Cross River Governor, Ben Ayade’s tears hold no tax exemption hope for the low-income earners in the state, writes Bassey Inyang
On Thursday, May 21, while inaugurating the Cross River State Anti-Tax Agency, the state governor, Professor Ben Ayade, got into his usual emotional fit, and wept over the plight of the poor in the state, whom he instantly exempted from paying taxes, because they do not earn more than N50,000 annually.
Charging the committee on their mandate, Ayade explained that the exception of the low income earners from paying tax was deliberate to encourage small and medium scale businesses, peasant farmers, commercial transport operators, food vendors, hotels with less than 50 rooms, and a host of others to expand their businesses, and fend for their families with less economic pressure.
Ayade lamented that the activities of illegal tax consultants, who go about extorting money from the poor and vulnerable have become inimical to the establishment and expansion of businesses across the state.
“This is not Ben Ayade, this is not my nature,” the Governor said. “I am not wired for this insensitivity to a weaker person. I never knew that five years into office as Governor, I will still find someone living in a thatched house in Cross River,” Ayade stated, and sobbed as he inaugurated the agency.
Before long, the video clip of a sobbing Ayade at the occasion had gone viral and attracted many comments. In summary, the average commentator described the governor as man with unequalled compassion for the poor and even saw in Ayade the kind of leader Nigeria needs as future President.
By staging that recurrent drama of crying effortlessly, Ayade, reputed as an amateur entertainer within some circles in the state and maybe beyond, must have achieved his aim of deceiving the gullible and non followers of his official activities, policies and programmes since he became governor five years ago.
One thing Ayade has in abundance is the dramatics laced with impulsive hysteria, so he acts at the spur of the moment and forgets easily. And while inaugurating the Agency headed by Bishop Emmah Isong, these traits of Ayade were very much in display.
The fact is that the governor said nothing new about exempting the poor in the state from paying taxes, and acted nothing new about his much over hyped sympathy for the poor, and deprived in the state.
Keen followers of the Ayade crying historiography must have dismissed his latest act with a wave of the hands, because they must have concluded long ago that, tears is one thing that flows in abundance from Ayade. They also know that Ayade’s administration is one that suffers from chronic official amnesia.
In March 2017, at the Internally Displaced People (IDP), camp in Bakassi Local Government Area, Ayade cried during a public function that had officials of the National Commissioner, Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, in attendance. After that day, it is doubtful if anything more positive had happened to the Bakassi people from his end.
Much earlier, August 2016, Ayade, accompanied by the Mayor of Dortmund, Fuss Friedrich, had cried in Bakassi over what he described as the squalid state of the camp, where the Bakassi IDPs were, and the suffering they were experiencing. Ayade announced that the “Mayor” would build free houses for the returnees. And the story ended there.
Ayade wept again while signing his 2018, N1.3trn “Budget of Kinetic Crystallisation.” Only Ayade can explain why he cried. However, he said it was the first time a state had proposed an annual budget that was up to N1trillion. Perhaps it was tears of joy from the governor for setting such record for a state whose entire annual revenue from statutory allocations and internally generated revenue is hardly N100 billion.
Sometime in 2017, Ayade announced a similar policy while presenting the appropriation bill for that year, but it was never implemented.
To the contrary, however, the ordinary roadside seller, the menial worker, who earns his living daily through providential benevolence, realised immediately after the governor’s announcement that, in practice, he was not exempted by the governor’s mere verbal pronouncements.
If anything, the plight of the ordinary low income earners continued, and perhaps, became worse as most of them continued to suffer under the heavy yoke of extortionists called tax collectors from agents of politically exposed persons, who are allocated business districts, markets, roadside motor parks, official motor parks etc, known in their parlance as “revenue points.”
Three years after, in 2020, Ayade is back on the same issue, perhaps, having forgotten for three good years that he had promised tax waivers to this category of the poor that earns less than N50,000. Maybe he discovered suddenly that he never ensured the implementation of the policy.
While presenting the 2020 appropriation bill, which was passed into law by the State House of Assembly, Ayade had proposed exemption from payment of taxes for those, who earn less than N100,000, but in what can be described as a policy summersault the governor, who is usually emotional and impulsive, announced exemption for income earners below N50, 000.
It is either that he forgot or did not refer to the 2020 appropriation act for the state, which he had signed into law. Though Ayade said it was a form of palliative to cushion the negative economic impact of Covid-19 to the poor, journalists and rights activists, Agba Jalingo, has observed that the governor’s action was unilateral and, therefore, illegal because there are subsisting law dealing with tax issues; more so, on those that were exempted from payment.
Former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in the state, and governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party in the 2019 general election, who reacted on the development, said Ayad was shedding crocodile tears.
A press release from the commissioner, who served in the administration of Governor Donald Duke, expressed reservations that it could take five years for Ayade to realise that the poor was suffering under his watch.
Despite Ayade’s tears, nothing seemed to have changed since the announcement. Barely 24 hours after, the governor suspended the activities of the Commercial Transport Regulatory Agency (CTRA), for carrying on as usual, and disobeying the Cross River Tax Exemption Law.
Ayade’s action was obviously prompted by complaints from the agency, which had spent barely 48 hours in office.
A press release entitled “Illegal Collections Of Taxes, Dues, Levies, Revenues and Tolls”, signed by the chairman of the agency, Bishop Emmah Isong, stated: “It has come to the notice of the Anti-Tax Agency that in spite of His Excellency, Senator (Prof.) Ben Ayade’s directives to end illegal taxation in Cross River State, some proscribed Agencies, Unions, LGA revenue Staff, individuals and tax consultants have taken it upon themselves to continually extort from innocent citizens.
“This not acceptable even after the Governor had issued several warnings to the perpetrators to desist from such inhuman act of extorting their hard-earned money. Besides, such act is against the Cross River State Tax Exemption Laws.”
Feelers indicate that in spite of the sanctions against CTRA, nothing has changed as the extortion of monies from the poor and economically disadvantaged continue. In the markets, among street hawkers, wheelbarrow pushers, tricyclists, road side vendors and a host of others, the extortion continues in the name of collection of levies from this category of persons, who are not officially covered by the tax laws of the country.
Since the illegal tax consultants Ayade referred to are mainly politicians, and some of them government appointees, it is doubtful that Ayade’s anti-tax tears would yield any positive results as the state government may relapse into official amnesia once again on the exemption of low income earners from payment of taxes.