Strains on legislators: The Shaibu example

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By Josef Omortionmwan
FROM the outside, life in the legislature can be alluring. For the legislator, there is a sense of reward as an opportunity is created for him to assist his constituents and help fashion out better public policy.

Legislative life is an adventure, which could be interesting and fascinating. For all those who like politics and public life, the legislature provides a reasonably good exposure. There have been instances in Nigeria where becoming legislators have removed people permanently from the “charge and bail” queue or rather, from the unemployment line into very rewarding ventures.

Despite the rewards, legislative life is not without considerable strains. In Nigeria, the job of a legislator is full time.

This leads to the loss or decline of professionalism. Legislators must feel the strain of spending much of their time away from their original occupations.

Essentially, a good lawyer who decides to return to private practice after an eight-year sojourn in politics must play a lot of catch-up with his contemporaries.

Family life gets disrupted. During the campaigns, a husband and his wife were together criss-crossing the entire constituency but after the election, the spouse soon finds that there is no visible role for him/her. Many legislators can only manage a few late evening hours with their spouses and children. Quite often, after the day’s session and meetings, a legislator only comes home after the children have gone to bed and he can do little more than going to their room to kiss them goodnight while they sleep.

Most times, the legislator is vilified and crucified for doing his job well. This is where we must thoroughly sympathise with Hon. Philip Shaibu, Member representing Etsako West Constituency II in the Edo State House of Assembly because of some deliberate attempts to mess him up.

Hon. Shaibu is the Majority Leader of Edo House of Assembly. A major function of the Majority Leader is that he introduces any Executive measure to the House. If there is any message from the House to the Executive, he also transmits it. In essence, he provides a bridge between the Legislature and the Executive.

It was, therefore, in the line of duty that Shaibu introduced the Land Use Charge Bill, 2012 to the House of Assembly. From time, people have resisted tax payment and hated tax collectors. We are reminded that the great Apostle Paul was, early in his life, perhaps the most hated young man of his time because of his connection with the tax regime.

All the same, the job must be done. The irony of the situation is that right from the time the Bill was introduced, people left its substance and directed their attack on Shaibu. When an Executive Bill is introduced to the House, it is also the function of the Majority Leader to see it through and ensure that it does not die in the legislative maze.

In the course of explaining the import of the Bill, Shaibu threw up a few names, perhaps in an attempt to lift the explanation above the abstract level. That made matters worse. It was like spitting into the mouth of a man who was already intent on vomiting.

It is a normal prayer that God should not allow us visit a house on a day that something will be missing in that house. Shaibu’s reference to Esama’s property came about the same time that the premises of ITV were sealed up for non-payment of tax. What a coincidence! That further quickened people’s conclusion that the Bill was targeted at particular individuals.

We wonder how many people have seen a copy of the Land Use Charge Law, 2012. Here and everywhere, property tax is targeted at the rich and propertied class. The rich get richer and they exert more from society with impunity. Property tax is, therefore, the price that wealth pays for wealth. It is perhaps a way of playing the modern day Robin Hood: Taking from the rich and giving to the poor.

The law is very humane. It devotes the entire Section 8 to the exemption of the poor, religious bodies, public utilities, traditional grounds, family compounds, etc., from payment of the property tax.

We see in the Edo State Land Use Charge Law, a bold attempt to solve the nagging unemployment problem facing the State. Between valuation and assessment; between revision and collection; we see thousands of people being removed from the unemployment line into gainful employment.

Besides, by the time people pay property tax on their property, which had hitherto been lying fallow, they will be forced to put those property to use and in the process, thousands of other unemployed youths will be gainfully engaged.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. In his first tenure, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole arrived at a time when the State was virtually comatose. He tightened the belt to the last hole and he struck water from the rock to get tax money to move the State to an enviable height. He is back on a second term. Apart from wanting to complete the projects already started, he wants to do more.

The current trend worldwide is that property tax is the only progressive way to go. We cannot want to eat our cake and have it – we want our State to be developed but we do not want to pay tax. We want to have good teeth but the dentist must not come near us, Ha, ha!

For the Comrade Governor, this is a familiar route. Lobbying and protestation against taxation are allowed in a democracy. But lobbying must be constructive and positive. All the accusations and counter-accusations would have been more productive, were they directed at making the law better.

What now remains is to mount vigorous enlightenment campaigns that will truly educate the people about the tremendous benefits inherent in the emerging property tax. There is no royal road to geometry.

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