Before I Pay Okorocha’s N3,000 Adult Levy

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As usual, I took a trip to a regular “ministry”; a meeting point where like minds converge after hours to unwind. I have been absent from the interesting “fellowship” where robust discussion take place for a while, no thanks to refereeing engagements that take me out of Owerri for official assignments.

The Ministry has always been a point of contact for informed minds to relax in an air of conviviality to discuss trending issues while sipping “liquid” in addition to varieties of chewable at the disposal of the “fellowship” centre operators.

By the time I arrived the ministry, my regular corner mates had not arrived for the evening package before I was attracted by a peculiar discussion going on between a group of friends at one end of the relaxation spot.

Their subject matter centered on the compulsory N3,000 Adult Levy, the Imo State government, under Owelle Rochas Okorocha intends to enforce, to enable autonomous communities raise N6m each.

The Imo State Government is unrelenting in the attempt to ensure that all adult pay the sum of N3,000 to make up the targeted N6m expected from each autonomous community in the state.

According to a newspaper report; “It would be recalled that the Owelle Rochas Okorocha government had in previous meetings with traditional rulers of the various communities requested them to raise about N6m where taxable adults are to paid N3,000.

The newspaper further reports that “In a renewed bid, the Commissioner For Community Government, Culture and Traditional Affairs, Hon Louis Duru, in a circular dated   3rd April, 2018 with reference number MCG7 TA/CD 238/8 refers that Governor Okorocha had in several meeting with the Royal fathers reiterated the administration’s resolve on the issue of payment of Autonomous Community Adult Development Levy of N3m per adult.

According to the Commissioner in the said circular “To facilitate the payment, the State Government through the Ministry of CGC since September, 2011 had provided Community adult register for Autonomous Communities in the State where the Communities will enlist the names of at least 2,000 leviable adults.

“Consequently, His Excellency, Owelle Anayo Rochas Okorocha has directed that all recognized Autonomous Communities in Imo State should pay the minimum Adult Development levy of N6,000 without further delay”

The circular went further to state that “any recognized Autonomous Community that fails to pay the Development levy will be merged with sister Autonomous Community that had paid and the salary/Allowances of the Traditional Ruler of the erring community will be suspended.”

The decision of the governor has been raising dust among Imolites who are supposedly aggrieved over the government plan. Based on the development, the fellows I met at the “ministry” focused on the Adult levy payment. In the same view, an Owerri based lawyer, and social media activist, Kissinger Ikeokwu had also in a reaction to one of the claims of Okorocha’s apologist, made a mince meat of the reasons adduced by Okorocha and his followers for the compulsory Adult Levy.

Kissinger Ikeokwu wrote; “My good friend Nwadike Chikezie authored a piece on the 22nd day of April, 2018 wherein he tried to justify the circular given to all traditional rulers asking them to collect N3,000 against all adults in their communities and to remit the sum of N6,00,000 to the Ministry of Community Government Council or face risk of losing their autonomous status.  I remember I asked him to withdraw the post or failure which I shall issue a strong rejoinder.

“When the letter dated 3rd April, 2018 purportedly issued by the Imo State Commissioner of Community Government, Culture and Traditional Rulers first came to light, many of us didn’t believe its veracity. We waited for confirmation from government circle, but when they kept silent, we had no option than to resolve it as an admission of the existence and issuance of the said circular. The piece by Nwadike Chikezie who is the Chief Press Secretary to the Chief of Staff Imo Government House, further settled any doubt if any that indeed this government issued such directives through its Commissioner.

“Before I delve into the points Nwadike gave in justification of the circular, I would like to make clear the summary of contents of Circular. 

“1. One is that the circular mandates every autonomous community to collect to pay a mandatory “Development Fee” of N3,000 from 2,000 adult members of the community through their traditional rulers.

  1. All Communities must pay the sum of N6,000,000 to Imo State government accruing therefrom. 
  2. The fee is neither Tax nor Rate. It is a “Development Fee”.
  3. The demand came with a threat to merge or obliterate any erring autonomous community and to stop the salary of its Eze without further delay.
  4. No government has ever taxed Imolites for any development project after the fund to build Imo Airport some decades ago.

