There is palpable tension in Kuje town, in Kuje Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), following the recent hike in taxation imposed on residents, especially traders and shop owners by the council authorities.
Council chairman, Mr. Abdullahi Galadima, in an apparent bid to boost the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the council increased levies/fees by over 1000 per cent, which traders argue is huge burden on them to bear. To press home their displeasure, hundreds of traders and shop owners last Friday took to the streets, chanting war songs and displaying placards with different inscriptions, urging the government to lessen their heavy yoke.
Over 200 traders were said to have been dragged to the FCT Magistrate Court by the council for allegedly failing to pay the new fees amounting to N34,000 each.
Daily Sun gathered that before this period, a shop owner paid between N2,000 and N5,000 yearly, covering permit and advert, for those who had sign posts. Shop owners in Kuje Market by the new revenue regime are said to have been billed about N40,000 each.
Trouble started when revenue officers from the council allegedly informed traders and shop owners that the fees had been increased. While the traders pondered over the issue, pressing for negotiation with the council chairman, it was followed with a demand notice issued on behalf of the council by its counsel, Kalu Kalu.
A copy of the demand notice obtained listed the fees to cover: sanitation, outdoor advertisement, operational permits, corporate parking and radio/television license. Others are liquor license, pest control fees and handling fees, amounting to N39,0000 against N2,000 and N2,500 they used to pay.
Investigation revealed that attempts by the traders and shop owners to stage a protest on receiving the demand notice, did not receive the blessing of the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of Kuje, who had prevailed upon them to seek audience with the council chairman.
However, various entreaties indicated that the council was not disposed to shifting ground because this component of the IGR had allegedly been contracted to an influential individual. Not a few believe that the contract may have been given out as political settlement. It was this undisclosed financier who reportedly insisted that the new revenue fees must prevail.
The situation, sources said, was aggravated by the indiscriminate lawsuits slammed on traders and shop owners. In the civil summons issued to one of the them, the council (plaintiff) claimed that the defendant willfully refused to comply with a demand notice to pay the following: “Sanitation fee-N24,000; Operational Permits-N5,000 and Pest Control Fees-N5,000.”
It asked the court to cause the defendant to pay N34,000 being revenue owed the plaintiff, give an order sealing off the premises of the defendant pending the payment of its indebtedness and to award cost of N200,000 against the defendant.
It was not clear the direction the case would go; but the Magistrate adjourned the matter to November 17.
Galadima had told the protesting traders when they marched to his residence, opposite the Prisons’ Road, that he did not ask anybody to charge them to court, stressing that the issue would be resolved amicably.
The protesters, who had taken off from the Kuje Divisional Police Headquarters, on Gwagwalada Road, eventually stormed the Palace of the Como of Kuje to register their grievances, but unfortunately, the traditional ruler was not around.
Acting chairman of Kuje Traders/Shop Owners’ Association, Chief Uche Nwokedi, after a meeting with his executives Saturday, said they were determined to press for their right. He said the immediate past administration in the council had earlier in the year collected the annual levies/fees, argued that the action of the current administration amounted to multiple taxation.
He explained that the traders were open to dialogue but would continue to cry out instead of keeping mute while groaning under the heavy yoke of an All Progressives Congress (APC) government they voted for. The traders insisted that this is not a time to compound their woes; given that majority of them were almost idle because of the harsh economic situation in the country.
A trader at Kuje Market, Mr. Agu Aldophus, said forcing them to pay revenue two times in a year was a worrisome issue: “We paid revenue from the beginning of this year under the former chairman, between N2,000 and N2,500 but suddenly the new council administration is insisting that traders should pay N39,000 as revenue in the same year.
“Paying this amount is of no help to us in the market, because the amount is too high; even the initial arrangement that they will provide facilities at the market; has not yielded any result.”
With the insistence of the traders that they would not pay the new fees, coupled with indications that the council might stick to its gun, a major showdown seems imminent. Time would no doubt show who blinks first.