Vanguard (Lagos)

7 December 2012

Nigeria: Oshiomhole Will Enforce Tax Law Without Fear or Favour - Special Adviser

interview

As Comrade Adams Oshiomhole settles down for his second term in office, he has told Edo people that he will not leave any stone unturned in his determination to take the State to the next level. In this interview with Prince Kassim Afegbua, Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and Public Affairs, he explained that the implementation of the tax law and the recent closure of Independent Television [ITV] for not paying redeeming its tax obligations was merely a matter of applying the laws and not a witch-hunt Exercepts:

The government of Edo State recently sealed off the premises of Independent Television over what it claims to be the refusal of the company to pay its tax as at when due. Can you please shed more light on this action?

Well, I am sure you are aware of the Comrade Governor's effort at ensuring that there is compliance in the application and enforcement of the tax laws.

I am sure also that you are aware that the tax laws were not made by this government, we are merely applying the laws and ensuring that there is compliance by all and sundry. When the government came on stream in 2008, the internally generated revenue of the State was in the region of N250 to N300 million naira.

Rather than join the culture of lamentation as a result of paucity of funds, the government decided to look inwards to see how it can improve on that poor revenue accrual.

In the process of doing that, it discovered that a lot of people and companies were simply not paying taxes as required by law. It then decided to give teeth to the tax laws. Since 2009 till date, a lot of people have already bought into the Comrade Governor's well intended drive to paying taxes.

That is the only way you can rightly beat your chest and say you are a tax payer. The often repeated saying of "tax payer's money" will be wrongly interpreted if you are not one of those tax payers.

It is in pursuance of this noble objective to take Edo State out of the woods that the idea of compliance to tax laws becomes instructive. What we merely did in Independent Television was to simply request for tax payment from the company since 2005 till date.

And failure to comply with the payment warranted the state government to take the company to court, where a Court Order was obtained to seal up the premises until payment is made. We have done similar thing to PHCN, NTA, NDDC, UBTH, First Bank, Union Bank and a host of others.

It is not new toEdopeople that the Comrade Governor is doing the right thing. Government is not about personal relationship with selective few, it is about the collective good. So it is not a witch hunt of anybody or individual. It is not targeted at any individual. The ITV is a business concern and it shall be so treated.

There is this notion out there that the Comrade Governor is trying to witch-hunt those who did not support his re-election and that it may have been the reason for this clamp down on Chief Gabriel Igbinedion. How do you react to that?

That is cheap blackmail. In any election, it is not possible for everybody to support one's aspiration. It is a matter of simple majority votes. The Comrade Governor is quite aware of that, hence it amounts to outright blackmail for anyone to provoke such argument or make such insinuations.

Do not forget that despite the fact that some people did not support the Comrade Governor, he still got 100 percent endorsement from the 18 Local Governments in the State. He won simple majority votes in all the Local Governments. That is something novel and quite telling on account of his performance. He is the number one political figure in the State and therefore father to all. He doesn't play all those petty sentiments.

But are you applying the laws evenly?

The question to ask is; when has payment of tax become a trite law or forbidden fruit? When has it become an offence to ask people to pay tax? That is a civic responsibility that is sacrosanct in any sane society. It is only inNigeriathat our so-called big men pick offence when you ask them for taxes.

When they visit overseas, they comply like chickens to every requirement of law, but as soon as they step their feet on Nigeria, they will try to subvert the system. We will not be distracted by those sentiments of witch-hunt. We will enforce and apply the laws without fear or favour.

That is the moral duty we owe Edo people. That is the responsibility of government that was brought about through democratic means.

If we fail to apply the laws based on our assurances to the people, history will never forgive us. It will interest you to know that tougher days are ahead for tax evaders. It is surely not going to be business as usual.

The prison rooms are not meant for the poor criminals alone, the rich criminals will also taste it if they try to subvert the system. There are no small laws or big laws. The law is a leveler for everyone.

If those rich few who are circumventing the system feel they are too powerful, sooner or later, they will visit the four walls of the prison. There cannot be sacred cows. Certainly not in this administration.

What are we to expect from Comrade Adams Oshiomhole in this second term mandate?

What to expect is what you are already seeing; that is making sure that the system works and institutions are put in place to outlast his regime.EdoStateis a different ball game as we speak.

The ICT revolution has made it possible for the State to save some money from hitherto ghost workers that permeated the various strata of the civil service. All that has become history. That is the beauty of functional democracy and effective leadership.

The Edo narrative has assumed a different dimension as we speak. The people are supporting all the initiatives of the Comrade Governor and are full of appreciation for his intervention thus far.

This second term will enable him to leverage on the economic infrastructure of his first term towards attracting investors to have confidence once again in the State and invest in it.

But the rate of insecurity and crimes rate are increasing by the day. Does it give you concern?

It will be wrong to say that the rate of insecurity is increasing. That will not be correct. The fact that there are pockets of kidnap here and there does not suggest that crime rate is increasing.

If you know the level of intervention and support the Comrade Governor is giving to the security agencies, you will then appreciate that he cares for the people. There are several unreported crime busters that are carried out every day. Given Edo State's status and particularly Benin City as a transit City, so to speak, quite a number of criminals from other neighbouring States come and perpetrate crimes and run away to where they come from.

Every day, security measures have to evolve to suit the sophistication of crimes and other associated vices. But you can be rest assured that the Comrade Governor is one leader who does not take security issues lightly.

He is dealing with it, he will continue to deal with it and he is ready to deal with it. We are not pretending that there are no problems. But our capacity to deal with problems is what distinguishes us and those before us who created the problem.

The failure of the PDP-led Federal Government to tackle the issue of insecurity is also affecting other States because of the Command structure. These are some of the issues that the new Constitution should address so that State Governors would have the powers to take certain decisions on the issue of security of their States.

Why has the Comrade Governor not constituted his Cabinet after one month of his inauguration?

He is in the process of doing that now. Under a party-based democracy, it is only natural that you allow the party to have some inputs into those who will play one role or the other in your cabinet.

Once you understand that need, the rest issues are easily simplified. Once the party is able to submit list of names as agreed by the stakeholders, the cabinet will be constituted.

Some people are wondering why you took this appointment and are asking if you will not resign your appointment again in the course of this administration?

Are you praying for me to resign again? Is it a curse? I have come to stay having received the blessings of my political leaders, friends and family members. I am happy to be part and parcel of the entire process of repositioning the State for the better.

And with a leader like Oshiomhole who appreciates everyone's contribution and also tolerates critical viewpoints, the sky is the limit for the State. I will put in my best for the State in the course of doing this job.

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