By Douglas Okoro
Abakaliki – Traders in the Abakpa Main Market in Abakaliki have debunked the claim by officials of the Ebonyi government that tax evasion was the reason for moving in to enforce compliance with revenue payment on them.
They dismissed the claim at a news conference in Abakaliki on Friday and urged Gov. Dave Umahi of Ebonyi to quickly intervene to resolve the impasse.
Chief Pius Mbam, who spoke on behalf of the traders, said that they are law-abiding and always pay their taxes and all other government approved revenues promptly.
“We don’t have problem with government over tax payment or paying of any approved revenue in the market.
“Traders in the market are law abiding, responsible and peaceful citizens who pay their taxes to government regularly.
“We pay our N14,000 monthly business premises levy and stallage fees to the Ebonyi Local Government Council.
“At no point has Ebonyi government, its agents or privy has approached traders at the market through their leaders or individually over tax evasion or revenue default.
“It is strange to us to hear that traders who are peaceful and law-abiding attacked Ebonyi revenue collectors who came to enforce revenue payment compliance and to sanction those who refused to pay their taxes and N14,000 business premises levy.
“We are using this medium to inform the world that at no time did traders at the Abakpa Main Market, Abakaliki defaulted in payment of taxes or payment of any approved revenue,” Mbam said.
He listed alleged imposition of care-taker government on the traders, issuance of quit notice and revocation of lease-hold notice on shop owners which traders at the market agitated against among the reasons for the action of some suspected thugs.
“The government of Chief Christopher Eze who was duly elected by the traders was still running when state government suddenly suspended him without cause and in contravention of our constitution.
“The deposed chairman has only spent one year and some months in his tenure when government removed him from office.
“Mr Peter Oba, who is not a shop owner or trader in the market was brought in and imposed on the traders.
“Again state government asked traders in the market to move to the International Market without compensations to shop owners whose lease-hold on the market is still valid.
“Traders don’t have N3.2 million fixed by state government per shop and they don’t have the financial strengtht to build in a swamp as the market is still uncompleted.
“We appeal to government to reconsider its position on the quit and revocation of lease-hold notice.
“The quit notice was issued on July 30 to expire Aug. 30 while revocation notice was served on Aug. 1 and the market was invaded by suspected thugs on Wednesday, Aug. 28.
“Traders whose shops are currently under seal are signatories/plaintiffs to the suit pending at the court with suit number HAB/124/2019.
“We went to court to challenge the action of government because we believe that the court is the last hope of the oppressed.
“Our problem with government is that we are law abiding and chose to seek redress to the injustice meted out to traders at the market by going to court,” he added.
Mbam alleged that when attempts by government to force plaintiffs who sued state government to withdraw the suit failed, its agents decided to clampdown on the traders.
He further alleged that Mr Paul Ude, one of the plaintiffs’ residential building at No. 2 Oghe Street of Udemezue, Abakaliki and his shop are under seal.
He added that shops belonging to other plaintiffs in the suit including Messrs David Awoke, Patrick Eze, Titus Nweke and Fidelis Nweze were currently under seal as part of the ongoing government’s clampdown.
Mbam appealed to the state governor to intervene by restoring sanity to the market in view of the present avoidable loss of revenue generation from the market.
“Traders don’t have N3.2 million and traders don’t have financial strength to build in swamp and we also appeal to our dear governor to remove the care-taker chairman,” he said.
Responding, Mr Martin Ukwuegbu, Special Assistant to Governor on Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), told News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that government revenue agents merely demanded revenue payment, denying allegation that the traders were rough-handled.