Two months running after the inauguration of Alex Otti led administration in Abia State, the governor and his team has since embarked on what they described as reforms, trying to change the old way things are done in Abia, according to their mantra of ” New Aba “.
Hence, one of the areas of concern is the revenue sector of the state, especially, Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). So, few weeks ago, the Governor, Dr. Alex Otti launched what he described as ” New Digital Tax System for Transporters And Traders” in the state.
During the launch, the governor posited that it will help the state to eliminate fraud and intermediaries in revenue generation through the introduction of digital platform. ” The new system will integrate free medical insurance scheme for all commercial vehicle drivers, Keke and Okada”, the report says.
However, investigation has confirmed that Dr. Alex Otti led administration lied to Abians and playing ” Game of Deceit ” by making the general public to believe that Abia state revenue windows before now were all collected manually, not digitally.
The Okezie Ikpeazu administration he hates and never accords any developmental recognition for anything good, however, championed many successful innovations in IGR worthy of emulation and nothing in the launch of last few weeks is new to Ndi Abia, except those outside Abia state he is trying hard to impress.
The present Otti led administration is more serious in pulling down and wasting investments and progress made by the out gone government rather than building on it. This appears like a government by a non-technocrat who should know that knowledge comes with time and experience.
For instance, following the devastating effects of the Covid 19 pandemic on the State’s IGR in 2020, the Okezie Ikpeazu administration came up with some innovative steps to cushion the effects of the pandemic on the dwindling IGR by introducing new and very innovative technologies, some of which are the first of their kind in Nigeria.
Some of the impacts of these efforts and strategies include the following:
• The Transport Sector Reform : where the e-ticketing technology (an epochal innovation) launched in 2020, achieved collections growth in flying revenue from 72m as of 2020 to almost 1billion in 2021.
One expects the Otti led government to improve on this revenue generating window, not to peddle lies that payments are manual.
That innovation saw the following :
• The USSD Self-Service technology (*8014*99#) also launched in 2020 and the first in Nigeria, moved collections from the markets in Abia State from 36million as of 2020 to 250m in 2021 and was majorly from markets in Aba. The code is also common knowledge to payees and not hidden that people are free to dial the above USSD code to see how the innovation works.
• The introduction of the pay ” small small” model in 2022 for payment of taxes and levies to enable ” Ndi Abia ” to pay their taxes conveniently.
After seeing the desired results achieved, the state commenced efforts to expand these strategies to other verticals.
This systems even created over 1000 jobs, as these people worked hard to see to the desired growth witnessed in the State’s IGR.
Our findings also lend credence to innovative tools and mechanisms that would drive IGR had been developed and put in place in Abia State to achieve more IGR growth such as USSD, e-ticketing and e-emblem platforms.
Again, ABIRS Central System www.abiairs.gov.ng was launched too. Abia State One stop portal www.abia.oneserve.ng – launched in 2021, www.abssin.online for enumeration launched in 2021, to mention but a few.
Abia State IGR moved from 11.8b in 2015, 12.5b in 2016, 15.46b in 2017, 15.83b in 2018, 15.49b in 2019, 15.92b in 2020 and now to 19b in 2021, and 20b in 2022 (more than 20% growth rate between 2020 to 2022).
It is worthy to note that at present, Abia State is the only State in Nigeria that has and was running electronic tickets for transport daily tolls and emblems. This innovation has been judged the best flying revenue collection mechanism in Nigeria by JTB as of December 2021.
It is also on record that, Abia State is the only State so far that has a dedicated USSD code *8014*99# for IGR activities in Nigeria and people are urged to dial the above code to verify.
Furthermore, Abia is the first State to have electronic channels for enforcement through mobile phones and the first state to develop a true gateway (entry and exit) for accessing state services electronically on www.abia.oneserve.ng
These tools if widely and effectively utilized by every MDA and taxpayer, will keep Abia State on a steady IGR growth, enhance ease of doing business, and block IGR leakages.
The ABIRS evolved under the Okezie Ikpeazu administration. The then administration was at the forefront of designing and driving initiatives to grow the State’s IGR and did not stop doing so till they exited office, so nothing about what the new administration recently launched is new or innovative.
The successes recorded in ABIRS over the last three years are a result of months of deliberate research, investment, and consultation bringing about a synergy of people, technology, processes and policy.
The purported new systems code – named “New Digital Tax System” are a mere rebranding, re-presentation which still shows a naive understanding of the systems and structures that was operational in ABIRS to drive IGR in the state. Some drivers interviewed confirmed our story that “Digital collection” has evolved over the years, and not manual like the propaganda unleashed by Otti administration to pull Ikpeazu down.
Sometime in March, 2022, the Abia state Board of Internal Revenue and her Financial consultants led Online journalists to a lecture on ‘AUTOMATED IGR COLLECTION” and how it has improved Abia state Internally Generated Revenue. The lecture was anchored by Imo State born resource person and financial expert, Dr. Kachi Nwoga.
It had in audience members of Abia Online Media Practitioners of Nigeria ( OMPAN), like Paddy Anyatonwu, Prince Clinton Uba, Emenike Iroegbu, Ugochukwu Nwankwo, Nneka Torti, Chika Nwabueze etc
More investigation carried out at Abia Board of Internal Revenue reveals that there is nothing new and nothing to celebrate in the said ” New Digital Tax System” of the new administration. In fact, before now, the Okezie Ikpeazu led administration had consolidated the revenue law in Abia state through the Abia state House of Assembly which the Federal Government is also trying to copy because of it’s seamless method of revenue collection.
A staff of Abia Board of Internal Revenue ( AiBIR), who chose to remain anonymous for fear of victimization said, before the inauguration of the present administration, automation was about 70% and still being improved upon. The source added that, it may not be possible to have 100% automation in Abia state revenue window based on some factors, therefore all the revenue basket cannot run on automation but Keke, vehicle driver and traders are more achievable.
Our investigation also reveals that, most prevalent issue of revenue collections in the informal sector like markets, is the issue of convenience.
Asking a trader to leave his shop to pay a tax in the market is inconvenient as the trader might lose business at that time. Also, because traders are paid mostly in cash, they mostly prefer to pay revenue in cash.
The need to collect cash from traders without letting the BIR staff handle the money was the reason the agents were employed.
These agents pay on behalf of the traders to the BIR in the form of electronic transfer and then collect the cash from the traders, just like the agency banking POS system works. Just as agency banking is regulated by Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), it is automated and has controls, so also is the agency in the market collections.
Agents pay against each trader’s identity (ABSSIN) and shop numbers are registered using the system and to know which trader the agent paid for and how much was paid for the trader. When the payment was made and the balance.
The traders who pay to the agents receive their proof of payment electronically through SMS or they download their receipts online thereby eliminating manual/paper receipts which can be faked.
The source confirmed that what the new administration did was just to avoid the name, ” Automation ” used by Ikpeazu administration but baptised it with a new name, but insist that there is nothing new, all the new tax regime is doing is to improve on the old, review the past for balance of value and cost but it is the same old ticketing system by Ikpeazu administration, nothing changed, the source added