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Imo People, Ohakim & his tax collectors – by Stephen Nwahiri

Source: huhuonline.com

With every indication that Imo State has been squandered and ran to the ground, the fellow that oversees this grand destruction, Ikedi Ohakim has turned his attention to the largely abandoned rural areas for extortion. He is now in love with taxation by which he means forcefully clubbing the poorest of the Imo poor to pay for his wild orgies and his oversized greed. He wants to force Imo people to pay taxes. He wants the poor to pool their life savings and even borrow to finance his excesses. For this he has mobilized his appointees, special advisers, commissioners, assistants and permanent secretaries to their respective local governments, villages and hamlets to spread the gospel of extortion, christened taxes, and to warn of the dire consequences of not paying. This is the only business now for the idle hands he flooded his cabinet with and as is the case, Imo is grounded for the period it takes for these tax collectors to go to the field and come home with their booty.

It is now becoming evident that Imo is stark broke! The facts are beginning to emerge that Imo State cannot manage the greed of Ohakim, his immediate family and the hirelings that flock around him. Try as they can, they can hardly hide the picture of wreckage which has ensured that Imo has nothing worthwhile on ground to celebrate the Ohakim mishap. This is the reason that fires the present tax craze. It is becoming clearer that the huge allocations to Imo State even as an oil producing state cannot sustain Ohakim's fantasies, which is about the only business that has thrived in Imo State since May 2009 so he must improvise. He is not making up through any creative way but employing state power to rob the Imo poor who have been watching helplessly as the allocations to Imo State for the past two years end up stolen when they are not thrown to fund corruption generating revelries and phantom projects. For the first time, Ohakim and his appointees who now live in guarded estates in Owerri are now finding their ways to the abandoned villages that have seen the worst of civilization since that tragic character was stolen into government house in Owerri. They are wading their ways to the bush paths and water-logged village paths not to spread the fortunes of democracy but as war teams to threaten the villages to either pay for Ohakim's many scam projects and his profligate lifestyle and those of his immediate family members.

I want to come clear here. Ordinarily, no one would be against taxation if actually it is channeled towards bettering the lots of the people. Taxation itself goes hand in hand with development. It is tied to the funding of development projects and it works in a chain that links it with individual and corporate growth. There is a close relationship between taxation and prosperity as they are mutually complimentary. Taxes flow from the productive engagement of the people and are parts of the profits made from one's enterprises. So where does this place the average Imo man who is assailed on all fronts by man-made poverty? If there is any meaningful project the Imo State government is engaged in or prospects of any, I will have nothing against taxation. I find everything wrong with a tax policy that funds the wild lifestyles of a governor and his many sycophants as the Imo case is programmed to be. At a time state resources are diverted towards funding the re-election bid of Ohakim, under a New Face agenda, I see everything wrong with forcing a poor widow to cough out N3,000 from the sale of say her poor agricultural yields to augment the over N4 billion Ohakim gets monthly from statutory allocations. I find it hard to approve a case of stealing N6,000 from a bicycle repairer to add to Ohakim's slush fund for that is what Imo resources have been for the past two years. I will have no problems where the same state government does something with the quality of water the rural dweller consumes, the state of his road, the improvement of rural schools available to the rural dwellers, creating even low income employment for its citizens. Even at that perfunctory level, I know everyone will be okay making contributions to the state, which is what taxation purports to do. But I have every reason to question the rationale in employing force to extort innocent citizens that gain nothing, practically nothing from a government that sees itself as harbinger of mass pain and poverty.

In a related move, the Ohakim government has imposed a school fee of N8,000 per term on secondary pupils. He met free secondary education in the state and feels that poor pupils who slave under the worst school condition that could ever be imagined should cough out N8,000 per term! He had decreed equal level of imposition on primary school pupils. This gives the Imo people the first hand impression of the Biblical Rehoboam that has vowed to chastise Imo people unceasingly with whips and scorpions. He is not letting anything to chance in doing that since he got undeservedly elevated in May 2007. But his present tax mission is one that will certainly set the state on fire.

In an article I did earlier, I had challenged Ikedi Ohakim to list to his people and outsiders the 'magnificent' works he is doing in Imo State for the past two years for which he celebrates himself all over the place. So far, he had not done that just because he has nothing, absolutely nothing, to show for the huge allocations he has collected since May 2007. This is no exaggeration and that is why Ohakim makes the loudest noise at how well he is doing, and it ends just there because he cannot break his fantastic works down to the details. It is no exaggeration to state that nothing is happening in any sector in Imo State for the past two years. The roads are in their worst ever state. Public water supply has become an ancient story. Insecurity has reached a height that special advisers, commissioners and legislators in the state hide through their way in the state. Their present tax drive in their respective is accompanied by a large retinue of armed men. Employment situation has worsened. The only sign of growth is in the large number of siren blaring cars with government plate numbers in the streets and Imo State has practically caved in under the weight of Ohakim and his men.

Presently, governance is on recess and the governor and his assistants are only engaged in one business; launching New Face Organization from one part of the state to the other. I hear that state funds are now managed as New Face accounts and that buying cars and properties from state funds but in the name of New Face is now the way to divert state funds to finance Ohakim's wild political dreams. Can someone tell me any on-going road project in Imo State? Can someone tell me any on-going water project in Imo State? Can someone tell me any school that has been rehabilitated in Imo State for these past two years? Can someone tell me any public hospital that has been rehabilitated or built these past two years? These are challenges for Ohakim and his men. In short, Imo is wrecked, looted and sapped.

But the big question is, if Ohakim has succeeded in cornering the resources of Imo people and using same to finance his personal affairs and businesses, does he need to burden the Imo man with more pains for that purpose? If he has nothing to offer Imo people, can't he leave them to rue their bad fortune? If he can't solve even simple problems for Imo people, why think that he will prosper his fortune and his illicit aggrandizement by subjecting Imo people to financial extortion, in the name of taxes? Imo people want to be left alone to face the reality of this imposition. Even as Ohakim, his family and friends loot and plunder the resources of the state, it is the wish of the people to be left alone to rue their fate. Let him banish the idea of this extortion. Rather, let him channel the resources of Imo State towards developing that unfortunate state. That done, no one will be persuaded to pay tax. But so long as Ohakim is doing virtually nothing with the billions that come into Imo State from the federation account every month, let him not ever fantasize that he will forcefully convince the Imo poor to sell their lands to finance his greed. That is my position, and I believe that of the average Imo man.

Stephen Nwahiri writes from Mushin, Lagos and be reached at [email protected]

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