Giving its proximity with the FCT Abuja, the need for a deliberate inclusion of Karu local government area in the federal government annual budgetary allocation has been stressed. In this interview with our correspondent, Francis Nansak, Hon Samuel Gagere Akala ,the chairman of Karu local government area of Nasarawa state speaks on his stewardship of over two years in the council . Excerpts:
For over two years of your being in office as the elected chairman of Karu LGA,what have you achieved so far in your quest for governance?
Well, its been very tough. It has been so challenging but of course it is expected. However, I return the glory to God,because we have been able to weather the storm so far. And because you know our unique location in the country, there are a lot of opportunities and challenges within our local government. Particularly, you also know Karu LGA is the closest to the FCT,which accounts for a huge population around here. Any where you have such population, you should be expecting a lot of challenges that the facilities will be over stretched. Yes,you will have to battle with security concern and other infrastructural needs of the people. So this is what we have been battling with over the years,but I am pleased to inform you that so far ,we ‘ve done our best within the limits of our resources.
On human and social development. Any breakthrough recorded?
Well,you know I contested an election and won. When we came in, Karu was acclaimed to have enormous opportunities for the needed revenue generation. Now anybody who wished to be chairman would believe that when he entered, there will be a lot of funds for him to execute the kind of projects he may want and ensure that whatever agenda he comes with. Every mission and agenda,you will have for any organisation, is a function of funding. So when we came,we came with a mindset that there will be that huge revenue in the local government and of course with the kind of opportunity that abounds for high revenue generation but we were a bit disappointed when we assumed office and to a point of even getting discouraged,but because we were ready for the task,we knew that we will encounter a lot of challenges but we summoned the courage to move forward. When we started,we were banking on the IGR ,but then the federal allocations were not much for us to say okay, we are going to work with the funds that we get from the federal government. Unfortunately, there was no record of tax payers in the council, because it is data that will simply translate into your revenue. So there were no record of data of taxpayers and you can’t say who has paid what.
Secondly, there were no enabling laws. Every tax that should be paid by any tax payer should be a product of law .The law should be able to state clearly how much an Okada rider ,how much a taxi driver ,how much a market woman ,how much a man who owns a factory and a man who owns a farm and whatever kind of investment should pay as tax. The essence to me ,is that the tax payer should be guided and should be educated on how much he should pay to the local government. And then the tax administration itself ,should be regulated so that it does not go out to defraud citizens.
But with the absence of all these ,we swung into action by first, bringing up enabling laws that stipulates every rate that should be paid by every tax payer. All categories of tax payers including the smallest of them,like the Okada rider who pays probably #50 on a daily basis. We came up with 17 number bye laws that stipulates how much every kind of tax we collect in the local government, as it is clearly stated in our laws. The constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria has provided areas for taxes to be collected by the third
tiers of the government, but did not state how much those tax payers should pay to the local government.
And the same constitution provides for us to make bye laws and the essence of the bye laws are to fill those kind of gaps that are left vacant by the constitution. This is simply what we have been able to do as one of our major fêat that we have done as an administration, by bringing up those Bye laws which were signed on the 1st of October 2018.
After these laws , what we also needed to do immediately was to see how we can generate the Data of our tax payers and how much they are expected to pay annually. So we engaged a Technical partner who deployed the technology and that is why today we have what is called the Karu local government internal central revenue system. You only have to CLICK within Karu local government .That click is a platform for payment of taxes ,so what we do is that the Technical partner is charged with the responsibility of doing a Biometric data enumeration for all tax payers within Karu and what he does is to engage young people who go round shops,take photographs of those shops ,details of the shop owners and then upload in the platform,. So once this is done, the system generate your bill automatically. With this, it means that if you are not captured into that data system,you can not pay tax ,so our law now outlawed cash system of paying taxes .For us, that is a service to our people and the local government administration. This also enables you as a chairman to login and know how much who has paid and who has defaulted and also enables you to ask the tax officers, when they bring reports ,but without the system, you don’t have any relevant question to ask. At first this process was a tough one for this administration, because the staff of the local government are really not interested in that but wants a situation where they go out everyday, collects money on behalf of the council as revenue ,but what they do was they collect and remit a smaller percentage of whatever money collected into the local government and keep the rest for themselves and you know taxes are supposed to be for development. Taxes are not meant to run the council,nor utilised as running cost for the office of the chairman, directors or any other officer, but meant to be deployed for visible things that citizens will be happy with. Now this is another factor that has bedeviled the local government over the years,that citizens no longer like paying taxes anymore. So we summoned the courage that whatever it takes from the taxes,we will embark on infrastructural development.
