By Adah Ocholi
...And yet another set of BIRS staff were beaten up in Adikpo. From protest march to Government House, it has now become a street affair. Something is obviously wrong. I supported and voted Samuel Ortom to become Governor. I don’t want to regret doing that but some of his lieutenants are making me want to. Peculiar to this situation is the Benue Internal Revenue Service (BIRS) who in her revenue drive has resorted to scare tactics of oppression and intimidation and has successfully thrown the private sector in Benue State into a fever.With Revenue generation and security as one of the 5 pillars of the Samuel Ortom administration, it is pivotal in view of dwindling federal allocation. In repositioning BIRS, Mimi Orubibi was the chosen vessel in the pack of many hopefuls. Few months down the line, businesses are suffocating and gasping for air. The new sherrif in town is not only ruthless but also merciless in her quest to satisfy the agreement signed.
Under the prevailing economic circumstances, raising 1.5bn in a largely civil servant state is a mirage or a dream too big to achieve immediately but Mimi Orubibi thinks it’s possible. The two pronged approach: While the Governor emphasizes that government cannot employ people but encourages people to open new businesses, she will turn in with the tax receipts on such businesses. Perfect plan but not long after she hit the road, it’s almost chaotic in the business community just as intending business owners are weary of starting one. In spite of this, certain negative developments have made it difficult for one to peruse the direction of the revenue drive if indeed its meant for the state or for servicing private pockets.
Littered all over town are folks in branded shirts moving from shop to shop, flashing one consultancy ID card or another. Brisk Global Concepts, Mabeni Integrated Concepts Limited, Pinikson Empire Limited, Orsolian Nigeria Limited, the most dreaded Agundu Ventures Nigeria Limited and many others. These are the new faces of tax consultancy in Benue State. In very spectacular fashion, revenue collection has been parcelled out to them for different sectors in different zones while some for the entire state. In the currently distressed condition of the finances of the state, an elder statesman mentioned that “as much as it is possible, government should embark on direct labour in the pursuit of her programmes and projects…” This obviously fell on deaf ears. In these days of bailout, are consultants really the way to go?
I thought that government will heed to this advice especially with the handsome innovation of the widely celebrated P.O.S machine. How then did we end up with consultants? After the Kpojime committee report, we thought BIRS will refrain from awarding contracts but we have consultants today with contracts awarded for revenue collection. How were the contracts awarded? Was it open and competitive? What are the terms of their contracts? What percentage of the total income is their pay? What is the pedigree of these companies? Have they been in the business of revenue generation and for how long? To borrow a leaf, the federal government through the Federal Ministry of Finance and National Assembly is clear about its intention to terminate her contract with SystemSpecs, the revenue officers for the Treasury Single Account. Basic reason is the huge sum charged for each transaction done on behalf of the FG. How then do we go ahead in Benue to adopt such a harmful practise that is being discarded by the FG?
More appalling is the fact that one of the companies mentioned above is operated by a social media cabal that rooted for the appointment of Mimi Orubibi as BIRS Chairman. Then comes the question of pedigree. It is now clear for all to see, the source of the social media campaign for Mimi Orubibi that named her "tax amazon". This is indeed further attestation that our society has lost its value in the youth. In our world today where money, power and fame has become the order of the day, examples as these should serve as pointers to the bleak future that we are to behold. These have reduced the credibility of todays BIRS and in effect, the sincerity of the Ortom administration.
BIRS and her agents have in the past few weeks locked the business community in a quadrangle of undertaxation, overtaxation, multiple taxation and fake/wrong taxation. Acting in uncoordinated manner, consultants of BIRS have showered down a cache of documents that have led to the exposure of their unpreparedness to help Governor Ortom record the needed milestones in revenue generation and revenue security.
A simple example is that of the Environmental Development Charges/Levy (EDC/L). This charge/levy is payable on every business location or site and is done annually. Under the widely quoted and circulated Benue State gazette No. 17, Vol. 40 of 23rd April 2015, the law mandated the Benue State Environmental Sanitation Agency (BENSESA) to collect the Environmental Development Levy as stated on page A67, category B, subhead 310 to the tune of N20,000 only per annum.
