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We are inspired by Oshiomhole's I-can-do-it-spirit on transformational governance


Oseni Elamah, a Benin Chief, Chairman, Edo State Board of Internal Revenue, has revolutionized the board for effective revenue mobilization that even exceeds the N1.5 billion annual target of the state government.  In this interview with JULIUS OSAHON in Benin

City, Elama speaks on the recent protest by Plank sellers union of multiple taxation, the new revolution currently going on in the board, among others.


RECENTLY, the plank/wood sellers in Edo State protested at the Edo State House of Assembly, Government House and the streets of Benin over what cases of multiple taxation, what is your reaction to this?
Well, this is democracy and people are free to seek clarification on any issue they think the need arises. They are free to go to the various arms of government to do so. It is part of democracy and we are in democratic dispensation. If we are talking on the issue of revenue, it is an issue that must be taken more seriously. I recalled that this same people embarked on this same protest to our office, I brought them in here and addressed them. We scheduled a meeting of all stakeholders and we had a meeting in this very auditorium where certain decisions and positions were taken. The first position was that nobody can claim to collect revenue on behalf of government if such person is not designated or authorized; that in Edo State, the revenue administration system provides for a cashless revenue collection which means that if you are to pay any form of levy or tax, is either you pay through the banks or pay by using your ATM, using our POS machines administered by a staff of the revenue board. But we have also come to understand that some of these grievances and allegations are not correct because we have asked that when somebody demands money from them they should ask for the person's identity and refuse to pay if they are not clear. First, no government official is authorized cash from anybody and if the person insists on collecting cash, it should be clear that such person is acting on his own and you should refuse to pay. Secondly, the collections on any levy or tax or fee is not an oral issue, it has to be on a written government prescribed and authorized document asking you to pay certain amount. These documents if you take them, you will see the bank they ask you to pay. If you see that those documents are no appropriate, you can take them to the office of the board for clarification. And lastly, we said for the avoidance of all the allegations even regarding identity, that for any person who pays his or her tax or levy in Edo State, the law requires that such person must have a Tax Identification Number (TIN) card. We encouraged the unions and the associations and their leadership to bring the names of their members and their passport photograph so that we can capture their names on these cards so that wherever they are in Nigeria, nobody will demand tax from them if they present that card.  So, the issue of multiple taxation will not arise.
The so-called multiple taxation, at times, is levy that has nothing to do with taxation whatsoever. Tax is a compulsory levy for every eligible adult that earns an income which requires him to pay certain amount on the income he earns.  If you now operate a business which requires you to pay a certain amount to get certain permit, of course, you pay them. That is an indirect tax and it's not everybody that pays that, it is not also compulsory you pay them.
We also find out that some of these people who are making these allegations are people who are into illegal activities in our forest; some of them are felling our trees and causing deforestation in our environment. The association you talk about, the Plank sellers association; which means they are not the ones who go into the forest but they have an operational address.  We have told them to tell us where you operate so we can know those who work for them and also for the purpose of tax, we can record you properly and nobody can see you on the road and molest you. I need them to provide me evidence that somebody has come to collect money from them on behalf of government.
To even make it easy for our people in the rural areas, we are collaborating with an IT solution firms to provide revenue payment cards. These cards are like recharge cards and are in denominations of N1000, N2000, N3,000 and so on. You scratched it and the POS machine takes in the numbers just like you use your phone recharge cards and the POS will immediately give you a receipt.
Are you nit aware the protesters complained that they ought to be protected by government from persons who molest them on daily basis for tax collection and revenue generation?
The first responsibility of the state is to ensure the safety and welfare of its citizenry. Government is mandated to protect all its citizens, whether he or she pays his taxes or not. So, I don't know if these protesters have been segmented from all other citizens so that the Police cannot protect them from those who are robbing them whether with pen or with gun.  That is a frivolous thing to say that government is not protecting them enough.
