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Gov Bello rejects ‘devilish’ bread levy

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The governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, has condemned the imposition of tax on loaves of bread produced in the state.

Edward Onoja, the deputy governor, disclosed this in a statement on Saturday.

This paper had reported how the state government hired a consultant, Musag Enterprises, to levy bakers and caterers for every loaf of bread and confectionery they produce in the state.

The state’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry made the introduction on November 9, through a memo signed by its permanent secretary, Usman Ibrahim.

The memo was addressed to the chairperson, Association of Master bakers and Caterers of Nigeria, Kogi State branch.

The collection of the levy was billed to commence on Monday.

The levy which generated furore because it is coming at a time businesses have barely recovered from the economic effects of the pandemic, was also defended by the state’s commissioner of information, Kingsley Fanwo.

Mr Fanwo said the levy is not new and that the engagement of a firm to collect them was one of the state’s strategies for protecting its indigenous bakers.

He said the state’s indigenous bakers had complained of poor sales due to bakers who pay no tax to the state bringing bread from outside the state to sell in Kogi.

U-turn

However, in a twist on Saturday, Mr Onoja said that the governor was not privy to the consultancy agreement between the ministry and a private firm.

“For the records, neither the Governor nor the state executive council has imagined or proposed such a devilish tax regime, how much less imposing same on any food or essential commodity, not to mention bread which is a table staple and the basic lifeline of many a household,” the statement read.

The deputy governor said that his principal directed him to personally debunk the news to underscore how serious the government considered the disinformation.

“I am directed by His Excellency to give the lie to news of an alleged tax imposed on each loaf of bread to be sold in Kogi State. There is no iota of truth in the claims that we have approved such wickedness because we have not and cannot,” he said.

He said he was also shocked by the news of the development, saying it ran contrary to the “widely advertised posture of the state government that the people of Kogi State must not be subjected to any act or policy that will increase their pains in this Covid-19 season.”

Mr Onoja highlighted the state’s responses to issues impacting the welfare of his people during the pandemic as proof that such a tax runs counter to everything the administration stands for.

“It is well-documented in the media that Governor Yahaya Bello has fought powerful forces, more than any other governor perhaps, to keep his people safe. As CoviD-19 ravaged the country and the world he has mobilized them for lifestyle changes that defeated the virus in the state. He spared them lockdowns and the inherent disruptions to their lives and livelihoods characteristic of covid responses in other places.

“He scrupulously obeyed WHO and NCDC guidelines to provide testing to high-risk individuals. He relied on the pioneering use of Rapid Test Kits for the coronavirus long before they became mainstream. He responded swiftly with contact tracing and quarantines on all suspected cases,” he said.

He reiterated that “no extra financial burden will apply for the time being on citizens and assured that any business which has met the regulatory requirements for doing business in Kogi State including payment of routine tax is entitled to operate freely, and that includes bakeries and bread traders.”

He also reassured the general public that those behind the “rumours” would be fished out and punished.

“We will not tolerate our own officials trying to profiteer off our people in any way, or even acting ill-advisedly in manners that cause them any form of distress,” he said.

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