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Imo’s development levy

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FOR some time now, the Imo State government has been at variance with the people of the state over the issue of development levy. The state governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, had ordered all “leviable adults” in the state to pay N3,000 each as ‘development levy.’ In a statement by the state Commissioner for Community Government, Culture and Traditional Affairs, Louis Duru, the government explained that the money was to be used for “autonomous community adult development,” adding that at least 2,000 adults were expected to be captured in each of the 637 autonomous communities in the state.

The statement read in part:  “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. Consequently, His Excellency, Owelle Anayo Rochas Okorocha, has directed that all recognised autonomous communities in Imo State should pay the minimum adult development levy of N6,000,000 without further delay. Any recognised autonomous community that fails to pay the development levy will be merged with a sister autonomous community that has 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 emphasise His Excellency’s directives and monitor compliance.”

To all intents and purposes, the action of the Imo State government sounds incongruous. To be truly valid, the kind of decision taken by the governor would need to have been validated by the state House of Assembly through a bill passed to that effect. That would have provided an opportunity for the people of the state and various interest groups to make their views known on the government’s intention, particularly as it concerns an issue capable of causing social unrest if not properly managed. In the absence of such a move, the imposition of N3,000 development levy on all adult citizens of Imo sounds whimsical and unjustified.

Besides, the idea of mandating community leaders to collect the levy is suspect. What resources have been made available to the community leaders to do the job of revenue collectors? And why would the government suspend those who don’t pay a minimum of N6 million into its  coffers? What is the rationale for saying that communities that don’t pay this illegal levy will be merged with those that pay? This kind of patent threat to the citizenry should have no place in a democratic society and the Okorocha-led government is advised to desist from using the resources of the state to threaten and/or intimidate law-abiding citizens. In any case, it is quite unfortunate that the government, in its own words, “concluded arrangements to embark on sensitisation meetings with traditional rulers at the local government areas to further emphasise His Excellency’s directives and monitor compliance” without seeking their inputs into the policy in the first place.

Again, the point has to be recognised that Nigerians in general are currently battling economic crises occasioned by unfavourable government policies. That being the case, it amounts to sheer insensitivity for a state government to enact policies that would further compound the misery of the populace. In the same Imo where Governor Okorocha has imposed a development levy, civil servants are being owed months of salary arrears and are virtually living from hand to mouth. Governance essentially being a ‘ministry of happiness,’ what ought to have engaged Governor Okorocha’s attention is the payment of workers’ salaries and the entitlements of pensioners.

Moreover, asking citizens who are already paying taxes to pay a development levy may be interpreted as an attempt to subject them to double taxation, particularly when the intendment of such a levy is shrouded in mystery. Pray, what precisely does ‘autonomous community adult development’ mean? Does it mean that the money would be used to develop  all adults, by whatever definition or categorisation chosen by the governor, in the state? And while the adults are being developed, what happens to the children? Would they be expected to be catered for by the developed adults? If so, how would this development be carried out, particularly as the governor was voted into office in the first place to develop the state through the instrumentalities of the taxes paid by the citizenry and federal allocations? The imposition of N3,000 development levy on all ‘adults’ in Imo is a wrong decision and must be jettisoned forthwith.

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