July 15, 2024

Single Haulage Bill Passage: Why Governor Obaseki Must Not Sign It Into Law.

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Single Haulage Bill Passage: Why Governor Obaseki Must Not Sign It Into Law.
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By Eben ENASCO

Towards the end of March 2023, the Edo State House of Assembly (EDHA) passed the Executive Bill for a law to establish a Single Haulage Fee on Agricultural Farm Produce.

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The presentation of the bill was done by the Majority Leader of the House, Rt. Hon. Henry Okhuarobo represents the Ikpoba Okha constituency.

Okhuarobo during his presentation of the executive bill, argued that the Bill critically supports the uniformity in the charges on farm produce.

Eight out of the Nine lawmakers in attendance unanimously pledged their backing for the Bill to be passed into law despite the objection by Hon. Emmanuel Agbaje, representing Akoko-Edo Constituency Two, in the 7th State Assembly, who drew the attention of the House to carefully observe a section of the Bill that he perceived was designed to strangulate the people through prices of commodity hikes in Edo State.

The eight lawmakers as a majority defended their stance when they claimed that the bill will provide a legal framework for the smooth administration of taxes, shore up revenue for the State as well as provide job employment for the unemployed.

They further added that it will create a single fee for goods and agricultural produce, noting that it would also plug some of the identified leakages in the collection of fees.

Emmanuel Agbaje said outside the drawback spotted in tax imposition of the bill on the commonly consumed farm produce, he expects the Executive Bill to only capture Taxes on degraded goods, such as cocoa and other related products.

Agbaje’s call to delete the tax bill that he anticipated will impose taxes on poor farmers amidst economic hardship when passed on Commonly consumed goods, or Non-Degrade, such as tomatoes, vegetables, and okra in the section of the bill, did not receive support amongst colleagues as his lone voice was left in the wilderness and his arguments thrown to the dustbin.

Outside Agbaje’s variations and his deeds to point out loopholes in the bill, there are infractions of an aspect of the bill that may stop the further consideration of signing it into law.

For the record, the lawmaker should have consulted deeper into the Tax and levy laws and whether it granted any permission for such collection before considering passing the bill.

On the whole, the state governor is in the last stage to assent to the bill before promulgating it as a law.

Before assenting to the bill, the Governor of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki should know there is a need to seek a section of the law under the collection of taxes and levy rates as enshrined in the Constitution.

The Former Minister of Agriculture Audu Ogbeh had 2017 raised concerns about the illegal checkpoints and revenue collectors along transportation routes for food items, saying it had an impact on the current increase in the prices of food.

The Federal Government has constituted an Inter-Agency Committee to enforce a ban on the collection of levies and taxes on agricultural produce on highways.

A statement issued by Tony Ohaeri, the Director of Information, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Abuja on Monday, said the committee was inaugurated by the Minister, Chief Audu Ogbeh.

The committee was constituted following recommendations of the Presidential Taskforce on increasing food prices set up in February by the outgoing Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.

He urged the committee to facilitate the government’s directives on the multiple levies and unauthorized checkpoints during the transportation of agricultural produce from one state to another.

In 1981, Decree No 21 of the Military Government of Nigeria, Section 2 stated that “no person including a Tax authority shall Mount Roadblock in any part of the Country for Tax or Levy collecting.”

The Decree of Section 2, however, recommended a 3-year or fine of N50,000.00 or both for any authority, who contravenes.

Similarly, in a judgment dated Tuesday, October 24, 2014, with Suit No.HIGU/2/2014, between an oil palm Company, Claimant, and Ovia South-West Local Government Council, Defendant, before Justice J. A. Osadiaye at the High Court sitting in Iguobazuwa, the Court held that the Defendant has no power under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, or any law to Mount Roadblocks within its Local Government Area to collect any tax, levies and/or rate for any reason whatsoever from the Claimant and/or its suppliers.

The originating summons dated and filed by the Claimant against the Defendant, on March 25, 2024, asks the Court to resolve whether or not the Defendant has the power under the Constitution to collect the tax or any levy.

This is a testimony that is pointing to our argument.

The bill harmonizing a single haulage fee should have captured degraded farm produce not allowing it to extend to none degraded goods.

Agribusiness is tax-free. The payments of minimum tax by companies that make small or no profits at all do not apply to agro-allied businesses.

Agro-allied plant and equipment enjoy enhanced capital allowances of up to 50%.

Although no business entity is given a blanket exemption from paying taxes, companies operating within the agricultural sector are exempted from paying specific taxes that apply to companies in other sectors.

The Companies Income Tax Act 27 and other fiscal legislations 28 offer a variety of tax incentives to attract potential investors and entrepreneurs.

Though part of the challenges militating against farm business includes weather hazards like inadequate rain, flood invasion, pest invasion, disease outbreak among livestock, and glut, it is pertinent to note that the current cost of diesel and electricity tariff in running farm machinery is not helpful, as this is an already a huge burden to farmers on its own.

Enumerated facts are, the major reason an agricultural business could not accommodate multiple taxes, is that agricultural businesses cannot survive with multiple taxes which has been introduced by some state governments.

Tax is supposed to come from farmers’ profit but now the reverse is the case as the government tries to forcefully generate tax from farmers’ funds and borrowed funds.

In the past, farmers pay company income tax to the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).

In addition, states collect personal income tax from the company’s directors and staff, also education levy is being collected.

The transport ministry has many operators dealing decisively with farmers transporting their goods, including Vehicle Inspection Officers, (VIO), Police, traffic police, Federal Road Safety Corps, Local Council contractors/agents, and consultants generating all kinds of levies from farmers.

The worse part of it is the outrageous bill imposed by these tax collectors, like tax consultants, contractors, and agents. They raised bills in millions and then call for negotiation.

The government needs to realize that farmers are employers of labour, sending them out of business means sending more people to the unemployment market, which may result in insecurity in the nation as a hungry man is an angry man.

Some Stakeholders who spoke to journalists warned that agric business may soon go into extinction if issues of multiple taxations, activities of herdsmen, and militants against farmers are not addressed.

A local farmer, Engr. Osawe Hilton who seriously frowned at the recent Executive Bill said food scarcity is imminent in the State, considering the rising onslaught of herdsmen, militants disrupting activities of farmers, and now the new attempt to suffocate farmers by the Edo State House of Assembly and the State Government.

Engr. Osawe added, “Multiple taxes introduced by some states against farmers are not helping the issue. Everyone believes the fact that the agricultural business is hazardous. Hence, many international communities apply for tax relief or exceptions for their farmers to guarantee food security.

Another farmer, Enogieru Osayuware, said if the tax imposition is allowed, then it will have multiplier effects on the purchase of commodities in the open markets

They called on government at all levels to rise to defend farmers and get them protected against multiple taxations and all other challenges.

According to Osayuware, “We suggest farmers should be considered for tax relief or in the alternative, allow the company income tax and personal tax income to remain, rather than looking for avenues to undermine farmers through various levies.”

In a local adage, it is often said that, when a single “shoe-bomber” fails to blow up an aircraft, we now have to remove footwear to prevent that.

But preventing it from allowing the destruction of the process would require changes to the laws regarding the availability of the above that has become a red line.

Especially when lobbying against the will of the people which is heavily involved in sponsoring politicians and buying influence.

An honest response might be shrugging and saying “Oh well, that was inevitable, but I for one am not going to lift a finger to allow anti-people law to thrive.

Civil Society organizations and all available actors should find a way to engage the government to get simple clarity on the proposed harmonized haulage bill.

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