Lagosians groan under severe tax regime amidst meltdown

Listen to article lauds the efforts of the current administration of Lagos State; those objectives are indeed commendable especially in the areas of making Lagos safer, cleaner, and for realizing the vision of a proud and enviable mega city, where investment and economic empowerment can ultimately reign.

However, these ''good intentions'' have been forcefully dragged into a situation capable of milking and extorting the good citizens of Lagos through various untoward taxes introduced by the government; the ripple effects of that have reduced Lagosians to the condition of eating from hand to mouth, and adding to the negative impacts of the global economic meltdown on the people.

The introduction of Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASTMA) to ameliorate Lagos traffic gridlock was nice but the shoddy tendencies of the officials of LASTMA in the name of generating fund for the state are a serious national embarrassment. Government should stop hiding under the guise of providing service(s) for the people meanwhile they have ulterior motive of swindling the people through ''legitimized'' criminal means. We agreed that recalcitrant road users should be punished and fined accordingly where necessary, but penalties that attracts over N25,000, N30,000 N150,000 and N200,000 are no longer meaningful but clear case of government extortion on the life of the defenseless citizens.

Again, Lagos State government resuscitates the old War Against Indiscipline (WAI), an initiative of Idiagbon/Buhari led military administration; an era where all forms of indiscipline were curtailed in the Nigerian system. Lagos now introduced Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) Brigades, headed by an ex-military man, Captain M. Danjuma. But the way they are going about it is wrong. The orientation and training given to their recruited officials are not adequate. Besides a number of their men don't even have minimum education requirements, these defects reflect in the manner they dress, the way they address and prosecute the erring members of the public, and this does not promote the envisioned Lagos mega city at all.

Sometime last year (2008) in Victoria Island, some of these KAI officials killed an armless senior Police officer while they were on 'routine assignment' (demolition of shanties in Bar-Beach).The worst of it all is that they collect money indiscriminately from members of the public with no modicum of dignity. This gross indiscipline shows that the primary essence of their establishment has been long defeated. ''Area boys'' (street urchins) now sew and wear their uniforms to perpetrate crimes in the streets of Lagos. These lapses are coming up due to the way the organization was structured and managed. Even an authentic KAI brigade don't even have a name tag on his uniform or crown on its beret to indicate whether he/she is truly a member or not. It is sad that in Oshodi where there base is, their office and surrounding environment is unkempt, and stinks of human organic wastes.

Another shocking news is that, residents of Lekki-Epe expressway will by 2010 get enmeshed into serious agony because the planned three toll plazas would be introduced on that corridor by Lagos State government. For 30 consecutive years toll fees would be collected on the road through a concessionaire who is in partnership with Lagos government. This will definitely pauperize the people the more; 3 toll plazas is too much for a 50km road, even in the developed world where their system is most organized with a defined welfare package for its youth and senior citizens that has never be practiced, their policies wear human face at all levels. However this toll collection will simultaneously take place in both Lekki-Epe axis and Lagos-Badagry expressway of Lagos State.

Further, Lagos State Hotel Occupancy and Restaurant Consumption Bill were signed into law by Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) on June 22, 2009. This Law imposes a five-per cent charge on goods and services consumed in hotels, restaurants, event centres and short let apartments throughout Lagos State, with effect from August 1, 2009. The special adviser to the governor on legislative matters and power bureau, Abdullateef Abdulhakeem, explained that section 1 of the new law imposes the tax on anyone who consumes goods and services in those mentioned centres, advising them to register with the state's Internal Revenue Service, for the commencement of the payment immediately.

That means that operators of hotels, fast food centres (eateries) etc in Lagos State will now be faced with a compulsory five per cent tax, albeit the already10 percent service charge and 5 percent value added tax (VAT) they have been paying before. This is a sheer step to impoverish the citizenry. The volume of customers to those affected centres will however be reduced precipitously, making some of them to go out of business, and that will contribute to unemployment. If government cannot provide employment they should not kill businesses that are providing job opportunities for the unemployed Nigerians.

We have other agencies in Lagos State like, Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA), Lagos State Infrastructure Maintenance and Regulatory Agency (LASIMRA), Lagos State Signage and Advertising Agency (LASAA-which its present effect of high levies are now taking serious toll on people who are into outdoor advertising in the state) etc. It is glaring that the proliferation of agencies like this are meant to satisfy the interest of few politicians who are loyal to the government of the day at the expense of the citizens.

More pathetically, thousand of shops, stalls, building, churches, mosques, shrines etc have given way to Lagos ''beautification exercise'', and no definite compensation were made to the affected property owners. Most of them were told all lands belong to government. This step indeed brought sanity to the dreaded Oshodi market and other criminal hideouts for hoodlums in the state; there is now fluidity of traffic for both human and vehicle movement, but there were no provisions made for the displaced market men and women who were swept away by the Fashola ''Sunami''. The 10,000 Nigerians who were set packing at Tejusho market after being bedeviled by yearly fire disaster, is still a mystery that is yet to be unraveled to those that cares to know. Traders in Ajegunle too were equally not spared to mention a few. This cruel trend really made a lot of Nigerian youths to resort to all forms of criminal activities. We all know Lagos is a miniature Nigeria, whatever affects Lagos cascades to Nigeria at large.

Unfortunately, instead of creating palliative measures for those affected Nigerians in order to cushion the effects of some of these inhuman policies, Lagos government prefers to spend billions of naira in fighting crime in Lagos. Meanwhile we still have ''Area boys''and fraudsters loitering around popular parks and garages like Oshodi, Ojota, Iyana-Ipaja, Ojuelegba, Ikorodu, Obalende etc, harassing motorists and commuters over one form of levies and the other.

Lagos state had set good precedent in the past, which other States were even emulating, especially in its unique transportation system (land and water), waste management, housing, urban renewal etc, but those goals were championed with genuine intention to make life better for the common masses, but today, that is no longer the case. Unconfirmed reports even have it that funds that are internally generated in Lagos are now being used to fund elections and court cases for politician within and outside Nigerian States. If Lagos still want to be relevant and be seen as a pathfinder in people oriented policies and developmental programmes, it should desist from its anti people programmes and non progressive policies, and work towards offering ease of life to the people by harmonizing its tax system and removing all its ''intimidating'' burden called levies, so that Lagos would guarantee both economic and social respite for the rich and the downtrodden.

Eko oni bajeo!

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