Published On: Mon, Apr 30th, 2018

Controversy trails Okorocha’s N3,000 devt levy charge

…Imo residents lament ‘extortions’

 BY OBINNA EZUGWU

Fortnight ago, many national dailies carried news that the Imo State governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha had ordered all “leviable adults” in the state to pay N3,000 each as “development levy.”

This was initially contained in a statement said to have been signed by Mr. Louis Duru, the state Commissioner for Community Government, Culture and Traditional Affairs. According to the statement, the money is to be used for“autonomous community and adult development.”

The commissioner had, in the said statement, explained that “recognised communities” will serve as the collectors and they are to pay not less than N6 million each monthly, warning that traditional rulers of defaulting communities will have their allowances or salaries suspended.

“To facilitate the payment, the state government through the ministry of CGC, since September 2016, has provided community adult registers for all autonomous communities in the state where the communities will enlist the names of at least 2000 leviable adults,” the statement which also circulated widely on social media said.

“Consequently, Owelle Okorocha has directed that all recognised autonomous communities in Imo State should pay the minimum adult development levy without further delay. Any recognised autonomous community that fails to pay the development levy will be merged with sister autonomous community that had paid and the salaries/allowances of the traditional ruler will be suspended.

“Government has concluded arrangements to embark on sensitisation meetings with traditional rulers at the local government areas to further emphasize His Excellency’s directives and monitor compliance.”

It was a development that came as a rude shock to residents of the state who say they are already reeling from what some have called ‘government’s official extortions’. The announcement had come on the heels of yet another bizarre charge. The governor was said to have introduced painting of commercial taxis and mini buses plying Owerri, the state capital, to a specific colour. But one is only allowed to do the painting in locations the state government provided, at the cost of N60,000, while payment of a car tracking fee of N40,000 must also be made.

It is a decision that has seen many owners of taxis and mini buses park their vehicles at home, unable to afford the needed N100,000 for painting and the car tracker. The result has been drastically reduced number of taxis within the Owerri metropolis and people are consequently having to trek long distances. Recall that the governor had, earlier, banned the use of commercial tricycles popular known as Keke Napep within the state capital.

“I walked today from West end to Dan Anyiam Stadium, walked the same distance back,” lamented Nathan Nwokekoro, a resident of state capital. “There is so much suffering in Owerri”

Ahead of 2019 elections, the governor had since decided that his son in-law, Mr. Uche Nwosu, who currently serves as his chief of staff, and moves in a convoy as long as the governor’s, will succeed him in office.

He had also decided that the Imo East senatorial seat currently occupied by Senator Sam Anyanwu, will go to the deputy governor, Eze Madumere, while himself will take the Imo West senatorial seat currently held by Hope Uzodinma, to, according to him, prevent bad people from occupying it, and ultimately bid his time until 2023 when he will run for office of president. To this end, some say his idea might be to raise enough money to prosecute the election. But others allege that he is on a mission to frustrate Imo people into submission.

“He is exhibiting the caliphate style of rulership; frustrate them into submission,” wrote Okoroafor Kacelo. “By the way, he is a caliphate son disguised, packaged and delivered to us.”

There are still doubts about whether the government truly issued the circular mandating the payment of the said N3,000. Although many residents of Owerri spoken to have confirmed it to be true, some political figures say they are in doubt since, according to them, such move is too unreasonable to be true, even as it would be illegal.

“I saw the letter purportedly written by his government online. But you know a lot of things fly around on social media so you don’t really know which is true and which is not,” said Mr. Okey Okoroji, lawyer and chieftain of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA).

“But let’s assume that it is not true, in which case it settles the matter. However, if it true; if we now assume that it happened, and there is actually a directive from the government of Imo State that adult citizens of the state must pay even N1 as development levy, I don’t think the government would be justified,” he said.

“In the first place, it would be illegal. Taxes and levies and rates are statutorily provided for; they are provided for by law. No government, by its own whims and caprices can impose taxes on the citizens.

