BY Judex Okoro
The Drivers Association of Calabar has protested against illegal taxation, tolls and levies imposed on their members by various tasks forces and government agencies.
The protesters numbering over hundred stormed the major streets of the metropolis at the early hours of Monday to register their displeasure over indiscriminate charges on their members even as Governor Ben Ayde had banned illegal tax collections, ticketing/haulage collection and molestation of the poor traders.
Gov. Ayade had in April inaugurated Cross River Anti-Tax Agency with a mandate to rid the state of these illegal collections and levies as part of palliative measures for the downtrodden.
The protesters decried the return of illegal task forces operating between 5:00am and 6:00pm every day and in the process extort money ranging from N10, 000 to N30, 000 from taxi drivers for wrong parking and other unknown offences.
The drivers who assembled at Mary Slessor Avenue by Calabar round carried placards with inscriptions ‘the governor as freed drivers from tax, please leave us alone’ and ‘if these actions persist, we drivers are left with no option than to revolt’.
Speaking shortly their leader was taken to the State Police Command fro a meeting with the police authorities, the spokesperson and Stadium Unit Chairman of the Drivers Association, Comrade Emmanuel Chukwu, said thy are not protesting against ticketing alone but against a new team that has been extorting money from the drivers.
Chukwu said: “Why we are here is not for ticketing alone we are here because we have a new task force and we don’t know where they came from. When you park motor, they will double cross you. I have experienced it severally in my unit and I have gone to their office to talk to them. One of my drivers paid more than 70, 000 at their office at Cultural Centre, so we have been going and we don’t know where they are.
“I have gone to the commissioner for transport and he said he doesn’t know; I have also gone to the commissioner for Environment and he said the same thing. We have DOPT we are contented with; we have police to contend with. So, we are confused.
“These new team have been trying to extort money from us and this has given us sleepless nights and we want to beg government to come to our aid and free us because drivers are also in the chains of production, without the driver there will be no road.
“They can carry your motor and ask you to pay N10, 000 and whatever they get from drivers enters their pockets. We are suffering every day and most of us are driving on hire purchase and so we are not happy. We want these people to stop”, he said.
On his part, a driver, Akpobi Promise, said the government should move strongly against the miscreants who have been making life unbearable for the people.
“We have been very law abiding and we don’t want any theoretical expression but a practical expression. Enforcement has been set up so they must come to the field and do their work because those boys that are out there are not invisible.
“It is only when we come out like this that they will come and say they are taking proactive measures and it is not done, so we urge the government to live up to their responsibilities,’ he said.
Addressing the protesters at the State Police Command at Diamond Hill, the Secretary of the Cross River State Anti-Tax Agency, Rev Dr. Julius Ada, reassured protesting taxi drivers state that they are exempted from all forms of taxation and levies in the state.
According to Rev. Ada, “you are not supposed to pay tax, the governor has exempted you and very soon we would have a town hall meeting with all the local government chairmen and other stakeholders on how to go about the new policy of no tax and tolls for the poor.
“Recently the okada riders came out to fill the potholes because they were very happy to appreciate the governor for this kind of gesture. So, you have the good intention of the government, the good intention of the governor and the people of Cross River state.
“We are representing all the local governments today and we are going to come out with what we call a brigade. The brigade will be on their uniform, and when you see them on their uniform you can call them on their hotline and we will get back to wherever you are and then we will take appropriate action against all those who are involved in tax illegality.
“The governor is so sad about the number of illegal checkpoints, illegal ticketing and has outrightly banned ticketing. So for the taxi drivers you are free and I want to thank you for this peaceful demonstration.
Also condemning the illegal tolls on the taxi drivers, the Chairman of Anti-tax Agency, Bishop Emma Isong, said the agency has done all within her powers to enforce His Excellency’s tax exemption policies which has been widely celebrated by Cross Riverians.
He, however, regretted that in spite efforts and a lot of sensitization campaigns, some persons and groups of persons are still extorting money and oppressing the poor, adding that the protest is a welcome development in a democracy since the people have the freedom to exercise their legal right under law.