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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Uncertainty in Anambra Revenue House As Soludo’s Appointees Jostle for Supremacy, Control

 

By Izunna Okafor, Awka

A long-standing feud between the Chairman of Anambra Internal Revenue Services (AIRS), Ozo Greg Ezeilo, and the Executive Director of Operations, Dr. Christian Madubuko, has escalated to a more heated confrontation, as the two appointees of Governor Chukwuma Soludo tussle for Supremacy in the state’s revenue agency.

From the outset, these two officials have been at odds, primarily over revenue generation strategies and allegations of misappropriation of funds, with each accusing the other of neglecting their respective duties.

Trouble began to brew after the former Chairman of AIRS, Dr. Richard Madiebo, resigned due to political tensions involving Madiebo, Madubuko, and Ezeilo.

Another recent core of the dispute between Ezeilo and Madubuko revolve around the formation of a new Revenue team called the Unified Hybrid Enforcement Team (UBET) by Ezeilo, which Madubuko criticized as a mere rebranding of the previous Anambra Joint Enforcement Team (ANJET). According to Madubuko, ANJET consisted of individuals allegedly extorting money from motorists under the guise of revenue collection.

According to reports, the latest of the dispute and disagreement has to do with some recent activities undertaken by Madubuko, which Ezeilo saw as unlawful and unauthorized, and which culminated in Ezeilo issuing him (Madubuko) a query.

In the query, titled “Unauthorized Operations and Unlawful Arrest of Our IGR Partner’s Staff (Bigly Oil and Gas Limited) and others”, Ezeilo expressed concern about Madubuko’s actions in arresting revenue collection personnel without proper authorization.

The query also addressed Madubuko’s refusal to relocate to the UHBET Centre and his continued use of multiple AIRS vehicles in violation of policy. Ezeilo demanded an explanation and also warned him against unauthorized interactions with external parties with the name of the AIRS.

The query reads in full:

“Dear Madubuko, I will thank you for paying rapt attention to the following circumstances associated with your person:

“I received a report yesterday, from Mr. Ben Okafor an Executive Director in the Service, wherein my attention was drawn to the operations you carried out on October 4 and October 5 within the areas of Ayamelum, Onitsha North and Ogbaru, where you conducted various arrests involving IGR collection Personnel of one of Authorised Partners — Bigly Oil and Gas Limited. These actions are greatly considered inimical to the IGR efforts of the Service and the State in particular.

“You would recall in my last conversations with you shortly after you returned from your overseas trip I took you to the UHBET Centre and conducted you around that facility; showed you your new office location in that Centre, and intimated to you that job roles would now change to cover among others, New Business Development, Motor Licensing, Road Taxes and overseeing the UHBET Computer-Based Testing Facility (CBT). Additionally, I informed you that, as an Executive Director, you are NEVER to be engaged in any filed work again except where it becomes extremely necessary to do so.

“Similarly, arising from my initial memo to all directors, management, and every other staff of AIRS, no such actions
involving interacting with any external parties should take place without the authorization of the Chairman.

“In another development, records from the head of admin showed that you are still in the custody of three (3) AIRS vehicles namely 2 Siena buses and 1 truck, contrary to our vehicle fleet management policy of one officer, one vehicle, and others to the
pool.

“In the light of the above, can you please take immediate steps to address the following queries?  You are to provide lucid explanations of your roles in issues in “1” above and why severe disciplinary actions cannot be taken against you.

“Upon satisfactory submission on issue no.1, you should take immediate steps to relocate your office to UHBET
Centre as provided and thereof conduct yourself in line with your new job roles.

“Provide reasonable and convincing undertaken that you will never engage with any external parties including AiRS Partners or their agents, the police, civil
defense, DSS or the press without express approval of the Chairman.

“Finally, you should take immediate steps to return two (2) of he three (3) vehicles in your custody back to the office and hand over the keys to the head of Admin for effective fleet operations.”

However, when contacted the Executive Director of Operations Dr Christian Madubuko declined comment on the query and could not confirm if he received any query from the Chairman.

Howbeit, this development may not have been unconnected with the arrest of some Revenue agents whom Madubuko alleged were touts found with all manner of narcotics drugs and allegedly harassing members of the public in the name of working for Bigly Oil and Gas. Allegations included collecting excessive fees, diverting funds to personal bank accounts, and engaging in criminal activities, such as drug possession.

According to an earlier statement from Madubuko’s office, Department of Operations in the AIRS, the people who were arrested were those involved in collection of cash ranging from N15,000 to N100,000 instead of the stipulated 1,000 to 12,000 depending on the vehicle, and diverting same to different bank accounts.

The statement says: “Evidence of the bank accounts is available, and some of the owners of those accounts are now the suddenly concerned Anambra citizens”

”The monies collected are forced out of some people who are already enrolled in Anambra tax net and are already paying their weekly and/or monthly taxes.

“The people arrested have no P.O.S and/or any UHBET or C.R.O. agent working with them, being part of the conditions for the government’s partnership with Bigly Oil and Gas Services.

“The people arrested were found with tramadol, mkpụrụmmiri, and other dangerous drugs, which depicts danger to both transporters and the government. Evidence of these materials is available.

“The people arrested are even giving bad names to the Revenue partner, the Bigly Oil and Gas, in that what they do is completely different from what we think the CEO of the partnering firm asked them to do.

“We, therefore, urge the CEO of Bigly Oil and Gas Services to embark on a personality check of the boys he hires to work with him to avoid involving some bad eggs that are already on the wanted list of security agents which evidences them as real criminals.

“Another set of people arrested by mini truck drivers were found with different tickets with inscriptions of a political party and amounts ranging from N1,000 to N15,000 being monies they forced out from the same drivers already enrolled in the state’s tax net with the intention to give this administration a bad name.

”Studying the partnership document, it is glaringly clear that all the terms of the agreement were completely violated with possibly or probably the full knowledge of the Chairman of the Board, which is the most worrisome part of this imbroglio.

“Our job is to boost the revenue base of the state, and we are committed to doing that. That is our clear mandate that must be fearlessly pursued.

“Those crying wolves are the very people who are distorting and thwarting every effort geared towards digitalizing the Anambra revenue system. Their goal is that the Anambra revenue generation system must remain in its analogue form so that it will continue to feed fat on the state resources.

“Digitalizing the system will put them out of business, and that is why they found favour with their co-travellers in AIRS to do everything humanly possible in their power to hunt down Dr Christian Madubuko, knowing fully well that only Madubuko can catch them easily. If not, why are they out to stop the Executive Director in charge of Operations from going to the field?”

However, in his reaction, Project Manager of the Bigly Oil and Gas, Chukwuma Nwabuikwu, defended his company’s agents, emphasizing that they were well-trained and not involved in illicit activities. He further argued that the arrested individuals were not affiliated with Bigly Oil and Gas.

The conflict between Ezeilo and Madubuko appears to be rooted in opposing views and tussle for power, supremacy, and control in the Service.

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