The most intriguing part is that Mr. Isaac Chimeremeze who is now associated with this digitization in Abia state, is also the person who worked towards Governor Soludo’s digitization of revenue collection in Anambra state and served as the governor’s Senior Special Assistant on IGR.
TAnambra and Abia state share a lot of similarities in terms of commercial and industrial activities, making the two states economic hubs of significant status. Aba in Abia state and Onitsha in Anambra state, have reputations as the two most prominent commercial centres in the Southeast where one can literally get ‘anything’. Aba is home to several prominent markets, and so also is Onitsha. Both cities share vices and exploits in near equal proportions. In Essence, Abia state and Anambra state have commerce and industry, as their comparative advantage.
For a few days now, there has been some form of outburst against Governor Soludo, for according to those outraged, his failure to do what Governor Otti has now done in Abia in the area of revenue collection. Within the week, Governor Alex Otti announced automation of all revenue payable to the state, so that the state will not only collect revenue electronically but also will eliminate the need for touts or “agboros,” who have been the middlemen in the collection of taxes, albeit notorious. The infamy of touts collecting revenue for the government is so remarkable that they largely constitute a nuisance around all commercial cities in Nigeria. In Lagos, agboro is a major source of concern for many residents. This experience is much the same in Anambra and Abia, among other places. Agboros are highhanded, lousy, abusive, and violent, as a result of which they injure or even kill in the process of tax collection. Only last month, a notorious agboro who operated in Onitsha was sentenced to death, for killing a man while trying to collect tax. It is to this end that people are agitated by agboro; the sight or mention, and their role in tax collection. Thus, Governor Otti’s move has been well received by many, but that is not all.
In Anambra state, reforms on the method of tax collection in the informal sector were started by Governor Obiano. Then, the government barred its revenue contractors from collecting taxes along the road, because of many reported cases of accidents in direct consequence, among others. However, Governor Soludo intended to take the reforms to an all-new level. Upon assumption of office a little more than a year ago, Governor Soludo started by declaring a war against agboros across Anambra state. Thereafter, the governor revoked all revenue contracts in place, insisting that the government must be able to get into its coffers all amounts due in the form of taxes, and levies among others, directly from payers. Governor Soludo then brought in a seasoned senior banker to head the Anambra State Board of Internal Revenue Service and lead the reforms. The banker has now resigned from his position; apparently, he just could not cope. The most intriguing part is that Mr. Isaac Chimeremeze who is now associated with this digitization in Abia state, is also the person who worked towards Governor Soludo’s digitization of revenue collection in Anambra state and served as the governor’s Senior Special Assistant on IGR.
During one of those raging debates over the payment model for keke and bus drivers in Anambra state, I had an interesting outing on the radio with Isaac, in which he tried to defend the Anambra government’s position of automation, while I pointed clearly to him that automation for all government revenue in the informal sector would not work, because of so many structural limitations. Yet, Soludo’s government went on with the revenue collection automation policy for nearly one year and was almost unable to generate any revenue from the informal sector. Automation would mean that payers who ordinarily even when they paid cash, would do anything to maneuver dreaded agboro. It is doubtful that even at gunpoint, they would pay their taxes. Not to mention going to the bank, designated pay points, etc, to pay taxes. Again, many of the payers like truck drivers, among others, do not have bank accounts or any form of payment aside from cash. Most importantly, the payers would rather not pay, no matter the incentive.
After long months of struggle and working around to see how the government would maintain its early stance against agboro in Anambra state for good, Governor Soludo eventually bowed to reality and abandoned his administration’s original plan for full automation of all government revenue. This challenge with revenue collection was Governor Soludo’s acid test. He held on to his original idea of automation notwithstanding, but the reality was different, the automation could not work, the state was losing money, he has a tenure of office, time is going and the expectation on his government remained high. In the end, after nearly one year of not being able to implement the automation policy, the ideal gave way to the real.
It is therefore funny or even entertaining, to read people hailing Governor Alex Otti for the automation policy in Abia, but scorning Governor Soludo for not doing the same thing Otti did. Actually, Otti should learn from Governor Soludo and adjust to the real demands so that he doesn’t suffer a serious loss of revenue while wasting so much time on a good idea that just would not work here, yet.
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