The Bayelsa State government has cautioned the leadership of communities in the state to operate within the confines of the law and the Nigerian Constitution.
The Deputy Governor, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, stated this at a meeting with the leadership of Imiringi Community at his office in Government House, Yenagoa.
Senator Ewhrudjakpo, who reacted to reports that the leadership of Imiringi were collecting monies to register non indigenes resident in their community, condemned the act in its entirety.
He admitted that though Government had directed the profiling of visitors to communities for security reasons, it did not at anytime mandate communities to make non-indigenes pay for such registration.
Senator Ewhrudjakpo said the alleged collection of registration fees from visitors ranging from N1,000 to N5,000 by the community development committee of Imiringi was not in tandem with the policy thrust of the government.
He noted that while government supports the registration of people coming to do business in Bayelsa communities, the people should be careful not to scare away potential investors with illegal and arbitrary levies.
The Bayelsa Number Two man noted that the reasons advanced by the Imiringi community for imposing the levies on the non-indigenous business were not tenable and supported by government.
The Deputy Governor, therefore, directed the leadership of Imiringi community in Ogbia Local Government Area, to immediately stop imposition of registration fees on non-indigenes resident in the area until further notice.
His words, “Information at our disposal shows that you are collecting registration fees from visitors ranging from N1,000 to N5,000 from non indigenes in your community. If that is true, I want to say clearly that, it is not in tandem with the policy thrust of the state government.
“Yes, government supports the registration of people coming to do business in all our communities, but we have not at anytime issued any directive to communities to collect money or levies.
“As a people, we should not do things that are against the law and the Constitution of the country. Because the Constitution allows every citizen to reside, own and operate legitimate businesses anywhere in this country.
“You know, there is already a negative public perception about Bayelsa; that it is not an investor-friendly state. We are battling to change that perception, which some people are using to demarket us even when their states are more violent and insecure than our state.
“I have listened to all the reasons you have given but they are tenable. You can raise funds through other legitimate means to carry out meaningful development projects in your community without recourse to imposing this kind of levies.
“Let me, therefore, appeal that you discontinue with collection of the levies. I will discuss the matter with the Governor and government will come up with a final position.”
Speaking earlier, the Public Relations Officer of Imiringi community, Mr. Adu Wilfred, explained that the N5,000 levy was imposed on only timber dealers, farmers and others carrying out business in the forest.
Mr. Adu also clarified that N1,000 was being collected as registration fee from non-indigenes doing business in the community such as commercial tricycle and motorcycle riders as well as shop owners to enable the community respond to issues concerning their safety.
Also speaking, a member of the Imiringi Council of Elders, Chief Otobo Bamekpar, explained the levy was not a monthly or yearly tax, but rather a one-time payment to guarantee the non-indigenes access to the community forest for their economic activities.
Present at the meeting were the Secretary to the State Government, Rt Hon. Konbowei Benson, the Commissioner of Police, CP Benjamin Okolo, the Deputy Chief of Staff, Deputy Governor’s Office, Mr Alex Dumbo and Women Affairs Commissioner, Mrs Faith Opene.
Others included the Community Development Commissioner, Chief Thompson Amule, Special Adviser to the Governor on Security Matters Two, Mr Ngobiowe Awokeigha the Governor’s Special Representative of Ogbia Local Government Area, Prince Awudumapu Isiki and Imiringi Community Paramount Ruler, HRH Lucky Chukwu-Igwe.