By Nwabueze Okonkwo
ONITSHA—Aggrieved women at Nkpor Main Market, Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State, yesterday, staged a peaceful demonstration to protest against imposition of high tax by officials of the market and some government revenue agents.
The over 100 women, under the aegis of Nkpor Main Market Women Petty Traders Association, closed their shops and stormed the Idemili North Local Government Secretariat, Ogidi, as early as 8a.m. with different placards.
Some of the placards read in part: “We can’t afford to pay as much as N30,800 per head as tax in the market because we are merely petty traders.” “Is it from the sale of vegetables, fruits and plaiting of hairs that we will get the N30,800 to pay to the revenue agents?” “Both state and local governments should help to liberate us from these Shylock revenue contractors.”
Speaking to newsmen during the protest, Mrs. Veronica Eneh, a stakeholder in the market, said the Chairman of the market, Lawrence Okonkwo (aka Ububa) brought in some persons he introduced to them as state government revenue agents that would be collecting tax and other revenues amounting to N30, 800 per head, per annum.
Eneh said initially, they were paying only N192 as revenue to the government until few years ago when it was increased to about N4, 800 and when they protested and refused to pay, the then state government task force on revenue collection, popularly known as Ndi Mpiawa Azu (those who break peoples’ backs with sticks), were unleashed on them and they were prompted to go to court to challenge the harassment and increase in payment of levies.
The traders contended that as the matter is still pending before the Magistrate Court, the same group of revenue agents came into the market again and told them that their total payment for tax and other revenues is now N30, 800, adding that to worsen the matter, they were told that the new fee would be paid in arrears with effect from 2013.
They also hinted that previous chairmen in the market had never levied the petty traders so much in the market until the advent of the incumbent Lawrence Okonkwo-led market executive, insisting that they cannot afford this N30, 800.
The women wondered why the revenue officials could not come into the market and assess them individually before imposing the tax payment, adding that government should come to their aid because they do not have any other means of livelihood should they be ejected from the market, as the revenue agents threatened to do.
Chairman of Idemili North Local Government Area, Emma Idemobi was not in office during the demonstration, but chairman of the market leadership, Lawrence Okonkwo told newsmen on phone that it was not the market leadership that imposed the levy but the state government.
He added that the only role he played was just to invite the women to come and listen to the revenue officials from the state government.