two years ago, we were paying N350 as revenue.
‘I had to register as a keke driver with a total of N39, 000 and we must renew our identity card with N3, 500 annually, he lamented.
Musa called on the State Government and appropriate agencies to look into the matter, noting that a good number of Keke drivers hired tricycles on a daily pay agreement.
For his part, an Awka resident who pleaded anonymity, narrated his ordeal in the hands of the emblems enforcement team and regretted the modus operandi of the team, which, he said, was in total disregard to human rights and dignity.
‘The most annoying thing is that the enforcers of emblems impound commercial vehicles without moral justification because they have no emblems. Those without emblems are most often fined to the tune of 25 to 30 thousand naira.
‘And these people do all sorts of things like carrying your vehicles, equipment, or anything they can lay their hands on inside the vehicles. At times, they forcibly remove one’s key and carry other things. This has happened to me and I have witnessed this several times,’ he complained.
Our source, who said they were always on the road, expressed doubt that government was aware of the activities of those people and whether government could give people power to act in such manner.
‘I cannot understand why someone who is not a government official will be on the road arresting people,’ he said.
As a way out, he said government must embark on massive sensitization of the masses in various media houses about the operation of the emblem enforcers and other revenue collectors’ team, saying that such sensitization would help people obtain the necessary requirement to avoid the daily clash and its attendant loss on the part of commercial drivers.
He urged the government of the day to rise up to its responsibility of protecting the interest of the masses.
He disclosed that the emblem which could ordinarily be obtained for five thousand Naira had been increased to between 20 and 30 thousand by the so-called emblem enforcers.
The victim who doubted the authenticity of such revenue collectors, as well as the law backing them, said they mostly acted above the law and without any remorse for their actions.
‘There is no way people are sensitized about the tax payment and when the enforcement team would start the enforcement. You can just see them on the road enforcing the so-called law and when you report to the government, the government will tell you to settle with them. This is really confusing. Can’t the government caution those working for them?
‘There is need for massive sensitization on all this by the government because what is currently happening now is extortion,’ he stated.
When Fides interviewed the Executive Chairman, Anambra State Internal Revenue Service, IRS, Dr David Nzewi, he said that any attempt to illegally collect revenue from Anambra citizens was a serious offence and that they were currently prosecuting offenders in court.
Nzewi also told Fides that the only money Anambra State IRS allowed appointed agents to collect in their private accounts was known as Flying Revenue, which, he stated, included Keke drivers’, market traders’ fees and commercial drivers’ emblems. He said that tickets must be issued upon payment.
‘We have published the list of agents in the state on our website at www.ars.an.gov.ng. This will enable Ndi Anambra to know if one is a legitimate.
‘We have designed a jacket with our hotlines which we distributed to all accredited agents. We advise everyone not to pay money to anyone not wearing this jacket,’ he said.
The revenue boss however pleaded with the general public to desist from paying tax to individual accounts, noting that Anambra Revenue Service had put in place, control measures to track illegal revenue collectors and hand them over to law enforcement agencies.
Reacting to the alleged excesses of Emblem enforcers, the representative of Hopechis Ventures Limited, the organization with the contract of issuance of Emblem in Anambra State, Onowu Jude Nwokolo, explained that the emblem fees went into a private account as the company with the contract to issue emblem had paid into government account after the bidding of the contract.
He said, ‘Now on the issue of emblems, the Anambra State Government after the bidding process gives target to the private company with the contract of collecting the emblem fees. It is left for the person with the contract to pay either once or twice into the State Government account.’
Nwokolo revealed that the enforcement of emblem did not start at the beginning of the year, as there were mostly two months’ grace period and during such grace period, the announcement would be carried out on ABS radio for people to come and obtain the emblem. He lamented that most commercial vehicle operators were mostly stubborn as they would never come to obtain the emblem, knowing it was a yearly ritual, until the enforcement team started its work.
He disclosed that there were different types of emblems such as the State Consolidated Emblem, and Local Government Consolidated Emblem, for the particular local government where the commercial operator wanted to be plying, noting that the badge which they collected from the Board of Internal Revenue and waste bin from the Ministry of Environment were inclusive in such emblems.
He further noted that commercial vehicles operating outside the state required a more consolidated emblem such as the Niger-Delta, South-South, South-East, National Union, National Haulage and many others, saying that the vehicle must have the tags to move freely on the road.
He said that the price for the emblem varied from five thousand Naira to eight thousand Naira, depending on the type which an operator wanted, noting that the price increased to between twenty and thirty thousand Naira when one failed to obtain the emblem from their offices, which, he said, were scattered around the state. He said that the surplus money realized during the enforcement period was mostly used to pay the enforcers, maintain the emblem offices across the state, and pay for the open spaces where they took offenders’ vehicles to.
‘There is a law backing the emblem collection up. People don’t know that there is a law made in 2011 and that is, ”Anambra State/Local Government Consolidated Emblem Law, 2011”, and that part of the law states that if you are impounded for not having those emblems, you cannot leave that place until you pay. It is clear and throughout the South-East, Anambra is the only place you can get the cheapest emblem of N20, 000,’ he stated.
He maintained that the enforcement team mostly encountered problems with drivers as the drivers would always want to run away or hit the team on the high way, saying that such behaviour annoyed the enforcement team and led to altercations.
He said the emblem was a yearly ritual, noting that no commercial driver or company driver would claim ignorance of the emblem as they were usually announced on the ABS Radio.
Nwokolo, who had the contract of emblem collection in 2019, said all commercial vehicles, company vehicles and private-on-commercial vehicles, were expected to have emblems on their vehicles before operating in the state.
Nwokolo said that for the clash between drivers and emblem enforcers to be resolved, drivers should endeavour to obtain their emblems at their offices around the state to eliminate disputes. He urged drivers to call the numbers contained at the back of the emblem whenever they were molested after obtaining the emblem.