How has this impacted on infrastructural development of the council?
Our ability to do some of the things we have achieved since assuming office over two years ago was practically in the kind of tax reforms introduced by this administration, that is why we have been able to do some roads. We have done a one kilometer Asphalt road with full drainage system on both side of the road in Ado, we graded some roads from Capital gate ,linking the highway,we have done more than 20 boreholes across the 11 electoral wards of the local governmen. As I speak to you,we have constructed brand new Primary Health Care Centers ,upgraded existing ones to cater for the growing population in our communities,because every community in Karu ,you find people who work in Abuja residing in those areas and that is why if we put up what should cater ordinarily for about 100 to 150 people,you will find out that over a 1000 people scampering for water from the borehole. So these are the kinds of challenges the local government is faced with because of our proximity to the FCT.
On Health Services
We have ceaselessly remained focused on doing our best for us as a local government. After security and safety of the lives and property of our people,the next agenda that is key on our laws is Primary Health Care Services. This is so because the people ,if you have been able to secure them to go on their normal businesses,then they have to live healthy .So that “If for instance the woman in Panda felt ill,she should be able to access the nearest PHC and be attended to fully. So we are trying to see how we can reduce pressure on the secondary health care center and ,because of the weak PHCs, we have the secondary health facility being overtaken by primary ailments, and we are trying to reverse the trend.
On Education: Akala says as a product of the public primary schools ,if you talk about human capital development in any society, the foundation is the primary education. ”I have a local government that is dominated with inhabitants who don’t have the where withal to send their children to private schools and that government is also making a huge investment in the primary education. That is why you see high rise storey buildings done by the previous administration, we pay a lot of monies as salaries and wages of teachers. So as an administration, we don’t want such investment to go down the drain without our citizens having the value for it and we observed that a lot of communities and our schools have good buildings yet the children are sitting on the floor,therefore we first arrested the situation by providing furniture that can take minimum of 4 and maximum of 5 pupils and we made 700 of the furniture to such schools.
Local Government Secretariat:
We have been able to make the local government look like a serious place for serious business, when I came into office,the council chairman’s office does not look like the highest office of the council at this level of governance. So we have to upgrade and restructure and made the office look more of a place where serious business is initiated .Today we have the best local government chairman office across the country. The other part the council like you know is the legislative arm and because I respect and as a full blooded democrat, democracy runs in my vein, so I have so much respect for separation of power,as such since we came,i did not run the council without a budget,every beginning of the year I submit my budget estimate to the legislative arm for them to give us approval to run the local government. So as we speak now,we are already preparing our 2021 budget which is going to be our last budget for this first tenure .And because we have seen the effectiveness and how serious too the legislators have vested interest in doing the right thing,which was the 17 numbers Bye laws for the council,we decided to also give them a befitting chamber that was commissioned by governor,Abdullahi Sule,sometimes in January, of this year 2020.
All of these we did to raise the consciousness of our people ,restore their confidence to know that the local government is a federating unit of its own and it is meant for them.These are our major projects in the council for the over two years in office.
We had expected and still seeking that the federal government start giving full interventions to the locality because of our proximity to the FCT,but it is sad to note that the federal government have abandoned the local government. We shoulder most of the responsibilities of the federal government here in Karu, and my office is the closest office to the presidential villa,which is 15 minutes drive from Karu ,you are in Abuja .Apart from AMAC ,we expect that by now we should have a deliberate budgetary allocation for infrastructural development of Karu local government by the federal government, but we lack such consideration. This is why we have launched an advocacy and I have visited some of the federal MDAs, UN habitat office and even NGOs. However, I am pleased to let you know that our governor,Engineer Sule, has been supportive of those drives to seeing that we achieve the dreams of transforming Karu local government area.