Nigeria: The Weeping Governor of This Era

Cross River State (file photo).
25 May 2020

Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha write that Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State may not have done anything new with his recent emotive announcement of tax exemption for Cross Riverians. It is simply a repeat of a promise he made three years ago.

Over the weekend, Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State triggered an emotional uproar on social media with the viral video of him lamenting the plight of poor Cross Riverians and waiving the taxes for some low-income earners. It was a good acting that perhaps may land the governor an Oscar if the tears were more emotionally convincing. But in a country like Nigeria where little doses of kindness irrespective of the motive of the giver are greeted with loquacious sentiments, Ayade is vaunted as the ideal leader that Nigerians need, a tactic that worked perfectly for his image launderers.

By now, one must be used to Ayade's lachrymose disposition. It is becoming a fixture for his campaigners to show that the governor is really working. To be sure, it is not the first time Ayade is announcing his plans to help the poor in the society by waiving their taxes. In 2017, after signing the appropriation bill of N707 billion, Ayade spoke passionately about the low-income earners and how he would love to relieve them of the burden of tax payment. At that January meeting, he warned that anyone earning less than N50, 000 a month, hotels with financial challenges should be excluded from paying tax to the state.

"I have seen poverty in my personal life and I know what that small N2,000 means to them," he said.

He added that, "no nation, no state and no administrative authority can tax her people to prosperity. God has given us an elevated platform of authority to use our intellects and support them and not to suppress them. Why would the government put a burden on people earning less than N1, 000 a day with wife and children, shopping in the same market with the rich, who earn over N300, 000 monthly? I would rather tax my intellect to prosperity than taxing my people because we have sufficient education, exposure and experience, which we need to bring to bear for the prosperity of our people, which is why they elected us."

Three years later, Ayade is still repeating his promise with more tears, only this time, it is categorised as a COVID-19 palliative for a state that is yet to record a case of the ravaging Coronavirus.

Prior to his outburst in 2017, Ayade reportedly broke down after visiting one of the camps where the displaced persons of Bakassi Peninsula which Nigeria ceded to Cameroon are kept in 2016.

At the rate of his emotional breakdown, Ayade may well be on his way to replace the late governor of Imo state, Sam Mbakwe as the 'weeping governor' of this era.

Ayade to an extent is a lucky man. He was raised by devout parents and Catholics who laid the foundation for him to become the man he is today. Having achieved different educational feats as an environmental microbiologist, he ran for a seat in the Senate in 2011 and held the position of Vice-Chairman, Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology; as well as a member of different committees on education and drugs.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) member finally occupied the seat of the Number one Citizen in Cross River in 2015 after defeating the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate in the state. He won his second tenure in the 2019 general election.

Like his predecessor, Ayade has his own plans to make the coastal state which has a land area of 7,782 sq, millimetres an attraction to investors, neglecting structures that he met in place. He flaunted the Bakassi Deep Seaport and the 276 kilometres super highway when he assumed office in 2015. The projects are yet to be completed and early this year, he paid a visit to the President Muhammadu Buhari to update him on the progress of the twin projects.

Ayade told newsmen passionately at that January briefing that the projects will be an alternative to the Lagos ports that are overwhelmed with daily demands.

"Nigeria needs to create an alternative corridor so that we can decongest Lagos ports. A major alternative port needs to exist and close to the North and that will link the eastern flank. And Calabar is the closest and with the new superhighway that cuts travel time from seven hours to about one hour forty-five minutes, it is the best option to go with a cargo rail running by the side," he said.

From the tone of his address, it was apparent that Ayade is confident that these lofty projects will fetch him a place in the stars.

But Cross River state, home to over three million people, is yet to regain the glory of its yesteryears since Donald Duke, the former governor ended his governorship tenure.

Known as a mini-Nigeria, the state was touted as a tourism and investor hub of the nation with the beautiful landscape that looks like a painting from God's artbook. It was Duke that imagined a flourishing state for tourism, investment and urban development. His mantra was to make Calabar the cleanest city and indeed it was for the period he lasted in power. Duke didn't make a theatrical display about his projects. He rolled his sleeves and went to work immediately.

