Popular public affairs commentator and veteran journalist Jimi Disu bared his heart to the Akinwunmi Ambode-led Lagos State Government in the popular Front Page Comment, a morning newspaper review programme on Classic FM.
Disu was analysing a news story in the dailies about the increase in Land Use charges in Lagos. This was the major issue Disu and Bukola analysed on the day. Many Lagos residents reacted and today we published some of their reaction to the usual insightful analysis of Disu. The headline of the story in the Punch Newspaper read this: Lagos State government commends residents for paying land use tax.
According to the Punch, the Lagos government on Wednesday applauded property owners and occupiers in the state for trooping into designated banks in fulfilment of their civic duties. The turn-out followed the launching of the payment platform by the state governor, Akinwunmi Ambode. Part of the story reads that a renowned comedian and resident of the state, Mr. Gbenga Adeyinka who paid his land use tax on Tuesday said massive payment of the levy would enable government to embark on more infrastructural projects for better living conditions.
Disu made the following comments in his analysis:
“I will like to plead with the Lagos State government officials to always try and do the right thing or ask for advice when issues like these come up. The Lagos state government introduced a new system of paying for land use and that has been virtually condemned by almost everybody in the state in the sense that the new rates are more than punitive. For example, someone called in to say he used to pay N58,000 before, but now has a bill of more than N400,000.
In any business transaction, an increment of about N400,000 to N500,000 is completely unacceptable. If you’re paying a rent of N100,000 per annum, your landlord cannot increase the rent to N500,000 per annum. The Lagos Chamber of Commerce issued a statement that they are even going to court. Most people see these new charges as punitive and that is very clear.
Now the usual manner in which government officials react to this is, they see it as a challenge. Rather than take a second look and say to themselves ‘How best can we handle this situation so that it’s a win-win situation for everybody?’ The same headline in all the papers tells me that it is a planted story and I’m surprised they fell for this because it is the same photograph of Gbenga Adeyinka you have across all the newspapers, so he’s being used…. And the issue is beyond that.
What you have is that in most cases, people are not even in a position to pay and it’s going to reflect on rents. What is typical in Nigeria is that everybody wants to defend the boss. ‘Since the governor has put this in place, it will be bad for him to retrace his steps’… I think the governor who luckily is an accountant, should take a second look at these land use charges. They are punitive. You’re going to have a lot of defaults therein, no doubt. Most of the houses where he wants to get the highest charges from are empty – go to Ikoyi, VGC, all these houses are empty.
You have a crisis on your hands and you need all the ingenuity under the sun to resolve that crisis. You cannot be hard on your citizens. If you have very good consumer protection laws, for example, a landlord cannot just increase his rent from N58,000 to N400,000. So why should the government be seen as doing this? I buy their argument, but you must find a way to make life bearable and tolerable for citizens. And the typical thing is officials will always be thinking about the governor “We cannot afford to embarrass the governor in this instance” . And so what do they do? They go on publicity. The publicity is not going to bring out any money I don’t have from my pocket. That is the reality. Am I going to get a bank loan because I want to pay for land use charge? Definitely not! The approach is wrong and I’m sorry I have to do this again and again and again.
If Gbenga Adeyinka has paid his land use charge, what has that got to do with me? Is Gbenga Adeyinka going to put money in my pocket? The whole attitude is completely wrong. Luckily the governor is an accountant. He needs to sit and take charge of this process because the truth of the matter is, if you spend more of government money on publicity and getting people to endorse what you’re doing, it’s not going to put money in the pockets of the landowners.
For the Chamber of Commerce to have gotten up within a week to make a definite statement, that they were even ready to go to court to get to the bottom of all these should give the governor some concern.
So my message this morning to His Excellency is that, please take control of this process. Luckily, as God would have it, you’re an accountant. Bring people from the private sector – consultants… and see how you can make this more realistic for people to adhere to or else, I can assure you what they are going to have is a lot of default. I also think that generally Lagos state has to be a bit careful, there are a few things happening that are making life more difficult for Nigerians. I think we need to get our priorities right in this state.
Sylvester Steve Obiakor sends a message which says “Is there no legislation controlling these government charges and fees or the government is just arbitrarily increasing charges?”
Jimi Disu: To be fair to the government, it’s not as arbitrary as you might think, but the bottom line is, that is the responsibility of the government – To make life bearable for its citizens. The government must do something.
Laws are made for men, men are not made for laws. It is the system that was put in place that brought about that. It’s a bit technical, I don’t want to go into that. But it’s not as if the government just decided to… Where I’m going is, first of all, you need to explain it to the people. But most importantly, if that system is not working, choke it! It’s going to break the backs of a lot of our citizens and I don’t think the government will want to inflict pain on the citizens, because we have enough pain around us. I also want to plead with the handlers of the governor to be a bit more creative in some of the things they do. That a comedian has paid his land use charge is neither here nor there.
Akugbe Daniel says “So they used a comedian as their poster-boy…
Jimi Disu: While we are at it, I think the press need to be very careful about their relationship with politicians. We need to be extra careful, even if we have them as friends and whatever… The press should not be against the government, we should work hand in hand, but part of our job is to tell these people some home truths. Remember that the intents of the politicians might not necessarily align with yours, so you have to be very careful. I don’t mean that you should be antagonistic at all times. The same story and photograph is in about three to four papers… Is there also a pun in using a comedian?
Another person says “What is the penalty for not paying the land use charge because I can tell you categorically that most people won’t pay?”
Jimi Disu: It’s not that they won’t pay, but it’s that that they won’t be in a position to pay. The truth of the matter is most people may not have the capacity to pay.
Radioman says ‘The challenge with the government today in Lagos is the fact that they think Lagos state is their birthright. They need another party to give them a good run for their money.
Loius says “Governor Ambode is taking Lagosians for granted with some of his policies”
Jimi Disu: That’s why I say to people “Know the honourable in your neighbourhood”. He’s there to protect your interest, that’s what you voted him in for.
Michael says “It has become the norm for Lagos state government to use celebrities in endorsing some distasteful policies”
Jimi Disu: I don’t think I will go as far as call it a distasteful policy because the truth is you must pay land use charge. But I think that the government must also protect its citizens and as for using comedians I don’t see anything wrong with that.