Wednesday, February 15, 2017 8:04 am
Richard Elesho/ Lokoja
On Friday, 27th Jan. Lokoja, the Kogi State capital wore a radiant mood. The major road in the city, IBB way experienced heavy traffic. In fact at the popular Post Office Bus Stop, movement came to a standstill. Directly adjacent the Post Office, the Sultan of Sokoto.His Eminence, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, accompanied by a motley crowd led by the State Governor Alh. Yahaya Bello commissioned Kogi Revenue House, a four story office edifice owned by the Kogi State Internal Revenue Service, kGSIRS. All through the night on that day, a jubilant band of young persons made fireworks and pyrotechnics on top of the long neglected tourist hob, Mount Patti in frenzy celebration of the first anniversary of Bello’s government.
Aside other last minute efforts to white wash and hoodwink the people about a working government, the Revenue House is without doubts, Bello’s loudest statement about the economic direction of the state under his watch. Other efforts made to shore up the revenue base of the state include injecting 450 fresh hands and equipment to the KGSIRS, making the body autonomous and the recruitment of more than One hundred young persons as Forest Guards
A clearly elated Bello told the crowd the wisdom of investing in the Revenue service. He disclosed that his government has been able to raise Its Internally Generated Revenue, IGR to over a Billion Naira monthly. Given its 3.3 milliom people (by 2006 census) and it’s total land mass of 30,354.74 square kilometres, it may not look like an impressive record.
But in an uphill state like Kogi, that is no mean achievement. Before Bello came to power, revenue generation was at best sickly. Under the immediate past administration headed by the aviator, Capt. Idris Wada, IGR, hovered between N400- 600m monthly. But, with the new high in revenue generation also came allegations of high handedness and over taxation against the government.
Not a few persons have complained that the new tax regime is insensitive to the condition of infrastructure and humanitarian services in the state. Mrs. Molomo Igunu, a widow and trader along Lokongoma Rd. complained that the bill of N25,000 annually hung on her shop is unrealistic and Caesarean. “Look at my shop and the volume of goods I have for sale. Where do they expect me to get this type of money to pay as tax?” Also, the manager of a Mission hospital which was asked to pay a whopping N12m tax arrears bemoaned the situation. He wondered where they expect a humanitarian and service centered mission hospital to get that type of money. “Our mission is more of service than profit making. We are barely able to meet our obligations to our patients through support from philanthropic groups and individuals. The current tax drive of the government May just send us out of operations.”
Yusuf Oseni, Chairman of the State Revenue Service, thinks differently. He told this magazine that his mission was not to punish anybody or send people out of business. He said his vision was to raise the Revenue profile of the state and make it compete favourably with the best states in the country. “We are blessed in this state. What does States like Lagos, Kano or Ogun have that Kogi does not possess? Rather we are more blessed than them. I believe with the right focus and given our comparative advantage in solid mineral deposits, we can surely compete with these states.”
It’s certainly too early in the day to determine the success rate of the administration in revamping the economy of the Conflunce State. However, keen observers of events in the state point to the neglect of other critical sub-sectors of the economy. For instance, with its annual rainfall of between 40mm to 80mm there is a growing fear that agriculture which used to be the main stay of the economy is being given a back stage treatment. The administration prides itself as a government of the youths. Rather than create parliatives that will make farming attractive, the it seems busy encouraging them to seek white collar jobs.
In a related developmet, the State has huge mineral deposits. They include coal, iron ore, limestone, marble, dolomite, feldspar, Kaplan, gold, mica, tantalite, cassiterite, columbite and ornamental stones all in commercial quantities. But, not much is being done to convert the deposits to economic growth.
Kogi is also second to none in term of its tourism potentials. As the first capital of colonial Nigeria, it harbors fascinating sites and history. They include first primary school and bank in Northern Nigeria, European cemetery, Iron of liberty, Lugard Rest House and Paparanda Square. Other natural attractions are the point where Africa’s large water bodies the Rivers Niger and Benue meet and Mount Patti. They are just lying untapped. Analysts posit that if properly harnessed, the State could use tourism to reposition its economy.
But by far the most lethal weapon the Bello administration has deployed against the economy is the unending screening and staff verification exercise it embarked on immediately it came on board. The exercise has seen ridiculous take over of functions of the LG by an overzealous state aparachit. There has been a blatant arrogation and flagrant display of executive lawlessness to a depth never before witnessed in the nearly three decades old state. Both state and council funds are simply in the governor’s pocket. The monthly Joint Allocation Committee, JAC meetings where officials of the state and Local Governments deliberate on funds accruing to the third tier of government, no longer hold. When allocations arrive from Abuja, the governor spares whatever he considers fit for salaries and up keep at the local governments and pockets the balance. So, both state and Local Government accounts are lumped without any borders.
What is worse is the number of persons who have been categorized as uncleared in the exercise. About a third of the workers and pensioners have been left unpaid for more than a year. According to figures released by Madam Petra Akinti, Chief Press Secretary to Bello, the screening committee has cleared 43,522 workers out of a total 76,275 that appeared before it. Uncleared workers as at December 1, therefore stood at 32,753 across the state. The effect of this is a large army of hungry people living below poverty line in the state.
Will the Bello wand truly pull this economy out of the woods? Only time will tell.