Abuja, Nov. 6, 2023: Taxation stimulates economic activities and growth, but the modality for its collection must not be exploitative, shrouded in secrecy and felonious act of extorting money.
These flaws were the bane of the British colonial taxation policy introduced in 1904 in both the Northern and Southern protectorates which engendered unlimited exploitation and expropriation
In those days of yore, the fear of the local tax collectors was the beginning of wisdom. They subjected many tax payers into untold torture and humiliation until the system was resented by the people through string of protests and agitations.
It is however, unfortunate, that in this 21st century and with many statutes guiding the civilised methods of tax collection, Nigerians are back to those bygone days, by the activities of the so called local government tax collectors on our highways.
In their notoriety, they mount roadblocks at bad spots on the federal and state roads to demand for local government registration documents and stickers such as hackney permit, meant for vehicles registered for the purpose of haulage of people or goods.
Their major targets for exploitation, however, are Inter-states travellers that are using private space buses such as Sienna, conveying their family members, friends or relations.
In a survey, some victims of these revenue agents recounted their ordeals, while stakeholders including tax experts, lawyers and. transporters have called for immediate recall of the elements from the roads.
Mr Ephraim Okechukwu, an indigene of Nnewi in Anambra recounted how local government revenue collectors embarrassed and harassed him and his family on the highway along Kogi and Edo states when they travelled home.
Okechukwu said all efforts to explain to the tax collectors that the Toyota Sienna bus he was driving, was a private car and the occupants were his immediate family members, proved abortive.
“Recently, when I was traveling with my family, I had to pay about N25,000 that I never budgeted for, somewhere in Edo state and no receipt was issued to me.
“This happened after we had spent up to one hour pleading with them that our journey was still far”, he said.
He appealed to the three tiers of government to harmonise taxation on motorists in order to end multiple taxation and extortion by the tax collectors engaged by the local government councils.
In Ekiti state, some owners and drivers of private buses and pickup vehicles also raised concerns on the excesses of the revenue collectors who mount road blocks on major highways, particularly at the entry or exit border to another state.
They narrated how these agents set on the road, iron rods with spikes welded on them, which they used in threatening to deflate the tyres of motorists.
Such activities, according to them, create obstacles to the free movements of passengers, goods and services.
A Toyota Sienna user, Mr Ojo Samuel said: ” In fact, I have been thinking of selling my Sienna space bus because of the embarrassment I face, each time I travel.
” I bought the car for the convenience of my family, due to its spacious capacity ” he lamented.
A legal practitioner, Mr Dele Ogundare, who narrated his ordeal while returning from a trip to Ado-Ekiti, said that officials of an undisclosed local government council embarrassed him.
“ These people barricaded the road with iron stinger spikes asking for different documents from me, and only allowed me to go when they discovered I am a lawyer.“
Another legal practitioner, Martin Atojoko, who was a victim of the revenue agents said they sometimes act as informants to kidnappers, armed robbers and other criminal elements operating on the highways
“From my personal experience and testimonies of others, these tax officials serve as informants to armed robbers and kidnappers.
“Since they arrogate the authority to stop moving commercial and private vehicles on the highways, they observe the occupants of vehicles and send information to armed robbers and kidnappers, who act thereafter.
‘Therefore, it is very important for various States Revenue Services or Boards to device a modern and acceptable ways of collecting revenues rather than this archaic and criminal method.
“Also, punitive measures should be taken against those officials, who turned themselves into criminal elements and causing untold hardships for motorists and passengers,” he said.
Another Sienna bus driver, Umih James, said the revenue agents in Lokoja, Kogi state, deflated his tyres, broke his side mirrors and windshield during an encounter with them.
Narrating the unpleasant experience, James said he was travelling from Abuja to Lagos when he was flagged down by the revenue agents in mufti along Lokoja to Obajana highway.
“I am aware of their notorious extortion on the axis which made me to manoeuver the vehicle to escape from them.
“One of them set nails spiked rod on my tyres, two of which bursted instantly while another one broke my windshield with a stick.
“When I managed to stop the vehicle and confronted them, they lied that I attempted to run over them while doing their legitimate work.
“I was surprised when the police men also on patrol, close to their road block corroborated their claims and blamed me for the damage done to my vehicle,” he said.
James called for immediate government intervention to stop the harassment, intimidation and extortion on the highways across the country.
Another victim said some of revenue collectors operate even through the night, imposing unnecessary levies and fines on motorists.
“These tax officials know that some of us are from different states, and so they take undue advantage of us to extort money from us.
“With the current economic hardship especially the hike in petrol price, yet, some touts operating in the name of local government officials are extorting us on the road.
“We need government intervention through correct legislation that will be well implemented to stop all these terrible situations on our highways,” he said.
Speaking on the legality of this, a lawyer based in Ile-Ife, Osun state, Mr Olalekan Babatunde, said, although each tier of government has constitutional rights to generate revenue for development, but this should not lead to the violation of peoples’ rights.
“Section 2 of Taxes and Levy Act 1998, makes it an offence for anybody to mount road block.
“No person, including a tax authority, has the right to block any part of the road for the purpose of collecting taxes or levies.
“If anyone contravenes Section 2 of this Act, he or she is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine of N50,000 or three years imprisonment or to both.” he said.
Babatunde said that the section of the law also cautioned against harassment of drivers and travellers by any local government staff, officers or its agents.
“By extension, anytime a state impose any restriction in respect of sanitation, the restriction should not affect those travelling on federal roads,” he said.
When NAN contacted some of the local government councils involved in the alleged extortion, their officials denied knowledge of it.
Mr Michael Ogungbemi, the Chairman of Ajoni Local Council Development Area (LCDA), in Ekiti state absolved his revenue officers from collecting illegal fees from private car owners on the highways
According to him, it is not the duty of the LCDA to levy private car owners any fees, describing the practice as illegal.
A senior officer in Akure South Local Government Council who did not want his name published, said no revenue officer engaged in such practice of harassing private vehicle owners in the state..
“We don’t have such taxation for private vehicles here. Even our hackney permit is reserved for commercial vehicles, not private.
“Any officer or member of staff of the local government that engages in such is only doing so for his personal gain and will be severely dealt with, if caught,” the officer said
According to the officer, any private vehicle owner who have fallen victim to such or experience such in future should report the incident at the nearest local government office.
On his part, Mr Abdullahi Mohammed, the Bauchi State Chairman, Road Transport Employers Association (RTEAN) said the state and the local government councils have no such law of collecting tax from motorists on the highway
He said the only tax being collected by the local government is the levy paid by commercial vehicles after loading commuters and exiting parks.
The Niger State Motor Vehicle Administration Agency (NSMVAA), however said that it is mandatory for commercial buses and pick-up vans to obtain hackney and mobile advert permits annually.
Mrs Florence Shaji, Public Relations Officer (PRO) of NSMVAA told NAN that the permits helped in strengthening safe motoring environment and earning revenue for the government.
Shaji said that private vehicles that were hired for commercial purposes such as cars and buses are also expected to obtain the permits.
The image maker for the agency said that the price of hackney permit for commercial vehicles range from N2,500 to N3,800, depending on the vehicle and engine capacity.
According to her, mobile advert revenue is among the list of revenues to be collected by local government councils across the country,
She said the revenue collection is backed by Decree 21, Laws of the Federation under the Fourth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
With the convergent of harrowing experiences of motorists on the highways by local government revenue agents and views by experts and stakeholders, there is the urgent need for government at all level to address this ugly trend.
There is also the need for the harmonisation of taxes and levies across the three tiers of government to avoid double taxation and unlawful methods of collecting revenues.