BENSESA has done the needful as businesses in this tax category have received demand notices and are on course by complying with necessary payments. BIRS under Mimi Orubibi, in its quest to meet up the 1.5bn agreement with Gov. Ortom has commissioned Mabeni Integrated Concepts Limited of No. 4 Lushakya Anja street Old GRA MAkurdi to collect this levy at an inflated rate of N75,000. This amounts to over 275% increase in the original and legally approved rate. As though that was not exploitative enough, BIRS through Mabeni Integrated Concepts Limited has gone beyond the provisions of the law to go ahead and impose a N20,000 Environmental Development Levy on all hotels in the state when in reality, hotels are not listed to pay the levy under that subhead in the gazette.
This levy is peculiar to manufacturing, processing, fabricating, milling, packaging and refining companies. Pages A67- A69 of the gazette is clear on this. To further complicate the matter, the mode of payment has generated immediate cause to worry. The spirit behind revenue security is meant to prevent public funds from entering private pockets but BIRS is supervising and promoting the payment of monies into a private account on her behalf. The authority on the demand notice requested that payment be made to a personal account in Sterling Bank of a certain Tyo U. Kenneth. Who is fooling who?
This again brings to mind the essence of the P.O.S machines. In a widely celebrated fashion, one thought that these machines were an end to the much publicized siphoning of funds but here we are faced with the same scenario they set out to prevent and now on a larger scale. One might be left to refer to these companies as phony creations and conduit pipes to extort money which in every sense is a well-coordinated racket.
Going further, agents of BIRS Tax Consultants Orsolian Nigeria Limited, located at No. 3 Aii Iyenge close off David Mark bye pass have made life unbearable for business owners as they slammed a N25,000 tax on businesses that operate with generators for “toxic emission”. Up standing companies like WaterFirst, Steam Fast, Country Suites and a few others who just bought brand new generators are also expected to pay this tax. This tax comes without proof of toxic emissions or toxicology report from any government approved chemist/laboratory that gives credit to such claims.
In another twist, fiery looking men acting on the authority of BIRS Tax Consultants Pinikson Empire Limited located at No. 6 Uhool Gyuse street, Judges Quarters have put a fresh financial burden on the business community in Benue State with inflated figures for registration and renewal of business premises. From my analysis, they don’t have staff with basic arithmetic foundation as required by SSCE and some of them are either confused or are yet to clearly identify the basic differences between a Public Liability Company and a Limited Liability Company.
The company has interchanged and in some cases inflated the rates stated on pages A46 and A47 of the Benue State gazette No. 17, Vol. 40 of 23rd April 2015. In a particular case, they charged a Limited Liability Company the sum of N20,000 for registration and renewal of business premises. According to the gazette, the rate for registration is N6000 and rate for renewal is pegged at 50% of registration rate hence N3000. This means a Limited Liability Company operating in its first year will pay only registration fee at N6000. Subsequently, it would only be renewed at N3000 per annum. The remark on page A46 subhead 49 states that “decree 21 of 1988 limits cost of business registration in urban centres to a maximum of N10,000”.
How then does BIRS through Pinikson Empire Limited charge over 120% (N20,000) of the total cost of registration and renewal combined (N9000)? Are businesses supposed to be registered and renewed in the same year? In a remarkable display of lack of pedigree and experience, they sheepishly undertaxed another Limited Liability Company by requesting for N5000 as payment for registration of business premises as against the N6000 stated in the gazette (if the company was operating in its first year). This same amount of N5000 represents overtaxation if it were for renewal as the fee for renewal is N3000 only.
It is clear that this agency is confused, lacks expertise, is in dire need of help and cannot support the revenue security agenda of the Samuel Ortom administration. Even if Benue was for sale, it would have been sold to a smarter outfit rather than these rag-tag tax consultants. We are witnessing the broad daylight mortgaging of our state.
