In 2002 or thereabout, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) government of Lucky Igbinedion had serious financial crunch. It was having serious problems paying workers’ salary. It needed a quick fix or face a disgraceful exit after just one term. Not to worry, the administration had ‘geniuses’ who thought nothing wrong in deceiving the workers into accepting a deal that was designed to make them lose the benefits they stood to gain having put the best part of their lives in the service of their state. How, one may ask?
Desperate to sort itself out, the administration sent a bill to the state assembly to reduce the number of service years fro civil servants from 36 to 30 years. The aim, wrongly assumed, was to cut obligatory wage bill. Parry Irease, then Deputy Speaker and Leader of the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), sensing shortsightedness on the part of the administration’s hawks in the house, responded by reminding them that what they proposed amounted to being “penny wise, pound foolish”. None saw his point. The answer they gave to his words of caution was “Oh, really”?
What they did not tell the house is that desperate to drastically reduce or cut its monthly wage bill, the administration had no intention of actually paying either gratuities or pension to the 2000 or so workers affected. Indeed, it never paid any, compelling the Adams Oshiomhole government to inherit a backlog of pension and gratuities arrears stretching back to Igbinedion’s first term. The pension backlog, now reduced to a few months, thanks to the ability of the current administration to properly manage the state’s lean resources, has become a propaganda tool being use by the same individuals and groups – chief among them Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu who engineered the deceit – against the Oshiomhole administration. On the card is that if the Oshiomhole government is unable to clear the entire pension claims, the APC flagbearer in the September 10 elections, Godwin Obaseki, who was also the head of the administration’s Economy and Strategy Team, is also culpable, even as they refused accepting the culpability of Ize-Iyamu in Igbinedion’s eight years of unbridled heist against the state and it’s people.
But the pension and gratuities fraud is not the only deceitful campaign thrust of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Tax is another. From Edo central, through south to the north, the party has taken up the task to once again, play on the people’s intelligence, by promising that on assumption of office (assuming they win), Ize-Iyamu, its candidate, will wipe away what it regards as the current administration’s tax burden on the people. In the main, Iyamu is telling the Edo electorate that beyond wiping all their tears away, (how he plans to do so he has failed to explain) he will stop collecting taxes. Gullibly, his supporters are in cloud nine hoping that his words, backed by his politically designed pulpit visage, is a surety for trust. How wrong can they be!
It is no longer news that there is not enough allocation from Abuja to sustain states in terms of meeting monthly statutory obligations. The result is that they must look inwards for survival. One sure way out is to mop up all legitimately taxable alternatives. Unfortunately, most of the states’ minders have been dilly-dallying mainly from their inability to differentiate between the absurdity of political expedience and inherent development potential in no-sentiments but effective IGR drive. The outcome is that, today, at least 27 of the 36 federating units that opted to stick with the former consideration are insolvent due largely to the fact that they refused to accept the wisdom of shoring up their state’s IGR base. The few that saw the open window and took up the gauntlet, including Edo State under the leadership of Oshiomhole – ably guided by Obaseki – are being praised by seasoned economic minders at home and abroad.
In his desperate attempt to grab power, what Ize-Iyamu fails to see now – just as he never saw while advising Igninedion to embark on the deceitful retirement and service age – is that tax is a legitimate revenue base backed by relevant federal statutes, particularly the Personal Income Tax, better known as PITA, as amended and signed into law. The thrust of the scheme is that anyone and everyone is obliged to pay taxes, as long as he or she is into revenue-making venture. Ize-Iyamu of all persons should be aware of this fact but – being the deceitful politician that he is – has refused to admit it knowing fully well that doing so will result to his ignominious dismissal by the people.
The bottom line is that playing politics with tax issues, as Ize-Iyamu and the PDP are doing with their promise to tamper with it, is not only an illegitimate claim; it is also practically impossible, except as he advised the Igbinedion administration in 2002 he is out once more to short-change the people of the Edo State. The reason is not too difficult to seek.
As indicated earlier, taxes form over 90 per cent of the IGR in Edo State. In the face of current economic throes occasioned by the crash of crude oil revenue, no state needs to think twice before taking one of the most viable survival alternatives by looking inwards in order to mop up all loose ends financially. Doing so involves collecting all legitimate taxes, including those of transport operators, which Ize-Iyamu dubiousy holds against the Oshiomhole administration with a promise to tamper with same. Clearly, tampering with it as he promised to do means reverting to the 2002 option of intentionally refusing to pay pension, gratuities or even salaries, assuming he is voted in. His excuse for not doing so is already designed-accuse the Oshiomhole administration of leaving nothing in the treasury. In the main, he will not only retrench civil servants in droves, he will also not be in any position to employ anyone as there will not be funds to pay those in service. It is as clear as the sound of a whistle!
The other alternative may be difficult but, assuredly, it will not be long before the impact becomes visibly cheering. Evidently, the Oshiomhole administration’s prudent deployment of taxes it collected in bringing about real infrastructural development across the 18 local government areas in the state is acclaimed at both national and international levels – so much so that other states in the country have had to send official delegation to understudy Edo State and its impressive IGR drive.
Rather than commend the resourcefulness of the current administration (or simply keep quiet if he is so blind that he cannot see), Ize-Iyamu chose to turn facts on its head for political expedience. This is not unexpected altogether because it is biblically established that a prophet is without honour, even in his place. It is just that a pastor who ought to have details of biblical facts chose to project unholy inanities. Rest assured, the people of Edo State are no fools as the facts speak for themselves…and they are not about to be taken for a ride by a political jobber a second time. After all “once beaten, twice shy”, a popular adage says.
Ernest Omoarelojie, a public affairs analyst, writes from Benin.