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Monday, 25 July 2016

DESPERATION FOR INTERNALLY GENERATED REVENUE (IGR) & CITIZEN AMBUSH

Last week I had a taste of the renewed and intensified effort of The Lagos State government to increase its internally generated revenue. Lagos has long been acknowledged as perhaps the only State that can survive without Federation account. I understand that Ogun State is strongly on the heels of Lagos. During the reign of Bola Ahmed Tinubu as governor of Lagos, very strategic decisions were taken, to make Lagos financially viable and independent. The first was the lagos version of the Land Use act called Land use charge,which compelled all land owners to pay tax on their property across the state. This was stoutly resisted especially by the organized Private sector,leading to court cases. It was eventually resolved in favour of the State, following government's agreement to reduce the tax rate. Today this has become a major revenue for Lagos. So what oil should be for oil bearing states is what land is for Lagos!
Then there was the sales tax, which again was fought by the business class, largely because it was seen as double taxation. People who paid VAT were being asked to pay additional Sales tax. Again, after a long battle, the matter was settled in favour of the government, following its agreement to restrict the sales tax to 'luxury' items like hotel accomodation and alcoholic beverages. Governor Fashola consolidated all these additional taxes on the lagos residents and Lagos is swimming in revenues. Then enter Akinwunmi Ambode, former permanent secretary, former accountant general and the noose is tightened on the lagos residents. Ambode's focus seems to be on expanding the income tax net to get especially the informal sector employees in. And is he doing a good job? You better bet!
My personal driver was assisting our pick up van driver( who was also in the van)to deliver some item to somebody in the Gbagada area of Lagos.  He was stopped by some guys called VIOs( Vehicle Inspection officers, I believe). They asked for the drivers licence and he showed them. Then they asked for his Lagos State driver's licence, which is different from the National driving licence. My personal driver said he did not have. But the official van driver stepped up to show his own, but he was told he was not the driver of the van at the time of the 'arrest'. The VIOs took over the van and drove it to their premises on Ikorodu Rd. On arrival, they were issued a ticket for twenty thousand Naira. They begged but the guys will not bulge. As I was not in the office, they called me to narrate their situation. I asked them to sort themselves out. The van slept in their yard on that day.Then they came to collect the money from me where I was attending a meeting. I was livid. Eventually I bulged. They went to pay, and they were told to go and pay ten thousand Naira in the bank and pay ten thousand Naira in their office . As they went to collect the van after paying the fine, my driver was told that he had to go and obtain the lagos state driver's license before they would release the car. Before he reached me to collect money, it was late and so the van slept in their yard on day two.
On day three my driver went to get the special driver's licence and by the time he was through with that, the day was over. So on day four he returned to the yard with his lagos state driving license. Satisfied that he had paid the penalty and obtained the special license, my driver and the van driver were eager to take the van away to go and deliver stuff they have had in the van for four days. Rather than hand over the key, the VIO guys handed them over to the staff of the lagos State internal revenue, who now asked for my driver's income tax receipt. My driver protested that he had just started work in May and they told him that he had earned  salary for two months and so he should go and pay his tax. As my driver was scratching his head in exasperation, they asked him to go and also get the tax clearance of the owner of the van as well. My driver called me,disrupting my meeting. I was angry and shouted at him. He later met me at the venue of the meeting. I then called my PA in the office to provide the tax clearance certificate to the driver to send to the tax people. My driver rushed there and presented the company tax clearance and they told him, what they needed was my personal tax clearance not the company's, as the van was registered in my name. By the time my driver could get back to me, day four was over. Can anybody imagine how angry and frustrated I had become at this time?On day five, I left my meeting venue and came back to my office, first