By Collins Opurozor
With each passing day, the mission of Chief Hope Uzodinma in Imo State becomes clearer. It is a mission to inflict pains, miseries and agonies. And, from all appearances, watching Imo people weep offers orgasmic satisfaction to the man, and the greatest measure of the effectiveness of any state policy in Imo is the extent of heartbreak, hunger and mass deprivation it brings upon the people.
On the orders of Uzodinma, markets in Orlu have been shut down by the military. The traders have been told never open their shops again. It was alleged that the traders observed a sit-at-home in solidarity with, or maybe sympathy for, the detained advocate of the neo-Biafran cause, Nnamdi Kanu. And for that reason they were violently prohibited from trading in Nigeria anymore, and were reportedly told to wait until they achieve Biafra before they could go about their businesses.
It is on record that Uzodinma has openly taken credit for the ongoing military operations in Imo State. In his words,”It was on my invitation that the military came.” He did not just admit that he invited the military into Imo State, he also boasted that he was the one directing the field operations of the ground troops. He is their commander. During a meeting with some of his allies from Njaba last month, Uzodinma said, “The reason you see what is going on now in Imo is because I have always told them (the soldiers) to allow me take the lead, to allow me do it myself.” And because he carries out military operations by himself, he threatened Njaba people in that meeting that he would bomb three locations in their area within one week!
While Uzodinma has adopted a militaristic approach in the dispossession of the people and destruction of their livelihoods in Orlu, his approach to stifling the economy of Owerri is through unconscionable and retrogressive taxation. He is aware that Imo is not just an enity of 5.7 million people; it is a conflux of over 58 million people. This is because, by the location of Imo State, it serves as the hospitality hub of the South-East and the South-South. In short, it is the heartland of Eastern Nigeria. So, the biggest business in Imo, particularly Owerri, is hospitality, and so to bring Imo down and get the people on their knees he needed to launch a deadly attack on that sector, too.
This is the reason Uzodinma has excavated and reenacted a consumption tax law, which makes it mandatory for hotels, restaurants and entertainment centers to charge their customers additional 5% on every consumption and remit same to Uzodinma. This is in addition to VAT, even though VAT is also a form of consumption tax. However, while VAT is taxed indirectly, Uzodinma’s consumption tax is directly and additionally collected from the consumer. It means that anyone who eats anything in Imo, sleeps in a hotel room, patronizes any leisure park, drinks anything, including water, from Tuesday, August 2, will directly pay 5% of the value to Uzodinma. He has also threatened to arrest and jail any business operator who fails to comply immediately with this.
It is important to point out that in the past one year and six months, hospitality business in Imo has been hit by the twin tragedies of the pandemic and insecurity.
Primarily, the inability of Uzodinma to secure Imo and keep residents and visitors safe has resulted the collapse of the sector. Most hostels in Owerri are struggling to break even after fueling their power-generating sets. Many have massively retrenched their workers. And all are at the risk of winding up. This has exacerbated the unemployment crisis in the State.
Yet, despite this perilous situation, Uzodinma has imposed a new tax regime that ensures that these businesses are killed at last. He does not think of financial incentives and stimuli to the sector. He does not consider tax holiday or even tax abatement, which would aid the sector’s recovery. He does not deem it compelling to fix infrastructure and solve insecurity to enable businesses thrive. Just two days ago, a Divisional Police Officer was killed in his own hometown, Omuma. Insecurity festers in Imo, and nobody visits the State as a result, and the worst casualty is hospitality business.
With the consumption tax imposed on Imo State at this time by Uzodinma, he has summarily shut down the soul of Imo’s economy and pauperized the populace. In Imo today, stagflation has caused real incomes to fall. The consumption tax is a death knell on the possibility of the people to eke out bare subsistence. As starvation becomes the order of the day, Uzodinma’s mission of using poverty as a tool for political control would have been launched. That is his agenda: conquer them by destroying their sources survival, and drop some crumbs for those who have accepted their fate and turned themselves into praise-singers. But this ungodly mission will fail!