Adams Oshiomhole, Edo State Governor
Mixed reactions have continued to trail the new property law introduced by the Edo State Government. As a result, the government recently held a meeting with stakeholders and tax payers to shed more light on some of the grey areas, writes Adibe Emenyonu
Property laws everywhere are usually unattractive. Even in advanced climes, they are regarded as legislations meant to rob Peter in order to pay Paul. In order words, since the rich are the property owners, it means they have to pay more for their land and property. The poor who do not have any will not have anything to pay but will at the end enjoy the social amenities from the proceeds of the tax.
Therefore, when the administration of Adams Oshiomhole in Edo State introduced a similar legislation to make provisions for the consolidation of all land based rates and charges payable to the state government into a single charge to be call “Land Use Charge”, it was greeted with mix reactions.
Those protesting are of the view that since land and property owners are going to pay more tax, they will invariably shift the payment to tenants thus, increasing house rents in the state. They further hold the view that once house rent goes up by virtue of tax on property and land use, it must surely have multiplier effects on prices of food items and other social services.
Besides, some of them impute ethnicity into the whole scenario. According to some of them who spoke during a recent protest which was carried to the premises of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Edo State council, Benin City, the property tax “is targeted at some rich Benin businessmen.”
To support their claim, reference was made to a statement credited to the Majority Leader, Edo State House of Assembly, Mr. Phillips Shaiubu who while explaining the provisions of the bill when it was still at embryo stage said that it was targeted at certain businessman who own large property in the state.
With such statement allegedly made by Shaiubu, Hope Iyare, lawyer and politician described the law as politically motivated and one borne out of envy. Similarly, Austin Osakue, school proprietor and human rights activist said the law, “is a dead law” since it does not take the interest of the people at large into consideration.
In the same vein, Nosa Orue, an engineer and businessman called on the state governor not to accent to the bill because in his own estimation, it is anti-people.
The anti-Property Tax law protesters worked under the auspices of Edo Youth Congress and described the Property Law as anti-people.
President of the group, Dan Adebame Eichie said the law was passed without getting the feelings of the people through public hearing. Eichie said they are against the Property Tax law because the state government has not provided basic amenities “as what obtains in other development countries where the tax was operational.”
According to him, “Property law is not an ingredient of democracy. We are going to court to challenge the law until it is thrown away. We demanded for a public hearing but the lawmakers did not listen to us. We say no to this tyrant law.”
While supporters of the Propery Tax led by Tony Kabaka and leadership of “Edo is in Safe Hands” group who brandished banners with inscriptions such as ‘The rich must pay tax’, ‘It is time for the rich to work for the poor.’ ‘The rich must pay for the poor to enjoy.’ ‘Stop organising people against tax payment’ and ‘We support Property Tax. It is for development.’
Kabaka said the infrastructural development in the state was a testimony to what the state government was doing with the tax already collected. Tony said they earlier supported the PDP-led government but were made to believe that there was no money in the coffers of the state.
“The protesters were just being used by those who feel they are affected”, said Kassim Afegbua, Special Adviser (Media) to Oshiomhole.
Afegbua in an interview with THISDAY, said “as far government is concerned, there is no protest in any form. What is being witnessed is nothing but pockets of sponsored youths by the propertied class who are trying to make an impression about the property law. Those who are said to be protesting are not affected by the law and it is of interest to know that they have not read it.
“Though, it is expected that the propertied class will protest attempt by government to tax their property which they have accumulated over the year, they cannot deny government from carrying out its statutory function of making life better for the people. And in doing so, government will take from the rich to help the poor because it is in the interest of the rich otherwise they will be at risk if the poor in the society are not catered for.”
Explaining further, he said the law is an attempt to breach the gap between the rich and the poor in the society and by so doing, create a stable environment where everyone can pursue his/her legitimate enterprise. Afegbua who urged the people to take time out to study provisions of the law, however, noted that the stakeholders meeting held at Imaguero College Hall, Benin City, Monday 10, 2012 afforded the executive arm of government the opportunity to rub minds with tax payers to understand the direction of government in relation to property law and the economic benefits of it to the people of Edo State.
But contrary to all the insinuations and fears generated by the bill, Governor Oshiomole on Friday, December 7, signed the bill into law, making it a legal document. After signing the bill, Oshiomhole explained that going by his background, he could not institute a law aimed at impoverishing the people of Edo State as being insinuated by some persons.
He said with the outcome of last governorship election where the people threw away ethnicity for the first time and voted for him overwhelmingly, he could not afford to disappoint them or pay them back in bad coins. Rather, he said what the state government was doing “is to find enough resources to finance its laudable people-oriented programmes instead of going cap in hand every month to Abuja for state allocation that at the end of it all will only pay salaries and other overhead costs.”
In his explanation, during the signing ceremony of the Land Use Charge law at the Government House, the governor said it would not apply to rural people across the state and people who occupy family houses.
“Even though the rural people are exempted but those who are rich occupying in excess of one hundred by one hundred feet land will pay the tax,” he noted.
According to him, the idea is to encourage those who use much land, to pay something to the government which will assist in the provision of amenities, such as schools and health facilities and to find resources to support tertiary institutions, water as well as carry development to the villages and hamlets.
While assuring that it is a pro-development law, Comrade Oshiomhole maintained that the government is determined to tax the rich to enable government provide for the poorest of the poor. “Every rich man should know that it is in their interest that the poor are catered for. The task at hand is not only to consolidate on the gains recorded in our first tenure but to take Edo State to the next level. We cannot rely entirely on the revenue from Abuja; we have to look inward,” the governor added.
He said Lagos State is an example of a state that has succeeded, adding: “Property tax is a reality and the law is not targeted at everybody. Though everybody needs to use the land but some people use more land than others.
“We are not apologetic about taxing the rich and I appreciate the support from the people and I will not abuse that trust. I am committed to giving my all to enforce the rule of law and to ensure that nobody is above the law. I am committed to fairness because the government must protect the weak.”
While saying that government will not victimize anyone, He however, noted that it will be strict on the tax laws, warning that “anyone who refuses to pay tax will know it is a criminal offence and they will be sent to prison. At the end of the day, Edo people will see that the law was and is in their best interest.”
Section 9 of the Edo State Property Tax which is cited as the Land Use Charge Law 2012 which has become enforceable on December 7, 2012 made provision for those exempted from the payment.
They are a property owned and occupied by a religious body, approved exclusively for public worship and used for non-profit making religious education; public cemeteries and burial grounds; public libraries; all official palaces of recognised traditional rulers in the state; and any property specifically exempted by the governor by the state by notice published in the State Government Official gazette.
Other exemptions are owner-occupier residential property which is 100ft by 100ft maximum in non choice area of an urban area; 100ft by 100ft in non choice area in a rural setting; community property solely for community meetings, activities and events; owner-occupier pensioner property and owner- occupier of over sixty years and family compounds.
Besides, the law also states that the governor may by a notice published in the state government official gazette grant partial relief for a property that is (a) a non-profit making organisation for the benefit of the general public or (b) used for a charitable or benevolent purpose for the benefit of the general public.
From the above, some analysts say the controversy over the property law is misplaced. They also accuse the state assembly of creating the anxiety that trailed the law. Said one of the analysts who pleaded for anonymity: “In handling such delicate matter as land use related law, it is imperative that the lawmakers while deliberating on the bill, should have carried out a public hearing. Unfortunately, this was not done which has forced the executive whose duty it is to implement the law to now convene a stakeholder meeting aimed at sensitising the people that contrary to their thinking, the law is not anti-people.”