The Nigeria Police are in charge of security in the Nigerian state and they don't ask for tax clearance when you go to report at the police stations. So, people should report to the Police the moment they are molested.
What is the status of Akugbe ventures which still collects levies and taxes from taxi, buses and other vehicles in the state?
Akugbe ventures are helping the board to collect personal income tax from drivers and road transport workers in the various motor parks.
Does that extend to the highways too?
No, Akugbe venture is not on the highway. If you see them, accost them and let the authority know about this. Some of them turn every available place they find into a park and I don't know what you mean by the highway because Akugbe Ventures cannot go to the highway and stop a vehicle.
How many defaulters can you say the board has prosecuted so far?
We have taken a lot of persons to court. I don't have the statistics to give you because it not that we want to celebrate those that are found wanting. Recently, the state Chief Judge approved for us to have a mobile court which means we can sit anywhere the default is committed. In the last one month, we have had about eight cases involving not less than five persons and they have been taken to prisons and some are on bail. Just last week we apprehended some persons that were collecting money for business premises registration. They said they were staffs of the Ministry of Commerce; they have been taken to the Police where they will eventually be charged to court. This is where the media should help us so that people should be aware. I have said it often that people should not pay cash or collect cash and this people protesting say they pay cash. You should ask them why they paid cash when they have been told not to do so. We have given options; if you want to pay tax, you walk into our offices and get your tax identification number because if you have your identification number, Akugbe venture, will not in any way approach you to pay them tax. What Akugbe venture does is to collect taxes from those that have been unwilling to comply with the law; they want to evade taxes all the time. The saving grace is that Akugbe venture is perhaps aiding them because they do not bring them for us to charge them to court. It is criminal to evade tax. Anybody that earns an income and is eligible to pay, all he has to do is to walk into our office in the state, register yourself and you will be issued with a Tax Identification Number (PIN). With this card we can track you and track your income and be able to tell you what to pay. This tax is paid through all the IGR banks; all the branches of all the banks that are in Edo State are collecting for Edo IGR. All you need do is to bring the tellers to any of our offices and we will confirm and issue you with receipt. If you feel you can't go to the bank, approach any of staff that has Point of Sale machine, pay with your ATM and receipt will given to you immediately. As for the commercial vehicles workers, we tried to encourage them to come but they will tell you they don't work every day and failure to do that, we have no other option than to tell Akugbe Ventures to collect these taxes at the various motor parks and issue receipts.
How did you achieve the transformation of the board and the increase in internal revenue generation within the short time?
If there is any magic, it is the Oshiomhole magic; Oshiosunamia. What that means is that if there is a will, there is a way. What we done here is just to translate those declaration that Comrade Adams Oshiomhole made when he first took the mantle of leadership in the state. Having been given the mandate by the people, he pleaded with the people to support the administration by paying their taxes. By paying their taxes, he said he will embark on reforms that will ensure the welfare and benefit of all the people are well taken care of. He said it is possible and that Edo State can work again.
He made those changes and built capacity, this is what we have done here by building the internal capacity for the revenue administration system to be able to support the Comrade Governor in executing those laudable projects. So, what we done here is to just clean up the system, let it be transparent, demonstrate integrity and honesty, be accountable and show value for tax payers money. What we spent here has value. When we spend one naira, we will get a hundred naira value.  What we spent renovating here to this standard is from our own meager savings from our overhead cost over time. So, it was not much for us to clean up our environment, it is the same structure, the same building, what changes here is just the transformation. So, it is that Oshiomhole 'I-can-do-it-spirit' that has led to these transformations, we are inspired by that spirit.
The Oshiomhole spirit still transformed the staff?
If you provide the enabling environment for people then you can get the best from them. Edo State has one of the best public services in Nigeria. The public servants in Edo State are well trained, committed, dedicated; they just need the right leadership and the right environment for them to excel. These are the same people, we have not employed any other person here and these are those who work here when Edo State could barely generate up to N280 million a month but today we generate a minimum of N1.5 billion monthly and we want to go higher.

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