Imo Government Hauls Communities to Biannual Levies
The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, once said that “democracy is when the indigent and not the men of property are the rulers.” While Abraham Lincoln said it is “the government of the people, for the people and by the people.” This form of ruler and government as presented by these historical legends is impossible especially in Africa, worse in Nigeria and particularly in Imo State. In Imo State of today, the indigent have been turned bees that produce honey in their peasant hives for the affluent government and political leaders the citizens elected to represent and lead them.
Imolites have been turned into layers of funds for the State Government through stylistic taxation. Taxation all over the world is a normal system of raising funds to finance government. Certainly, all governments need taxation from its populace. It uses it to pay workers, to build public utilities and roads, to run schools and hospitals, to provide food to the poor and medical care to the elderly, to assist in emergences caused by natural disaster, and for hundreds of other purposes. Truly, without taxation, no government can live effectively and be productive.
This accounts for the various types of taxes, such as: Income taxes (individual and corporate), payroll tax, consumption (sales, excise, value-added and tariffs) taxes, property taxes, estate-inheritance-and-gift taxes, pollution and poll (or head) taxes. The latter, head tax is an oppressive taxation that modern societies and governments abhor. A head tax collects the same amount of money from each individual irrespective of their income, living condition or circumstances. And as this form of taxation places very hard burdens on the poor, the peasants and citizens living in countryside, it is an unpopular and obnoxious system of taxation.
Head taxation is an oppressive revenue collection system, a crippling taxation that drags the citizens to extreme poverty and hardship, poises the socio-physical environment to epidemics and tends to make the government of the day unpopular or causes some type of revolt and public disaffection between the led and their leaders.
It is convincing that besides raising fund, government can increase or decrease taxes in order to achieve social and economic objectives, or to gain political popularity before certain groups, especially the out-group. It is true also that tax can be used to redistribute a society’s wealth by imposing a heavier tax burden on one group in order to fund services for another.
Having noted all these realities about taxation and the society, I would like to situate the present case of the Imo State Government and its autonomous communities, which major populace are the poor and peasants living in the countryside. Since 2013, there has been a renewed attempt by the Imo State Government to revalidate autonomous communities in the State.
This revalidation has gradually turned into revenue hunt for the government. First, the necessary demands for the revalidation compels for census projection from the last head-count of 2006, which is improper for actual census for such communities. Such communities while struggling to get such projections spend a lot at the National Population Commission.
The essence of the projection itself is defeated as it is useless to check such since instead of a deplete in the population, but on the contrary, such autonomous communities grow grossly as there are no epidemics that decimate the population annually to necessitate such renewed head-count projection for revalidation exercise. Or does Imo State Government want to embark on State’s census exercise?
Secondly, the efforts at the judiciary, to get the judicial requirements for the exercise is capital intensive, just as other requirements at some other agencies to get other requirements such as maps of such communities that grow and conurbate annually, are capital intensive and an evidence of renewed revenue generation exercise for the government. If this exercise is necessary, it ought to come at least after 10 years of a previous exercise and not annually.
Beside these, every old autonomous community have been compelled to annual or biannual payment of N50,000 and N100,000 for aspiring autonomous communities, which some old autonomous communities claim to pay N100,000 annually. When we multiply N50,000 by the 637 autonomous communities in the State, we get N31,850,000bn as annual revenue or tax from autonomous communities. These communities are also compelled to raise N6million for their community development. The N6million multiplied by 637 gives a total of N3,822,000,000bn annually. And one is tempted to ask, what is the State Government doing with such funds? Is it for the promised 637 factories in the State that are highly productive till date?
It is obvious that we are into a new scheme of revenue generation in this era of grand economic recession and an additional systemic taxation on the heads of all taxable adult-Imolites. As I noted above, taxation is inevitable for running a government. But when taxes are levied on head-bases or when they are levied on autonomous-communities’ basis as a group, irrespective of the socio-economic situation of native-indigenes and inhabitants of the communities, it becomes an oppressive taxation, the like the Imo State Government has embarked upon for couple of years now on the various autonomous communities in the State, which have amounted to 637 and more aspiring communities.
The entire autonomous communities in Imo State also, have for some time been compelled to constant revalidation exercise, which in essence is biannual revenue exercise, and now with another heavy head-taxation exercise. This head-taxation has been systematically joined with the revalidation of autonomous community status of the 637 and newer or aspiring autonomous communities in the State. And not only this, the Traditional Rulers have all been turned to Government Tax agents, which if they fail to realise the said funds, they loose their royalties and autonomy. Thus to remain valid as an Eze and as an autonomous community, the Ezes and their people must comply in raising the said funds.
Revalidation exercise for autonomous communities is a mechanism of reconfirming the truthfulness or soundness of such communities, making them legally valid once more; perhaps to formally re-register them or make them feel valued and worthwhile. This exercise is the only consistent exercise witnessed in this administration since its inception. Others just come up and fade away permanently, perhaps, nay, certainly because they are not gross fund generating exercises.
This exercise is no problem to Imolites but, what is the stipulation of the Imo State’s laws on such communities’ validity? Is it normal or legal in accordance with the Imo State laws on autonomous communities to embark on annual, biannual or perennial rounds? This question is founded on the fact that to validate simply implies to ‘render legally valid’, and to revalidate further implies a prior invalidity or expiration of validity duration.
On this note, the Imo State Law Makers and the Executive arm of government have a very big task and query on the legality of the constant revalidation exercise on the autonomous communities in the State, the compelled taxation, as well as the justification of ‘head tax’ on various citizens of each autonomous communities despite ones status.
By this constant taxation, it implies that apart from the normal income taxes paid by individuals, they must pay additional head taxes as indigenes of an autonomous community in defence or protection of the validity of their autonomy. It means also that regardless of income strength of every individual adult in the various villages, every taxable adult most pay same tax of N250 monthly or N3000 per annum to the Imo State Government. These taxable adults include both the unemployed graduates, the retired civil servants whose pensions and gratuities have not been paid, and worse still at this epoch of grand economic recession.
Ordinarily, if only one person in each of the 637 autonomous communities should pay just the N3,000 per annum, the Imo State Government goes home with N1, 911,000m. This becomes horrible when multiplied by the number of taxable adults per autonomous community and multiplied still by the 637.
What is the Imo State Government doing with head taxation on peasants, on retirees, the unemployed and re-taxation for income-tax payers? It is necessary that whichever arm of government that is in charge of the revalidation exercise and the planning of the head-taxation, should be advised by the other arm of government. If it is the Imo Law Markers, Governor Okorocha should kindly rise and save the souls of suffering Imolites from these newer forms of oppression. If on the contrary it is form the executive arm, the Imo Law Markers as the masses’ representatives, are obliged to rise and advise Governor Okorocha against this mayhem and thus stop this tyranny.