The Abia State government has explained why the state’s Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) dwindled in the early months of Governor Alex Otti’s saying the state halted taxes during the affected months.
Otti’s team also defended the security votes of the governor as well as the N30bn Aba-Port Harcourt Road which was awarded to Julius Berger.
Ferdinand Ekeoma, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and Publicity, Ugochukwu Okoroafor, Special Adviser Monetary and Evaluation and Chinedu Ekeke, Deputy Chief of Staff made the case for the Otti’s government on Friday on Arise TV.
The government is battling the allegation of lavish spending of N927m by the office of the governor which the state has officially called the allegation as “lying with statistics.”
During the right of reply aired on Arise, the Deputy Chief of Staff, Ekeke said that the factors leading to the surge in naira value of the Aba-Port Harcourt Road awarded to Julius Beger was as a result of the naira depreciation.
According to him, when the road was first awarded, the value was over N9bn at the exchange rate of N305 per dollar.
The naira traded over N750 per dollar since the Central Bank of Nigeria change its operational guideline for the foreign exchange market.
The CBN introduced a managed float which led to the depreciation of the naira by more than 40 per cent.
Ekeke said, “When the people we took over from awarded the contract, it was N9bn, they owned up to that and that was when the dollar was N305. That was about $29.5m and they broke down people’s houses and demolished everything and no compensation was paid.
“Today if you check N30bn it is less than that amount of money.”
Okoroafor who is the Special Adviser on Monetary and Evaluation advanced the argument by saying that the actual figure for the road project was N32bn, however, the state received a N2bn discount from Julius Berger.
Ferdinand Ekeoma explained that the governor’s perception of IGR is that taxes should be collected only when the government has made a significant contribution to the people.
According to him, what Governor Otti is doing is rewriting history and setting a path for shared prosperity in the state.
Ekeoma said, “During the campaigns, the governor repeatedly said something. He defined tax as the government’s share of the prosperity it has created among its people and said if you have not created prosperity, you have no moral ground to ask for tax.
“On assumption of office, he gave tax holiday. Revenue was stopped. Nobody was paying because he needed to do something. The people were like people who were in bondage. It was just a little over a month ago that we started collecting taxes.
“In the past agberos (touts) will chase you, force you and do all manner of things which were affecting the ease of doing business in the state. We needed to take these things away and we knew we were going to pay the price.”
Ekeoma also defended the governor on the issue of the security votes. The governor made campaign promises that he would not receive the security votes.
But the state official explained that the votes were on the rise because the former administration led by Okezie Ikpeazu had owed security arrears to security personnel.
He said, “We were used to people using our security votes like their personal money. At a point, people assumed the security vote was the fund that the governor could use at his discretion which is wrong.
“So, the governor said I wasn’t going to do this. Of course, you require security votes to fight insecurity in your state. You are aware of what we met on the ground.”