Rivers State: The Bill On Illegal Development Levy

By Nwaorgu Faustinus Chilee

As a person, I have seen, witnessed and heard how a few individuals impose illegal development levy by force on land developers, landlords, landladies etc, who want to either erect fence, sink borehole, mold blocks or dig foundation of the building without being punished by the suitable authority. I therefore heaved a great sigh of relief when I learnt that a bill on illegal collection levy from land developers will be passed into law which will put an end to the collection or rather imposition of illegal development levy known as “matching ground or bush entry” among other nomenclature given to it by the extortionists. It was the activities of these (extortionists) that made me to do a piece in March 2009, entitled Illegal Agents and Development Fees (Matching Ground) which was not published.

Here under is the piece:
Over the years, communities who are development-conscious have devised ways to enrich their revenue base through the payment of one form of levy or the other to provide town halls, borehole and to renovate dilapidated community markets. Such levy can be in the form of money paid for the use of shed in the market, payment for the purchase of water from community boreholes and so on.

However, the development that played out at Eliminigwe Estate, Elelenwo, in Obio/Akpo Local Government Area of Rivers State calls for immediate intervention from the state government. It is no longer uncommon to see building projects such as the laying of foundation, erection of fence, sinking of borehole and molding of blocks at site of a building stopped by agents who claim to be taskforce for the collection of development fee. Work at such sites can commence only when the agents are settled.

These agents who operate on motorcycles, ride through all the nook and crannies of the estate either to stop the development going on at the site or to collect money from the owner of the land that is being developed or the company that is sinking borehole. Land owners who develop their land and companies that sink borehole in and around the estate see the activities of these agents as counter-productive, extortion, dreadful and capable of frightening would-be land developers, buyers and companies away from the area.

The agents who are alleged to be cannabis addicts, do move around the estate to collect development fee popularly known in Port Harcourt as “matching ground”, and are ever ready for a showdown with anybody that does not come up with the development fee. One instance will suffice.

I was a close observer to what happened to a young man simply identified as Ikenna Amaechi, who resides in the estate. On march 10,2009, to young men identified simply as Austin and Eze stopped block molders that were molding blocks at the site of one Mr. Ogbonna Amaechi the elder brother of Ikenna, saying the owner of the plot has not paid his development fee. Ikenna tried to convince them that his brother has settled their “Chairman” but they (development fee collectors) said that their chairman did not settle them. In the ensuing argument, Austin and Eze pounced on Ikenna, beat him black and blue and almost had Ikenna's ear bitten off.

It was only when they were settled that they allowed the block molders to continue with their work. The above incidence is not the only one that has taken place according to reliable sources in the estate. In the first week of March 2009, the same agents stopped labourers who were laying the foundation of a building as well as a borehole drilling company from sinking borehole in private residential home. It was not until they were settled that they left. The question on the lips of would-be borehole owners, land developers, borehole-sinking companies amongst others is; when will this extortion end? Are these fees mandatory and approved by the state government and if not, what is the appropriate authority is doing to nip the trend in the bud?

The way and manner the agents go about the collection according to the residents lack accountability. It is the believe of the inhabitants of the estate that the fee derive from the payment of “matching ground” goes into private pockets instead of using it for the overall good of the community.

There are over six different receipts from different group and local government issued to those who want to develop their land, especially non-indigenes that amounts to over N 300,000 naira, apart from the money paid for the purchase of the land.

It is also important to draw the attention of the state government and the local government that oversees the collection of revenue from traders at the Oil Mill Market on Wednesdays, on the activities of agents that impose multiple levy on petty traders at the market. The manner the agents go about the collection of levy leaves one to wonder if the money collected eventually gets to the appropriate authority. It is therefore important to monitor these agents and to put suitable mechanism in place, judicious levy collection devoid of any underhand dealings or corruption.

To conclude, my commendation goes to the state government and members of the state house of assembly as they initiate and pass into law the bill on Illegal Development levy in the state. As the inhabitants are watching how the government will tackle this problem, there is no better time to act but now.

Nwaorgu Faustinus Chilee socio-political commentator writes from Igboeche, Port Harcourt, Rivers State.