“In justifying the circular however, Mr Nwadike Chikezie in his piece titled “RE: AUTONOMOUS COMMUNITY ADULT DEVELOPMENT LEVY OF SIX MILLION NAIRA” wrote and I quote;

 “1. Firstly, it is acknowledged that this is a decision of Imo State Government backed by relevant and extant CGC and Autonomous Communities Laws in Imo State. 2. Out of abundant caution, it must be accentuated and underscored that creation and recognition of Autonomous Communities in Imo State beginning from the 1978 Imo State Traditional Rulers and Autonomous Communities (TRAC) Law as variously amended has always been predicated on a number of stringent conditionalities some of which include contiguous land mass, large population and viability measured through abundance of leviable adults. All the relevant amendments to Imo State Traditional Rulers and Autonomous Communities (TRAC) Law through the civilian regimes of HE Mbakwe, HE Udenwa, HE Ohakim and till date have always retained these conditions without exception. In other words, no autonomous community can be created without population made up of leviable adults. It follows without argument that without a viable autonomous community created by Government, there can be no traditional ruler. No traditional ruler exists in vacuo. 3. The Government decision to impose Adult Community Development Levy of N3000 on all leviable adults in our respective autonomous communities is not a recent decision and has no political undertone as it is for overriding public interest”

I submit that Mr Nwadike wrote either in utter ignorance of laws of Imo State regarding autonomous communities or that he deliberately set-out to mischievously deceive Ndi Imo. First is that there was no law under the Udenwa or Ohakim regime that mentioned the word “Development Levy”. No such law before now required Imo adults to pay government development levy. Suffice to say that the Udenwa regime enacted a law called Town Unions and Development Associations Law No 16 of 2000. The long title of the law, which carries the spirit, purpose and intendment of the law reads; 

“A Law to provide for the regulation of the activities of Town Unions and Development Associations in Imo State”

Section 16 (1) of that law provides;

“For the purposes of implementing various developmental projects for the community, the Town Union shall devise its own strategies for mobilizing funds including:-

  1. Fund raising and launchings
  2. mandatory individual contributions;
  3. local and state government contributions;
  4. contributions from external agencies, governmental and non-governmental organaisations’ 
  5. any other legitimate means of raising funds”

(2) In implementing subsections (1) above, the Town Union Executive shall be mindful of the financial effect on the generality of the people and there shall be a form of social and economic grading of the people to the effect that people are taxed in relation to what they earn.

It is important to state that this is the only part of the law that talks about funds, tax, levies in respect to autonomous communities in Imo State. In 2006 therefore, the same House of Assembly under Chief Achike Udenwa, reputed for having produced more legislations than its successors repeated the same Town Unions and Development Associations Law No 16 of 2000 and enacted a more elaborate and all encompassing Traditional Rulers and Autonomous Communities Law No. 6 of 2006. In the 2006 law they merged the Traditional Rulers and Autonomous Communities Law No. 3 of 1999 and the Town Unions and Development Associations Law No 16 of 2000 into one law. Today therefore the Traditional Rulers and Autonomous Communities Law No. 6 of 2006 is the authoritative law that governs the operation, organization, regulation of Autonomous communities, their creation and chieftaincy matters.

Curiously, the Imo House of Assembly under Governor Rochas Okorocha enacted the Imo State Community Government Council Law No. 6 of 2012 which in many ways conflict with the Traditional Rulers and Autonomous Communities Law No. 6 of 2006 still in force in Imo State till date. In that law, Imo State government created Community Government Councils which recognizes the Eze created by Law No 6 of 2006 as head and member of the community Government Councils CGC.

On the claim of Nwadike Chikezie that evidence of payment of Development levies by 3000 taxable adults is a condition for the creation of an autonomous community, I submit that the assertion is not only reckless and baseless but also not a product of our laws, hence an illegality. For clarity sake, I hereby reproduce the qualification for applying for an autonomous community under our law.

Section 25 (1) of the Traditional Rulers and Autonomous Communities Law No. 6 of 2006 provides;

“Any community or group of communities seeking autonomy shall have common tradition, common identity and be homogenous.

(2) There shall be signatures of leaders or representatives of all component Towns/Villages seeking for Autonomous Community in any such application”

Nwadike Chikezie therefore lied when he postulated thus;

“Out of abundant caution, it must be accentuated and underscored that creation and recognition of Autonomous Communities in Imo State beginning from the 1978 Imo State Traditional Rulers and Autonomous Communities (TRAC) Law as variously amended has always been predicated on a number of stringent conditionalities some of which include contiguous land mass, large population and viability measured through abundance of leviable adults.”

May I therefore state without equivocation that there is no law of Imo State requiring citizens to pay Development Levy. There is not law in Imo State requiring Autonomous Communities to pay N6,000,000 to Imo State government for development or as Development Levy. 