“If the taxes are not provided for in the tax law of the state, then the governor cannot lawfully levy such taxes in whatever form or manner it comes; in whatever name it is christened. Whether it is called development levy or space-going levy or whatever, that’s not important.”

Similarly Chief Goddy Uwazurike, president emeritus of Igbo think tank group, Aka Ikenga, said he doubts the authenticity of the report, and will only take a position when the government comes out to defend it.

“I don’t know whether it is fake news or not,” he said. “And it won’t be good if I comment and it turns out to be fake news. I will comment when the government comes out to defend it.”

BusinessHallmark contacted the governor through his Chief Press Secretary, Sam Onwuemeodo, but he tactfully evaded the question, insisting that since the news remained a “rumour,” he cannot comment on it.

“You said it’s rumour, I don’t respond to rumours,” he said. “You can’t trace rumours, you can’t react to rumour. Go back to whoever gave you the information so that you can have something tangible.”

When reminded however, that the report is on national dailies, he declined further comments.

Okorocha is no stranger to stirring up controversies. He is hardly out of the news, and often for the wrong reasons. He is seen by many as an emperor who does as he pleases and who ultimately wants to impose his family as the ruling house in Imo, having made sure members of his family occupied strategic position in government, even as he plans to have his son-in-law succeed him.

Okoroji, a one time governorship aspirant in Lagos State under the APGA platform, lamented that the governor is one that has no respect for the rule of law and has continued to exploit and impoverish Imo people.

“Unfortunately, you have a government in Imo State that has no respect for rule of law; a government that is thoroughly irresponsible and thoroughly disrespectful of the citizens of the state.

“A government that has no iota of civility and a government that is desperate to exploit the people and impoverished them; and that is what this government has done in the past seven years – to impoverished the people of Imo State and deliver almost nothing in exchange for the exploitation that is going on.

“As I speak, I have an old mother who is in her early 70s, who worked for the government of Imo State for more than 35 years as a teacher. Her salary upon retirement was just N5,300. From the time she retired in the early 90s till today, she has not received a dime in gratuity; she has not received a dime in pension. She only depends on her children for survival.

“Just imagine if she had no children; just imagine where the children are not able to support her, what would have become of her. As I speak with you, she is in London on medical check up, because we, her children can afford to give her that support. How about those who can’t afford it? The pension fund in Imo State, no one can tell where it is. Apparently, the money has been mismanaged by the government.”

Since he decided he is backing Mr. Nwosu to succeed him, critics have not been in short supply. Okoroji’s however, noted that he cannot impose his will on Imo people.

“Every adult citizen of this country knows that which is right and that which is wrong; that which is modest and that which is immodest; that which is lawful and that which is unlawful. How can a sitting governor make a decision more than one year to his exit on who will succeed him. What happens to the will of Imo people?” he queried.

“He cannot decide who will succeed him, the people of Imo State will decide. He will not succeed in imposing his son-in-law on the people of Imo State. Imo has suffered enough, his son in-law is a citizen of Imo State; he is entitled to contest election like every other person, but from his antecedents; from what we know about him, he doesn’t qualify. He doesn’t have the competence, he doesn’t have the experience.

“He doesn’t have what it takes to govern a state. And for the fact that he is a direct in-law of the sitting governor raises a lot of questions. What does Rochas have to hide that he wants his son-in-law to succeed him that they can hide from the people of Imo State. He is not in a position to share office, Imo people will decide who governs them or who represents them in any arm of government,” he concluded.

Uwazurike also insisted that ultimately, who governs Imo is the decision of the people to make, and not that of the governor.

“The President of Imo State, who is otherwise called the governor, thinks that he has absolute powers and that’s the danger we are facing,” he said.

“One hallmark of democracy is the inalienable right of the people to elect whomever they want and nobody has the right to tell us that this person is far too good and should therefore rule. No, the person must win the primary of his party and then present himself for election.

“If the people of Imo State think that you are qualified to be their governor, then they will elect you, provided you have passed through all the crucibles; all the processes.”

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