In a move that defiles common sense and elementary thinking, some muscular young men claiming to be agents of Brisk Global Concepts Ltd acting on the authority of BIRS are terrorizing artisans in Makurdi claiming to be the authority commissioned to enforce collection of revenue from all artisans for 2016. Unfortunately, none had their ID cards save for some branded T shirts hence, many artisans wet skeptical about transacting with them. That notwithstanding, they thundered down their threats in their request for N1500 as artisans fee for 2016 whereas page A72 of the Benue State gazette No. 17 Vol. 40 of 23rd April 2015 pegs the fee at N1000 only. In this case, we have a diabolic mixture of no identification, overtaxation and intimidation. Just when one thought that the days of Spacco were over, there is fear that the worst might be in the offing. If this can be going on untamed in the centre of Makurdi town, how then does one argue that "amnestified" Ghana is not a revenue collector in Zone A? Up till now, unruly unemployed young men are still collecting "marching ground" across town.
Two things are seen to be uniform amongst all these phony consultants: Their staff are muscular able bodied people and their ultimatum for payment is either 7 days or 14 days from receipt of dead notice. While the bill boards of BIRS spread across town are clearly saying "Pay Small Small", her consultants are saying "Pay Now Now".
Time and space may not allow for all allegations of irregularities to be registered but there is need to state in very clear and unambiguous terms that thus far, the body language of some key officers of this administration has failed the public test and has belittled the Ortom administration, making it to resemble in every sense, a failure hitherto. BIRS is todays example but a look around some MDA’s will make it more convincing. For the record, Benue people are now trooping to Lafia to renew car papers and drivers’ licenses. Yet again, are BIRS consultants empowered by law to check vehicles on the road? What has happened to the Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO)? This is just the tip of the iceberg.
As the authorities enjoy the momentary pleasure of their mental orgasm, the reality will dawn on the entire administration when in the end, the targeted and agreed 1.5bn remains unachievable due only to bad approach, anti-people strategies and arrogance on the part of the leadership of BIRS. There is a clear indication that if this rapid thrust of anti-people strategies is sustained, very few new businesses will come up, many existing ones will fold up, the burden of the millions of unemployed will remain unabated and revenue generation will remain at today’s sorry state. For over 2 weeks, a question as simple as “how much is BIRS generating per month?” was left unanswered until Gov. Ortom himself mentioned on radio that they generated N500m for the month of January. Going further, rumours are filtering in that unless the issue of percentage for the BIRS authorities is addressed, the job will be left to suffer. This is an internal attempt at sabotage. Gov. Ortom must take note of this as well.
The worrisome part of this quagmire is that the board has been left to roost without due diligence from the Chairman who in autocratic style has courted the functions of the board. Many times one tends to wonder why men like Nanevwua Clement Uhondo, Terkaa Gemade, Jack Ajene and about 11 others will permit such brazen rape of the people but more details have emerged that point to the fact that Mimi does not consult the board in her activities. As a matter of fact, since inauguration, the board has never met. Some members have decided to go to court to seek for interpretation of the letter of appointment they were given since they seem not to have any job to do.
As much as she hates to hear it, Mimi needs strategic tutorials from former BIRS Chairman, Andrew Ayabam. It's not easy to raise 1.5bn monthly in a state like Benue with a lean private sector and a larger population of consumers and very very few producers. Worst of all, the bulk of consumers depend solely from salaries and wages of the state government. How then does the business community willingly pay taxes when they have not sold to the bulk of its customers who derive their income from a government that is not paying salaries? Continuous neglect of basic and common sense is what has added BIRS to the infamous list of "protest causing agencies" in Benue State as Okada men continuously vent out their anger. No matter how lawful, right, correct and proper the taxes, the strategy of receiving them is by every sense anti-people and must be condemned.
In modern climes, people are encouraged to pay tax when they have seen their taxes at work. For the ordinary Benue man to wake up and pay his tax willingly will require more advocacy, excellence and proactiveness on the part of government towards the plight of the ordinary man rather than the display of ignorance and arrogance we behold and is threatening to finally deplete the remnant of goodwill the Ortom administration has. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. The Governor is, will and cannot stop suffering from the consequences of this rubbish.