Godwin AJOM, Calabar
Even after a law was enacted to exempt low income earners and small business owners from paying taxes in Cross River State, TNN investigation has shown that the people in this bracket are still being forced to pay taxes of various types.
The residents are still being made to pay sanitation fees, business premises fees, income tax, emblem fees and other assorted levies collected forcefully by tax agents, largely believed to be touts.
In Calabar for example, there are always young men at Watt Market who obtain these monies from all tricycle riders, bus and taxi drivers who load passengers from Watt Market to different locations.
Drivers are harassed if they refuse to pay. The women who sell by the road sides at Marian, Watt and Ikom Main Markets and other markets across the state, have their sad tales to tell too.
Mr Godwin Ekpo, a furniture maker in Calabar South explains his experience with the tax collectors. According to him, “we always pay for sanitation, sometimes we pay N7000
It is compulsory to pay, you dare not refuse to pay. Except you don’t want to work or sell in your shop, in this our line all of us pay the Fees,” Godwin narrated.
A Taxi Driver Mr Raphael Ekpeyoung, also expressed worry on the amount of money he spends on daily basis expressed doubt that such Taxes cannot be stop for some reasons.
“Everyday, I spend more than N1000 trying to settle those people. If you don’t give them they will stop your vehicle, they can even fight you. I don’t believe this thing can stop because it is some big men that are sponsoring these boys; if not, they would have stopped and even the taxi drivers union cannot stop them,” he said.
However, Director- General of the Cross River state Anti-tax Agency Bishop Emmah Isong, says his agency has been fighting the menace and assured that the trend would end.
“We have intervened in several emergency calls on petty, small and medium scale traders who are being oppressed and over charged by tax agencies. We have reduced the rate of incidences in multiple and illegal taxation in the state.”
Isong believes that there are some policies which if introduced can help to remedy the situation. For him, it should start from the political class and government agencies and institutions, who he believes are the sponsors of illegal taxation in the state.
“Let the government give us more opportunity, more funding and more attention. We want to see synergy from other agencies not conflicting our mandate but cooperating with us . Let them mellow down in all their revenue drives, and cross check with us before embarking on any revenue drive on any additional tax increments, especially on the low and medium income earners.”
Isong strongly believes that taking on the sponsors of illegal taxation from the electioneering period is a good strategy. He said “our hope is that no politician in Cross River state should be voted for except he or she highlights what he or she will do to the poor peasant farmers and low income earners in the state. Such politicians should fail elections. Any politician who doesn’t highlight his or her intentions on the tax exemption population via the tax exemption law, I vote against him or her.”