to quarrel with my PA for giving the wrong tax document to the the driver. Then, we began to search for my own tax clearance. We picked the tax clearance card and the receipt for the 2015 tax. We got back to the yard and first I was shocked when I was told that I only had the official revenue receipt of the annual one hundred Naira levy which I do not quite remember again what it is for. I protested that the receipt for my income tax paid for last year was attached. They eventually pointed to me that what I had was only a bank teller's receipt to show that I paid some money into the government account but that was not the revenue receipt, that I should go the bank where I paid the money last year and collect the revenue receipt.
I lost my cool, and began an agitated introduction of myself, Past CEO, past Chairman, ex this and ex that. I brought out evidence to show that I had retired after 33years of meritorious service during which I diligently paid my tax( even if I did not have a choice as my tax was deducted at source) and that really I should not be be paying income tax as a retiree. But because Iam a God-fearing, law abiding citizen, I have continued to pay tax on my pension stipend and little other income from sundry sources. This bold effort at self promotion got the attention of one of the tax officers who then went online to view my tax history . He was impressed and showed me my my tax history on their website. I was amazed. This lagos people, they have gone beyond EKO for show to EKO for real! He confirmed to his colleagues that I had paid my taxes regularly up till 2015.  I was relieved and expected to be released to go do something useful for my self as that was the last working day of the week. Alas a new chapter was opened!
 "Oga, what of your 2016 tax?" I was stunned. "But 2016 has not yet ended, why is that an issue " I retorted, wandering how wicked these guys wanted to be. After just acknowledging that I have been faithful in paying my taxes, in or out of employment,why would they be asking for 2016 tax receipt. The guy who just checked my tax records on line calmly told me that 2016 tax was due on the 31st March and that if I had not paid up till then, then I would pay a fine in addition. I began to pray in tongues. I was asking God to calm me. What kind of ambush did I walk into? I then informed them that I had actually paid my 2016 tax. They said there was no evidence. Angrily I called my tax Consultant, Ken to enquire what happened. Ken was angry and shouting on the phone that they had no justification to keep me waiting, that he was still processing my payment. I asked Ken to speak to them and after a 10-minute hot exchange, ken calmed down and began to plead with them as he could not win the argument and was embarrassed that I was in that uncomfortable situation. He struggled to send evidence to them that I had actually issued him a cheque in May and that he was processing it along with other jobs he was handling. It was only when they saw this evidence that they reluctantly allowed us to go, insisting that I must get my consultant to go and get the tax receipt on Monday and to call them to confirm. But did we go?
They issued us with a clearance and asked us to go back to the VIO people to collect a gate pass to allow us take the Van out. After waiting for about 10 minutes, the VIO gave us another bill requiring us to pay "demmurage" for 5-days  parking! I almost burst my artery. You kept our van for 5days, fined us for not having lagos state driver's  licence, got my driver to obtain the license and paid tax and got me to go through almost a whole day of mental torture in order to prove that I had paid my tax up to date, lost all the business opportunities the van and the two drivers would have done in 5 days and then be asked to pay for parking a van which was actually seized. At that point I considered calling my attorney, but a still small voice asked me to pay and go that any such move, could complicate matters. If the lawyer arrived the yard, he might not be allowed to leave without showing his 2016 tax receipt.! We paid  and collected the gate pass.
Now where is the key of the van? We were referred from one officer to another. Then the guy who had the key at the gate,gave a funny salute and reminded us that it was Friday and that the boys needed something for the weekend. I snapped at him. Weekend ko, weekend ni!
He handed us the key and I went home to put my experience in print so that others can read and go and do all that they must do to avoid getting into this lagos internal revenue generation net. 
What a week! What a desperation for internally generated revenue!. What an ambush and abuse? This lagos, na wao! 


Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 


Wednesday, 20 July 2016

THIS IS GETTING SCARY,CAN ANYBODY TELL ME WHAT IS GOING ON?

I may be wrong but I believe that something is going wrong in the World. Any where you turn, there there is anger, there is violence. Almost everyday there is a new breaking news on Television about the break out of violence in one part of the World or the other. Global terrorism is growing daily and assuming unimaginable dimensions. Sectarian conflicts are growing and racial violence is resurgent. Human life is becoming meaningless all over the World. Are we loosing our humanity or are we coming to the close of the age or what really is happening? 
   In our Country, I am having increasing difficulty to understand what is happening.The Boko Haram Insurgents ravaged our Nation over the last six years, bombing, killing and maiming. Not satisfied with that, they began to take territory and threatened to overrun Northern Nigeria and possibly the entire Nation. What was their anger? No one could really say, though it was alleged that they hated western education and wanted to turn Nigeria into an Islamic Nation ruled according to the sharia. Could these be the reason for all the lives they wasted and all the destruction they caused including the lives of uneducated Muslims.
  Then when we were succeeding in containing the Boko Haram and their dastardly acts, the Fulani Herdsmen menace arrived with such ferocity, killing, maiming and sacking villages across the middle belt and parts of the Southern Nigeria. Virtually every week, we read reports of new territories invaded and many lives destroyed. This has created so much tension in the country. Today the issue of creating grazing reserves and cattle ranches has divided the Nation and some fierce political battles lie ahead as the matter is being debated in the National Assembly..
 Just as Nigerians were beginning to get used to the daily killings of innocent Nigerians by armed and marauding herdsmen, a new line of killing has been opened. A few weeks ago, a 74 year woman, wife of Deeper life Pastor in Kano was murdered in cold blood in the clear view of all, including security men by Islamic fanatics who accused her of blasphemy. They cut off her head and danced around town with it as they did with Akaluka's head a few years past. Last week, a deacon of Redeemed Christian Church, the wife of a pastor was murdered by suspected Islamic miscreants in Abuja( Yes our National Political Capital city!) as she was undertaking her religious morning cry. I have also read recent reports that suggested that Pastors and Christian preachers or evangelists are being targeted and killed by unknown Muslim head hunters. I am truly troubled by these recent developments. My worry is worsened  by the seeming inability of the police to resolve these hate murders. Who knows who is next and how many more of this kind of apparent sectarian killing will happen before it instigates reprisals?I just hope that my fears will not crystallize.
 Kidnapping and brazen armed robbery is on the rise all over the Country. Everybody is a possible victim now- Businesmen, Politicians, traditional rulers and civil servants, old and young. What is worse is that many of the kidnapped get killed with or without paying ransom. Reports of these heinous crimes are in the news everyday, and it looks like I am the only one worried while it seems to be business as usual for our security agencies and the government. 
  The invasion of the USA in September 2001 by the Alquaeda terrorists brought to the fore what terrorists can do. Until then , most of the terrorism we heard of was in Israel and we thought it was being carried out by the Palestinians against the Israelis as a way of forcing Israel to relinquish their occupied territory. But when they moved from there to the US and latter to the UK in the bombing of the London Underground, global terrorism took a completely new turn. With the death of Osama Bin Laden and the US battle against the Talibans of Afghanistan we thought that global terrorism was coming to an end. Then entered the Islamic State( ISIS), and hell was set loose. From Iraq to Syria,millions of lives have been lost, so much property destroyed and millions of people displaced helping to cause one of the worst Refugee crisis in history.
  In recent times the global  terrorist activities have concentrated in Europe,making France the epicenter. Virtually every Month they strike either Belgium or France or Turkey. And all these have made travel such a painful or hazardous experience. If you escape being asked to undress at Airport  security points of entry or exit , you could become a victim of terrorists attack at either arrival or departure lounges as happened in France and Turkey very recently.
Dealing with lone wolf terrorists who attack the Nationals of their adopted Countries  as we have repeatedly seen in the US and in Europe has complicated the profiling of terrorists. They do not need to travel from another Country anymore, so waiting to catch them or to stop them at international entry points seem now to be futile exercise. Home grown Islamic terrorists radicalized through the internet without traveling to Yemen or Syria are on the increase. The attack last Friday by a lone wolf who drove a hired truck through holiday makers in Nice, France killing nearly 90 people and wounding so many others, including Children has completely re-written the rules about terrorism. You no longer need ammunition or bombs to carry out terrorist attack. Just enter into a car or bus or truck( yours, hired or hijacked ) and then run into a busy street anywhere and you can be sure to take revenge on innocent citizens. Revenge for what? Please ask me. I am scared truly because how do you protect yourself against this low level, easy to implement  terrorist acts. I fear there will be copy cats soon.
  Now can anybody really tell me what is happening in the United States of America? Our own America. Recently there has been what looked like police brutality against black people. Then there has come what looks like reprisals against the police. From city to city, police and security officers are being murdered. What is really going on? Then just as the World was grieving over the murder of the innocent in Nice, some amateur coupists marched out in Turkey attempting to overthrow the government of President Erdogan. Nearly 300 Turkish civilians were killed Saturday night and about 6000 Turkish soldiers may be condemned to death for the attempted coup! Is humanity loosing its essence and value? Has the asymmetric third World War actually started where brothers will be against brothers? Why has hate taken over the World? Where has love gone ?Can some one please tell me what is going on?
   Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