 I therefore end by submitting with utmost deference that though Imo State Government is at liberty to pursue measures to ensure or enforce payment of Tax by citizens through the communities and traditional rulers, it has no powers to impose “Development Levies” on citizens. There is no law from where the governor or Imo State Government derive powers to impose such levies on Ndi Imo.

However, I am not bothered about the arguments put forward by the concerned parties than to ponder on why the governor considered it wise to enforce the payment now he is “quarter-to-go”. By April next year, Okorocha would be writing a handover note to a successor in Government House, Owerri.

I have tried to justify why I should pay N3,000 to the state government as a member of my Autonomous community, expected to cough out N6m. As a law abiding citizen who respects constituted authorities and undertake my obligations by paying taxes, there must be considerable measures to be convinced to part with the said amount, no matter how little.

I come from one of the communities in the oil producing Ohaji/Egbema LGA of the State. For the avoidance of doubt, since 2011 Okorocha came into power, my autonomous community has nothing to show of, to any of the governor’s acclaimed legacies he has bequeathed the state, than a death trap building for school children.

During the first tenure of the governor, the governor made bogus claims of building school projects in each INEC electoral ward in the state. Later, developments from the Federal Ministry of Education revealed that it was a national project undertaking by the Universal Basic Education, UBEC for every state in the country. It was only when the federal government insisted on UBEC stamps on the buildings that it became clearer that it wasn’t a state government project under Okorocha. The irony remains that in a bid to take credit for the project the state government subdued due process in contract award for the execution of the storey-building project where party loyalists without proper knowledge in construction projects were assigned to handle it.

The quackery exhibited in the execution of the project became manifest as four years after, wild weeds and grasses have overgrown the school building without students making use of it. A closer observation of the school building showed cracking walls that pose a danger to any of users of the project.

I also tried to consider how I will part with N3,000 for the Okorocha government where the famed 1000 kilometre roads it claimed to have done in the first four years in office was a ruse if Ohaji/Egbema, especially, my community will be used as a case study. Within the first two years of Okorocha, all manners of bulldozers were deployed to major roads in the LGA, but it came to nothing than lip service.

A major road project that runs from junction on Portharcourt road to Eke-Umuagwo market crossing a village in the community to neighboring Umukene, another boundary town was ongoing before it was stopped and abandoned till date.

The end of the project gave rise to flood and has made life miserable for residents of the area who swim pass the mini rivers during rainy season.

I can also remember the governor expressing that grading of roads won’t be his portion in office hence major accessible Trunk C roads were left to rot away. Yours truly could remember in the past, where government authorities failed to construct roads, grading became the option before Okorocha turned his eyes to it. It was in the process that the major accessible road in my community; the old Owerri-PH road went into comatose and remained in a deplorable state now the rains are around. Car users are now forced to abandon the vehicles and walk home to avoid getting stack on the muddy terrain.

By the first quarter of 2018, the amount government released through the LGAs for road grading was a far cry to what is needed for any palliative measure. The current state of the road is pitiable as funds couldn’t be provided to grade if after laterite had been dropped on some spots. One is surprised if the hundreds of millions of naira that enter government coffers as Ohaji/Egbema allocation from the federal government cannot handle the local roads, will the N3,000 adult levy be able to do the project?

I am also disturbed if the N3,000 is what Okorocha needs to fulfil his pre 2015 election campaign mantra of “Factory! Factory!! Factory!!!, which people in the state including my community are yet to feel a year to his exit.

Worse still, in 2015 after the governor was sworn in, the state government approached my people for a space of land to build a modern farm produce market of international standard. After the villagers overcame the fear that it was a plot to purloin the community, a large portion was made available. Till date, another wild grass has overtaken the reserved area without anything to show for government presence.

To worsen the case of my people which further puts a question mark in the payment of N3,000, the present administration threw the people into darkness, forcing residents to seek other means of power supply than the public power supply.

Before Okorocha came into power, Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta towns enjoyed free public power supply courtesy of the Imo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, ISOPADEC. The ISOPADEC paid power supply bills as part of its function of an interventionist agency of government. From 2011 till date, the state governor stopped the ISOPADEC footing the electric bill forcing the EEDC to throw the area into darkness. The people have to go solo and renegotiate with the public supply company for a new arrangement of payment.

Until I am convinced what ISOPADEC stands for since its impact has not been felt in my community, and informed how the millions of naira due to the LGA from the federal government are spent as well as any justification that the area is part of the state to be justified for the autonomous community payment of N6m, Okorocha is advised to have a rethink before collecting my N3,000.