By Paulinus Nsirim
It is an incontrovertible fact that since the deadly coronavirus pandemic broke out globally, Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike of Rivers State has demonstrated in words and actions that he is prepared to protect the lives of Rivers citizens from the deadly virus.
He is not only striving to protect lives but has also provided incentives to cushion the harsh economic effect of the pandemic in the 23 local government areas of the State.
By a combination of astute administrative initiatives, pragmatic responsiveness and committed enforcement of public health guidelines Governor Wike has exhibited a rare kind of leadership.
This strong, unwavering and courageous leadership has ensured that Rivers people are not only protected but also given succour.
The latest of these measures was introduced recently when the Rivers State Governor granted tax reliefs and incentives to taxpayers in the state and granted a waiver of 50 per cent on all assessed Capital Gains Tax (CGT) until December 2020.
But most importantly was the fact that the Governor also announced the suspension of all informal sector tax drive for the year 2020, because he was very much aware that the informal sector was the worst hit in terms of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those in the informal sector to enjoy this tax suspension relief are: Market stalls, Hair and barbing saloons, mini supermarkets and kiosks, Technicians, Mechanics, Artisans, Passenger vehicle operators (Taxis and buses running town service), Welders, Vulcanizers and all related small businesses.
Governor Wike equally suspended all local government taxes and levies for the 2020 tax year, except tenement rate and warned that nobody should pay or collect any levies from Rivers people who were managing to èké out a living and feed their families.
Also, a 20 percent discount was granted on all Personal Income Tax (PIT) assessment issued to owners of schools, hotels, pharmacies and hospitals, as well as other allied businesses in the year to December 31, 2020.
Governor Wike’s directivies on these tax reliefs were contained in a Press Statement issued by the Executive Director, Rivers State Internal Revenue Service (RIRS), Adoage Norteh.
The statement further announced the extension of the deadline of self-assessment and annual returns by individuals and companies operating in the State to December 31, 2020, due to COVID-19 restriction of movements which affected businesses.
According to the Statement: ‘The COVID-19 pandemic and the related lockdowns have resulted in major disruption in economic activities, resulting in negative economic impact, particularly on micro, small medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs).
“Most of these MSMEs operate in the rural areas, with many having limited online connectivity to be able to file and pay their taxes electronically.
“It has, therefore, become expedient and equitable for the Rivers State Government to ease the compliance requirements for taxpayers, giving them waivers on penalties and interest for late filing and payment of taxes to the extent that they are related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Governor stated.
The strict warning given to traders at the Ogbum-nu-Abali Fruit Garden Market not to have any dealing with anyone who claims to be acting on behalf of Port Harcourt Local Government Area, was a clear and direct indication that the administration would not hesitate to sanction anybody who was going to harass and make life hard for Rivers people who were making a living for themselves and their families.
These tax reliefs and waivers till the end of the year are in line with the avowed commitment of Governor Wike to device creative and operational ways of cushioning the harsh economic effect of Covid-19 on the people.
This strategy started when the Rivers State Government commenced the distribution of palliatives to the aged, widows and other vulnerable groups.
Governor Wike set up a Food Purchasing Committee headed by the Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Tammy Danagogo and released the sum of N2 billion to buy up all the produce from Rivers farmers and fishermen, thus empowering them too.
He equally set up a high powered Palliative team led by Ambassador Desmond Akawor, the dynamic Rivers State PDP Chairman.
The team which had members drawn from Religious, Civil Society, Military, Media and other professional bodies was saddled with the responsibility of distributing palliatives to the vulnerable and less privileged, irrespective of political party affiliation.
Recall also that On May 27, 2020 the State Executive Council meeting presided over by Governor Wike had approved the implementation of the Free Bus Scheme to further address the public transportation system and check the community spread of coronavirus in the state.
Implementation of the scheme began on June 1, 2020 and the luxury buses deployed for the scheme have been operating successfully in Obio/Akpor, Port Harcourt, Oyigbo and Eleme Local Government Areas as a pilot scheme, from 6:30 am to 7 pm daily, picking and dropping passengers only at designated bus stops free of charge. The buses are strictly running in compliance the with advisories on social distancing, use of hand sanitizers and wearing of face masks.
Many Rivers residents who are already enjoying the safety and comfort of the Free buses, have expressed happiness with the initiative, describing the Scheme as a gift that can only come from a compassionate and visionary leader, who has the interest and welfare of his people at heart.
Rivers residents who have embraced the initiative are enjoying the scheme which has eased their transportation challenges and also helped to stop the spread of coronavirus in the state.
Indeed, it is on record that since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Wike has done so much to show his love for Rivers people. Recently, the governor promised that Markets will reopen soon after Government is satisfied that everything will be put in place for traders and their customers to obey the relevant protocols.
The Governor has always maintained that lives of Rivers people and those living and doing business in the state are paramount.
Rivers people, who have objectively and sincerely followed the actions and strategies of Governor Wike in checking the spread of the coronavirus pandemic have all agreed that, despite the alarmist cries, he is a visionary and courageous leader who is totally committed and desirous to ensure that the community spread of the pandemic is curtailed in the State.
Governor Wike has consistently maintained his operational strategy which is to Prepare, Protect, Contain, Reduce and ultimately Curtail coronavirus in Rivers state and his guiding principle has always been Rivers first.
This has placed the defence and protection of Rivers lives above all other considerations in handling the coronavirus pandemic.
The increase in the number of positive cases in areas where restrictions were relaxed due to public outcry has so far been a major challenge.
There is need for government to continue to be strict in enforcing safety precautions, while providing necessary incentives to cushion the economic hardship. Our people on their part, need to be more vigilant and take personal responsibility by obeying the relevant protocols.
With the tax, suspensions, reliefs and waivers now put in place to add to other incentives to assist the people in these times of great challenge all over the world , Governor Wike’s administration is making sure that the lives and interests of Rivers people are secured and protected.
Let us join hands with him to ensure that our State is secure and safe.
- Paulinus Nsirim is the Commissioner for Information and Communications, Rivers State