DECLINING NATIONAL PRODUCTIVITY, PUBLIC HOLIDAYS AND THE CHANGE DEFICIT

Nigeria is technically in a recession. Gross Domestic product plunged from 6.3% growth in 2014 to 2.7% in 2015. Specifically it went from 2.84% in Q3 2015 to 2.11 in Q4 2015 and then dropped off the Clive to -0.36% in Q1 2016. So without waiting for the official Q2 2016 report which is not expected to do much better, we have had two consecutive quarters of GDP decline.

National productivity which rose between 2010 and 2014, began a decline in Q1 2015 and has maintained this course up to date. In the component of Labour productivity, Nigerians are known to be hardworking but productivity of its labour force is often questioned. The labour productivity in emerging Countries like Russia($24) Brazil ( $10.7) and turkey($28.9)is much higher than Nigeria's. In Q4 2015, Nigeria's labour productivity declined to $3.55 from $3.86 in Q3 2015 and the decline has continued since then approaching the 2011 level of $2.98 or less 

The fall in GDP is blamed on the precipitate fall in the price of crude oil in the international market which started since June 2014 and has not recovered appreciably. Nigeria 's economy remains so vulnerable to the volatility of commodity prices in the global market. Efforts to diversify the economic have been moderately successful in terms of GDP contribution. As at Q1 this year, Agriculture contributed 19.17% to GDP, Trade 21.55%, oil 10.29%, Manufacturing 9.93%, Real Estate 6.46%, and construction 3.99%. Infact the non-oil sector contributed 89.71% of National GDP according to the National Bureau of Statistics. But the challenge is that the Oil that Contributes only 10. 29% of GDP is responsible for nearly 80% of our foreign exchange earnings, which is one reason the country has had acute shortage of foreign exchange in the last one year or so.

Other causes of the fall in GDP include Nigeria's loss of global competitiveness. In the 2015-2016 Global Competitiveness Index( GCI), released by the World Economic Forum ( WEF), Nigeria scored 3.46 over 7 to rank 124 out of 140 countries measured. On the Ease of doing business ranking, Nigeria in the 2016 report came last at 169 out of 169 countries assessed, scoring 44.69%. Little wonder foreign direct investment has literally dried up in the Country. The Adjustment policies previously adopted until a few weeks ago by the government to manage the decline in National income and Foreign exchange, seemed to have compounded the loss of competitiveness,constricting the economy and bringing Nigeria's trade balance to a deficit in Q1 2016, as total foreign trade declined by 22.6% over Quarter 4 2015 and by 38.0% over same quarter in 2015. It is also true that the worsening security situation especially in the Niger  Delta region has been a significant contributor to Nigeria's current economic realities.

