By Zik Gbemre

With regards to reports that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa recently inaugurated the new Delta State Board of Internal Revenue (DBIR), lamenting that too many affluent people in the state evade tax payment, thereby denying the government of vital source of funds for various development programmes, and has charged members of the new board to step up their activities with effective reforms in order to meet set targets, which the DBIR had been unable to do during his first tenure; I would also want to give my opinion on this subject matter.

It is true that the payment of tax is a necessary task to generate revenues for the Government to run any modern society in the world. Without tax payments, governments will not have the resources to run their State, which includes paying workers, pensioners, construct roads and provide all other necessary basic amenities for its citizenry. In other words, the importance of tax payments by the citizens to the Government cannot be overemphasized. But in the case of Delta State, as well as other parts of Nigeria, the tax money is never really accounted for by the politicians in power. Rather, they use the tax money to pay idle politicians. It is not to demand that citizens, whether rich or poor need to pay their taxes, the question is, what have the Delta State Government been doing with all the tax revenues generated since he came into Office? If the Delta State Government under Okowa was asked to account for every kobo of the internally generated revenue since he came into Office, will they be able to give that account with all sincerity?

Is the Delta State Governor not ashamed that all the major roads and city streets across the State are currently unmotorable and in different categories of deplorable status? This again justifies the fact that tax money is not used for the purpose it is meant for in the State. Delta State Pensioners are without their gratuities after four years of retirement, and yet politicians in this administration who sit idle doing practically nothing to add value to the State, are paid well and regularly. Imagine the oil city of Warri is still without a standard airport. The Osubi Airstrip near Warri has remained an airstrip since it came into existence.

So, when the Government of the day has not demonstrated accountability, stewardship and servanthood in how it has been spending public funds of externally and internally generated revenues, what moral right has that Government has to come out recently and be demanding for more drive towards the payment of tax? How does the Delta State Government expect Deltans and Nigerians in the State to readily and willingly pay their taxes without being asked/cajoled to do so, when it has not been able to account for, and justify what is has used previous revenues accruing to the State to do? It is an abuse of political power to, in any format, try to cajole or force tax from people, when the State Government itself does not use same to provide basic services and amenities for the public? They will only tar a road if there is a politician that lives in that area.

I think Governor Okowa should sometimes listen to himself when he speaks, and ascertain if revenue drive is necessary in Delta State? A State where taxpayers money is used carelessly to pay politicians. Apparently, Delta State people may not be that interested to pay taxes, which they know are for politicians who use the same money as if they are using their personal money. They spend the tax money the way they like. No accountability at all. No conscience, or empathy towards the general public when it comes to the way they recklessly spend taxpayers’ money. It is a shame on the Delta State Government for not using all the tax monies form the State since it came in, for the purpose it was paid in the first instance.

Nobody would like to throw their hard-earned money into the ocean. Okowa should think of how to invest on infrastructure development across the State, and not hampering on a drive for the collection of tax money from people, which we all know they would easily divert to compensate politicians who are idle. In developed societies of Europe and America where tax revenue is very much accounted for and used for the purpose intended, it is a big offence to evade tax in these developed countries. And this is so because tax money is used to provide all the good things most of our politicians go over there to enjoy. For instance, there is no city in the US or UK that does not have a standard airport. Good roads are available everywhere.
Even their electricity supply does not go off for a second, and the streets lights are well lit. Shopping centres are available everywhere. Trains and underground tubes are there to ease their inter-city and inter-state transportation network. Public buses are there too. All their citizens, including the common man, have access to good medical facilities. Welfare packages are there for the needy. One does not need to be connected to politicians in power before the common masses can have access to these basic things. Well-built facilities required are there to cater for the needs of the needy and helpless. Public homes are available for the aged ones.

With all of this, it therefore becomes a crime in these developed countries if you do not pay taxes. It becomes a crime if politicians misuse/misappropriate public money. But here in Delta State, it is different story entirely. You cannot force people to pay tax. Yes, the law says “PAY YOUR TAX”, but the law does not say pay tax for politicians to use in paying their idle aides and misappropriate. No sane person would like to pay tax that are not used to address public needs that affect their lives and wellbeing. Will Okowa only ask his Owa kingdom/clan kinsmen to pay tax to the Government because that is the only place in the entire State that he has done their roads well? Perhaps, Okowa should direct the new tax board members to do the renewed tax drive in Okowa’s Owa kingdom/clan in Ika-North East Local Government Area of the State. The Delta State Government under Okowa cannot be coercing people to pay high taxes, yet he does not give accountability and justification for such revenue drive – this is meaningless.

Okowa cannot be collecting tax revenues that he does not care to use for the public. Now Okowa is accusing the people for not paying tax to the State.
The question is, how much has Okowa paid as tax between when Delta State was created before he supposedly emerged as the Governor of the State? He should check his tax history records and find out what he paid as his personal income tax all these while.