He initiated the Obudu Ranch International Mountain Race which attracted contestants and visitors from other countries; created a special reserve fund for the state meant to

cushion the effect of unforeseeable economic challenges that may occasion uncertainty in the state's Internally generated revenue, as well as monthly allocation from the federal government.

To further boost business and tourism in the state, he initiated the Tinapa Free Zone and Resort project which gulped over $350 million on initial development before phase one opened in 2007. The resort was also in association with the Calabar Free Trade Zone to combine business and recreational functions with duty-free shopping but the ambiguity surrounding the true ownership of the FTZ had left the majestic resort in comatose condition.

Senator Liyel Imoke who succeeded Duke appealed to the Federal Government to take a stake in the project, and to remove uncertainty about Tinapa's status, which is hindering investment

It was Duke who organised Africa's biggest party known as the Calabar Carnival that was a spectacle to locals and visitors. Recent editions lacked the Midas touch of Duke and drew little attention.

On his part Imoke built the International Conference Centre in Calabar which in recent times has been used for events.

As it is his turn to also leave an imprint on the state, Ayade is not stopping his ambition at his twin projects but also would like to portray himself as the governor of the people.

His insistence that low-income earners should not pay tax is good news to the layman but in essence, Ayade has not done anything extraordinary. Last year, the state internally generated revenue was N22,597,063,882.55, out of which a big junk of that sum came from the broad term 'other taxes' which may include levies from traders and okada riders. Pay-As-You-Earn contributed 28.8 percent to the state's IGR followed by MDA' revenue and road taxes with 15 percent and 3.8 percent respectively.

Ayade's argument is that the government has not done sufficiently for the citizens, thus does not have the right to burden the less privileged with taxes. By making this statement, Ayade indirectly sings of his incompetence since he assumed office. If the poverty level of the state where he ruled for five years has not improved, then he needs to task his brain harder for the prosperity of his nation.

There is no clear implication of his new exemptions to the coffers of the state government according to a professional accountant Oluwaseun Bakare.

"In reality, the exempted persons contributions have no known value to the state's IGR. The government makes more from taxes paid by individuals in paid employment and established companies. We know the situation in Nigeria that most people rarely pay their taxes and the governor is probably aware that the exemptions cost nothing to the state."

Bakare argued that the people that will mostly be affected by the governor's order are the middle men who collect these payment dues for the government. "These taxes were not going to the state directly. They were probably collected by the private primary enforcers and by the time the monies exchanged hands, only a few pennies would get to the state's pockets at the end of the day. These middle men will bear the brunt of the exemptions."

In a state where the middle class is in non-existence, such tax exemption for less privileged workers is a piece of good news.

For the hawkers or market traders who may be dues on a weekly or daily basis, having that break is a breath of fresh air. In their eyes, the governor is truly a hero to the poor.

Bakare argued that if the governor wanted to make an impact, he should have done a tax exemption that is encompassing.

"If he should exclude companies and high-income taxpayers, then the state would probably suffer because it is not an untenable plan. The governor is just riding on a wave of popularity with this law."

QUOTE 1

His insistence that low-income earners should not pay tax is good news to the layman but in essence, Ayade has not done anything extraordinary. Last year, the state internally generated revenue was N22,597,063,882.55, out of which a big junk of that sum came from the broad term 'other taxes' which may include levies from traders and okada riders. Pay-As-You-Earn contributed 28.8 percent to the state's IGR followed by MDA' revenue and road taxes with 15 percent and 3.8 percent respectively

QUOTE 2

Like his predecessor, Ayade has his own plans to make the coastal state which has a land area of 7,782 sq, millimetres an attraction to investors, neglecting structures that he met in place. He flaunted the Bakassi Deep Seaport and the 276 kilometres super highway when he assumed office in 2015. The projects are yet to be completed and early this year, he paid a visit to the President Muhammadu Buhari to update him on the progress of the twin projects.

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