By Grace Udofia
For every administration at all levels, new ideas, policies and projects are always thrown up to usher a new era. This appears to be the case with the new government just inaugurated for the Abuja Municipal Area Council, AMAC.
AMAC under the leadership of Abdullahi Candido has brought in some new ideas, resuscitating old and moribund policies and projects in order to place the council on a better ground.
Succinctly put, the new administration, having gone through the handover notes, perhaps to better the lot of AMAC residents, has decided to expand and improve its revenue generation machinery. The new drive for revenue by the council looks tough and ambitious just as it is broad based and controversy-laden.
While AMAC is synonymous with harassing residents for revenue, the expansion of the revenue areas to areas never contemplated by previous administrations in the council is likely to threw up new issues and possible challenge from the taxpayers, who are potentially low income earners struggling daily to eke a living.
Already, the areas being considered by the local government for taxation include:
tenement rate, verification and recertification of all the shops within its jurisdiction and radio, television levy on all homes and businesses around AMAC.
The tenement rate will make it possible for the council to charge every resident that owns a house within the jurisdiction of the council a certain amount of money annually.
AMAC is emboldened to push ahead with the new formula based on a Memorandum of Understanding it entered into with the Federal Capital Territory Inland Revenue Service (FCTIRS) that appears to have the power to collect tenement rate.
While that remains the case, the matter has already run into a stormy water in the House of Representatives, which described the attempt by AMAC to collect tenement rate from residents of the FCT as illegal and questionable.
The National Assembly has, therefore, asked AMAC to suspend the planned revenue drive until further notice.
House of Representatives member, Herman Hembe, who chaired the committee, noted that under the provisions of the law, AMAC could not directly go out to collect such taxes in the FCT but may be able to do so through the FCTIRS based on the MoU signed by the two parties. Hembe said that to do otherwise would amount to AMAC embarking on double taxation.
“Anybody collecting any form of tax in the FCT is doing so illegally. The body that is supposed to do that is the FCTIRS,” Hembe said during the public hearing.
Reacting to the stance of the House of Representatives, AMAC Chairman, Candido, maintained that council has the power to collect, demand and enforce compliance in respect to the payment of tenement rate.
He said: “The levy is in accordance with the Section Seven and the fourth schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, the local government act, laws of FCT 2006, as well as the AMAC Tenement Rate Collection Bye-law 2012.
“The council perfectly understands its constitutional, statutory and legal powers by virtue of the constitution of Nigeria, various Acts of the National Assembly including the local government law adopted by the NASS via section 13 of the FCT Act Cap 128, LFN 2009 and Court of Appeal decision, therefore will not involve itself in any activity that is not backed by law”.
However there have been different reactions from residents in AMAC council area with most of them criticising the decision, especially at a critical time when the average citizen is rare able to survive.
To them, the move by the council to move ahead with such a decision at this time amounted a insensitivity on the part of the leadership. They argued that it was unfortunate for the man they had just elected to serve them to turn round and heap more pressure on them.
One AMAC resident, Mr. Ruben Robo, noted that it was wrong for the council to take such a step at this time of the year when most Nigerians were yet to be able to come out of the impact of the recent fuel price increase across the country.
“If these people were sensitive to the plight of those who voted them to power, nobody would tell them to postpone these new taxes and think of how best to mitigate the suffering of the citizenry,” Robo said.
For Mrs. Raliat Abdul, the decision of the council is inhuman and should not be allowed to scale through. She called on the Legislature of AMAC to reject such proposal in its entirely in the interest of the people, who have already suffered enough under a biting economy.
Rather than add hardship and suffering to the downtrodden, AMAC should think of creative ways of adding value to the lives of the citizens,” Abdul said.
“So it is now that AMAC leadership has decided to implement this kind of policy? I doubt if they go to the market to see what is happening; this is not fair to us at this time”
Another respondent said he was not against the idea, but asked what the people should expect from the area council in terms of infrastructure.
He said, “Let them first go ahead and fix the trunk C roads in all the satellite towns in the council then it would be easy to introduce this kind of policy to a people who already have to pay federal taxes”
But one of the officials of AMAC, who preferred anonymity, maintained that the introduction of this system of taxation would not be sustainable in the long run as it would be compromised by the elites in the council.
“I plead with our Chairman not to let down the people of AMAC who gave him the mandate to serve through their votes; he should not introduce such levy on them at this time when most of them cannot feed their families.
“If there is any MoU entered into in the past between the Area Councils and any party as claimed, where the power to collect taxes was delegated to the FCTIRS, such agreement may have been made under outright intimidation by the past government that was not ready to adhere to provisions of the constitution”.
But apparently damning the cries and concerns of the residents, AMAC has ordered all allottees of market shops, warehouse, stalls, public conveniences and other similar titles including the ones under Public Private Partnership, PPP, within the council to come forward with necessary documents for verification and recertification exercise which is expected to close on 15th of December 2016..
The allottees are expected to pay from N7,000 to N20000 depending on the category of their shops and level of development of the markets. It has warned that failure to comply with the order would result in immediate forfeiture of the allocations.
But the shop owners are not moved by the AMAC threat as they are not making the expected cash from such facilities, according to some of those who spoke to Vanguard.
For instance, Mr. Emeka Orama, a stall owner at AMAC Relocation Market, Lugbe, said the verification and recertification exercise is untimely and unnecessary. Orama wondered how AMAC would dare to talk about paying high fees on shops that were secured through a public-private partnership and a threat to subject such facilities for its verification when the owners are yet to pay up for them.
Thus, there seems to be a snack over AMAC’s ambitious revenue drive. Though sound in logic and plan, it smacks of betrayal and insensitivity on the part of the council, as most of the areas under the council have been left to rot away despite the huge sums collected by agents of the council from traders and businessmen in the area.
Indeed, it is a good idea conceived at a wrong time and it is bound to flop like a bad omen.