By Kayode Abdulazeez, Ilorin
It has been observed by analysts that the recent revelation about how N5billion tax payers money was alleged to have been shared freely among public office holders that claimed to be managing public funds in Kwara State was a pointer to the fact that many of the country’s political leaders and public office holders always reach out to one another irrespective of political parties and camp when it comes to sharing of public funds for private purposes.
It is difficult to explain why those saddled with the responsibilities of collecting tax money from people eventually turned out to be the greatest conspirators against good governance and pro-people policies.
For several people in the state, it is unimaginable that such reported breech of public trust can happen under the leadership of a University Professor with profound knowledge of tax collection. Professor Muritala Awodun, who is an immediate past chairman of Kwara State Internal Revenue Agency (KWIRS), has been enmeshed in the controversy of public fund misappropriation, a disturbing news that has been dominating public discourse in the state.
Awodun in his recent revelations in the custody of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ilorin Zonal Office reportedly disclosed how he shared 5billion naira tax payers money among various public office holders, leaders and his cronies.
It could be recalled that he was recently invited by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over misappropriation of over 5billion naira being tax payers money under his watch.
The investigation was initiated by the present administration in the state in order for it to know the present financial status of the state, and in cross checking the values of the money collected so far by the KWIRS since over 4 years it was established.
But to the greatest surprise of the people, Professor Awodun was, according to some newspaper reports, said to have confirmed to the officers of the EFCC that the said N5b was truly shared to the people in corridors of power. And he had started mentioning names of the beneficiaries.
The first people allegedly mentioned as beneficiaries include all the sixteen local government chairmen in the state. They were alleged to have collected 10 percent each of the money raked from their various local governments at the end of every month. It was also reported that they also confirmed the receipt of the money and had sealed agreement with EFCC on how to pay back all the money collected by them in a gentle man way.
Also said to be mentioned by Awodun were 24 members of the 8th State Assembly led by Dr. Ali Ahmad. It was alleged that an honourable members of the State House of Assembly who chaired House Committee on Appropriation and Finance used to collect N4m naira monthly from KWIRS on behalf of 24 members.
But as expected, the law makers did not take the allegation in their stride as they were said to have been issuing press statements to distance themselves from scam. The Speaker of the 8th Assembly was quoted to have said in his recent press statement said Mr Masud Bakare, Chairman, House Committee on Finance and Appropriation during the eightieth assembly, legally collected money from the revenue service for all former members”.
According to him, “Throughout the lifetime of the 8th Assembly, all committees had full independence regarding their operations and funds management in accordance with the Standing Rules of the House. Let me also place on record that as former public officials, my colleagues and I are ready anytime, anywhere and before any lawful person or authority to make ourselves available for scrutiny”, the statement said.
EFCC also made it known that “not less than five companies linked to highly placed politicians in Kwara State benefited about four billion naira from the money without any valid contractual agreements with the State Government”.
Other alleged beneficiaries mentioned include former Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Ademola Banu, who allegedly used to collect 5m naira monthly in cash without any work to show for it; ex-Kwara State Accountant-General, Ishola Sulyman, Permanent Secretaries; one Mr. Rafiu Olasile who was a personal assistant to the immediate past Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed among others.
Meanwhile, to many Kwarans, the most shocking among all mentioned beneficiaries was the present Chief of Staff to the Governor AbdulRahaman AbdulRasaq, Mr Aminu Logun, who was alleged to have collected N200m from Professor Awodun. The reason for giving Mr Logun the said money was not quite clear. While some claimed it preceded the last general elections, others argued saying that Awodun gave him the money to influence his second coming as Chairman of KWIRS under his government.
But irrespective of the reasons, Mr. Logun has the following to say about the allegations of corruption against him: “I will like to state that I truly visited the Ilorin Zonal Office of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as part of an ongoing investigation into the activities of some past officials, including the former chairman of the Kwara State Internal Revenue Service (KW-IRS).
“Save for public officials with immunity under our law, every public official has an obligation to the state to assist in the investigation of any crime. I am no exception, hence my first and only appearance on November 26, 2019 to answer the EFCC summon to volunteer information as I know it.
“However, my visit to the EFCC has been given several misleading interpretations, especially on the social media where some persons are unfairly using that to smear my hard-earned image. I understand this is one of the burdens of being in public office.
“I state unequivocally that at no time did Prof Awodun give me any money for the claimed purpose or for any other purpose whatsoever. Similarly, I was not involved in any funnelling or distribution of money from KW-IRS and/or any other source for any political campaign or political party. All the stories and theories in the media concerning those allegations are baseless and totally untrue”, he stated.
Meanwhile, there are different public reactions to this development with some pointing out that the mentioning of the chief of staff to Governor AbdulRahaman was just a pinch of an iceberg. There are strongly held views that there could be more big personalities that had benefited from public funds allegedly mismanaged at the KWIRS.
It is rather disheartening to hear this concerning the money that KWIRS officers force people, especially poor petty traders to pay. There are times some shops belonging to traders are forcefully padlocked for non-compliance on tax payment. There are times taxes are imposed on poor petty traders. It is most unfortunate that it this same money that is supposed to be used for the development of the state that is being reportedly shared by corrupt public servants and their cronies.
The questions now are: Would people still have confidence in tax collection agency? Should people continue to pay tax to KWIRS? Would KWIRS still have moral right and courage to force people to pay their taxes, most especially poor petty traders?
Kayode Abdulazeez is a journalist, writes from Ilorin, Kwara State.