On the side of Labour productivity, several factors are blamed. And these include lack of quality educational institutions, poor training,lack of skills, unfavorable investment climate, power electric power availability,and high unemployment and underemployment. As at Q1 2016, total unemployment/ underemployment has reached 31.2% while Youth unemployment/ underemployment has worsened to 42.24 % causing increased poverty and increased social dislocation. The daily headlines of our newspapers paint the Picture of this social dislocation and disequilibrium .

But there are two extraneous factors which seem to be worsening both National Economic growth and National Productivity. The first is the penchant for Nigerian workers to go on strike, work to rule and all such activities that stop them from effectively utilizing man-hours for productive activities. As I write this, Pengassn and NUPENG are treating strikes that will not only keep them out of profitable production, but that will also make Nigerians waste man hours in petrol queues. The painful losses in the first five months of this year are too fresh for us to forget as most Nigerians spent useful time queuing and sleeping in fuel stations because of fuel scarcity. The other extraneous factor is Nigerian Governments love for public holidays. The State governments compete with The Federal governments in finding excuses to declare public holidays for every conceivable reason: to register to vote, to collect voters card, to vote, to go for rerun,to mourn the dead, to watch football, to celebrate victory etc. This is in addition to the religious holidays which are increasing by the day and other National holidays; Democracy day is different from Independence Day and June 12 is different from democracy day.

I was alarmed that Nigeria effectively lost last  week on holidays. Several commentators  have given figures of the loss in GDP in the one week we were on holidays. And my question is, do our political leaders understand how the GDP of a Country is calculated? Do they understand that business men who have borrowed money from the banks pay interest on the borrowed funds on public holidays, in addition to the two or three weekly work-free days( Saturday, Sunday and for some Friday also)? . I was hoping that under our circumstances, we should begin to consider returning Saturday or half of it as working day as it used to be when Nigeria was making economic progress. I was also hoping that under our change mantra, all such excesses as extending public holidays for what ever reasons would not happen. I actually was hoping that in this season of touted change, public holidays that fall at the weekend should be observed on such dates. The habit of moving the holidays to the next working day(s) ought to change. If the idea of public holiday is to give people time to celebrate, commemorate events or to rest, Weekends( Saturday & Sunday) in my view present the ideal days. But then that is only my view. Certainly some will disagree. But if we must improve our National productivity ,improve global competitiveness and minimize poverty and its Concomitant social disequilibrium, we must Keep more Nigerians, working all the time and doing more productive work.

 Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

DIFFERENTIATING BETWEEN AREA BOYS, OMONILES & STREET HAWKERS

 Last week, I was driving down the Mobalaji Bank- Anthony Road in Ikeja, Lagos, when I noticed some confusion around the vicinity. I heard some shouting and then I saw some people running towards where we were. I noticed that they were Street hawkers- those young men and women who sell Bottled and canned drinks, packaged food, chewing gum, sweets, boiled groundnuts, newspapers & magazines, handekerchiefs, windshield wipers and sundry items to commuters any where the traffic slows down. I wondered what was amiss. Then I saw some men wearing long sleeved green shirts on brown trousers, with beret caps on their heads, armed with long sticks, pursuing and beating the fleeing Street hawkers. I asked who are this? and my driver said, they were KAI Operatives. That they pursue street hawkers, seize their wares which they often confiscate or they extort money from them in order to release the goods. I shook my head in sympathy and continued our snarl down the road.
  A few minutes after, the scene changed, I was startled to see the hitherto fleeing street hawkers regroup and return with sticks and stones and began to confront the KAI operatives. The KAI operatives took off and began to run back. The hawkers gave hot chase, throwing stones and sticks at the retreating operatives. The chase was so fierce and menacing, that the KAI men ran into their waiting branded trucks and the truck zoomed off in a hurry, almost colliding with other vehicles at the NITEL Junction. Then the street hawkers began to return to pick up their wares, receiving tumultuous applause from the commuters and other bystanders. I was completely taken aback by this war scene that I just witnessed and thanked God that there were no fatalities. I then began to think about what Nigeria was turning to. Aggression everywhere.! Resistance everywhere! People are now resisting even law enforcement officers who try to enforce any regulation that seemed to abridge their 'freedom' . I cringed at the thought that we might be gradually sliding into anarchy.
   The very next day, I was pained to watch on the Television, the lifeless body of a young lady who was reported killed by a vehicle on Ikorodu Road, close to the Maryland tunnel, as she was trying to run away from the KAI men who were trying to enforce the ban on street hawking in lagos State. It was also reported that the street hawkers carried out a reprisal attack that led to the vandalization of ten BRT buses on the route. I then wondered how much of such incidences are going on all over Lagos with or without casualties. 
  It is true that various administrations in Lagos since 1999, have continued to make concerted efforts to renew lagos and change its image from a filty, unsafe and chaotic city where nothing worked to a clean, orderly mega city where everything works. And it is clear that a lot of progress has been achieved. A few short years ago, lagos was "ruled" by the Area Boys- a group of street urchins, drug addicts and lay abouts who contributed to making Lagos unsafe. Through several interventions which included rehabilitation, training and empowerment, most of them were removed from the streets, making lagos island safer for businesses, residents and visitors. A few days ago, I heard the news that the Lagos State Government has banned the OMONILES - an ubiquitous group of land grabbers and pretentious land owners who make every one who buys land in Lagos to pay at least twice. They impose levies on land owners at every stage of development and it is difficult to enter the land without settling them. In some cases, where they have perfected their acts and have become so brazen, they enter into any land of their choice, sell, resell or even begin development . It is reported that some visit violence on the authentic owners of the land they trespass. So most Lagos landowners must be relieved with the announced ban, though many are wondering how the ban will be enforced. Will the KAI brigade, some of whom we understand are actually former area boys be used to enforce the ban on OMONILES?
  In all this, we must differentiate between the criminal activities of area boys and the so called OMONILES and the economic endeavors  of street hawkers who are pursuing Legitimate businesses . All over Nigeria and in many parts of Africa, street trading and street hawking is providing some level of employment for very many poor people. And so I wish to a make a plea on behalf of the street hawkers for now. We all know how difficult things are with our economy right now. Unemployment and under-employment are on the increase daily and poverty is increasing spiking crimes and violence .If people can not get jobs after leaving school, some five years after, and do not have the money to hire expensive stores, they must be given some space to make a living without being forced into crimes. It is true that we want to have a clean and neat Megacity. But it must be a city for the rich and the poor. 
  Today, there is so much anger in the land and many people easily visit violence on whoever seems to stand on their way. I do not wish to see repeat scenes of the incidents I had described at the beginning of this article. In making this plea to Lagos State Government to take it easy with the full implementation of this new regulation( or law), I am conscious of the fact that some criminals can pretend to be street hawkers and molest or attack commuters especially late in the evening. To minimize this possibility I recommend some level of regulation. Local governments can register those street hawkers who operate in their localities and issue then identity cards. They may be required to stop trading at 6pm or 7pm. Then the KAI operatives can be assigned to enforce these simple regulations.
  To be sure, I am for eventual prohibition of street hawking, and so what I am asking for is only a temporary reprieve, to allow our economy to pick up and let current sensitivities regarding ethnic and religious  differences in our Nation to calm down. I know that most of the street hawkers come from different parts of the Country. I am also aware that efforts are being made by our governments to reenergize our economy and additional efforts are being made to create safety nets for the poor. But all these efforts will take time to impact the current high level of distress in our economy.  I believe with all my heart that most of these young men and women who stand in the sun and in the rain, often risking their lives, meandering through traffic and running after vehicles in motion, will naturally gravitate to less arduous and hazardous jobs if they become available. We must invest some effort in deliberately creating harmony in our Country, because as they say, when the poor is hungry, the rich can not sleep comfortably.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR .