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Traders Stranded At Abakaliki Rice Mill Gate, As Industry’s Shutdown Enters Day 2

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By 247ureports – June 15th, 2022.

From Mba Nnenna – Abakaliki.

Traders who came from different parts of the state are left stranded at the gate of popular Abakaliki Rice Mill Industry as its shutdown entered day two on Tuesday, 14th June, 2022.

The crisis which erupted on Monday morning prompted the shutdown of the milling company over struggle for control of the Industry’s internal revenue.

According to reports, it was observed that the rift was between the new leadership of the mill led by Comrade Obeji Linus and firms in charge of internal revenue of the area who the executive chairman ordered that their contract be terminated on the ground of the industry having conducted election.

Our reporter gathered that the Internal Generated Revenue Board chairman, Mr Agwu Nweze had earlier this year awarded the revenue contract to three firms who collect and remit payment to the government purse due to alleged impunity orchestrated by stakeholders that had handled the tax collection.

According to the report, some of the mill’s stakeholders before awarding the contract had owed Government over six million naira between September and December which prompted government termination of the job and awarded it to private firms who have been transparent in their payment until the new development.

It was further learnt that the new leadership of the mill on Monday shutdown the industry’s gate requesting the termination of the contract and that prompted some engine owners to go on rampage demanding that they be allowed to carry on their business activities.

According to one of the mill owners, Mr Irem Benard Obinna stated that traders woke up Monday morning, to their surprise business activities was interrupted by some individuals who are bent on destroying the good image of the company.

He explained that the company had since January reached compromise with the state government to award contract of internal revenue collection of the Mill to private firms, hence, the firms involved have experienced smooth flow of transaction as such had promoted conducive business environment in the milling company.

Irem lamented that some suspected individuals who have plunged the mill into debt regroup to introduce their antics as to destroy the mill the more with the gimmick of shutting down the company to frustrate traders.

“Since last year, we were facing high tariff until we protested to the government who heard us perfectly and they reduced our charge in terms of revenue payment to an extent that we were paying 100 naira per 50kg.

“It all started when the milling company was run by caretaker leadership and traders were not comfortable with the amount they pay for revenue that it was affecting our business, we approached government, thereafter, reached compromise that Hon Joseph Ununu, (Zuma) should be collecting money of one of the gates while Mr Augustine Obasi and Mr Elias Nwobu should be in charge of different points but unknown to us that they were not paying Government what’s due to them.

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“By December, the government came with last warning threatening to shutdown the mill if we refuse to pay our IGR and then, the arrears was about twenty something million naira and when we enquire about the course of the delay in payment, they started backsliding and even refused to give us financial update.

“Then, we discovered that they have embezzled Government money worth over six million naira which government on their part awarded the contract to private individuals which since January those involved have been paying handsomely well.

“Meanwhile, I am busy doing my business since the environment is conducive and that been what brought me to the mill, I pay my taxes even as we speak have paid my 2022 tax already which includes 14,000 meant for business premises but those who have been collecting the money use it to enrich their pockets and never remitted it to the government.

“So, after the election that saw the new leadership, on 28th May production kicked off at the mill which by June they were given instructions on how to revive Rice Mill revenue and everything were all going well until we saw same people who have been accused of embezzling the mill revenue found into the system at the time the government is asking them to pay the money they’re owing and they then shutdown the mill asking us to join them in protest to revive the Rice Mill to themselves.

“My question is, why further subjecting the poor masses into another problem for selfish reason even when we are already enjoying the already established method of the collection of this tax?”.

“As a concern member of Abakaliki Rice Mill Owner, I am appealing to the State governor to intervene and direct that the private firms be allowed to continue the collection of the revenue as to maintain sanity in the industry and to continue enjoying business without distraction from greedy group who will end up collecting money from the poor masses but will not remit the tax to government purse to our detriment.

Corroborating the report, one of the workers with the contracting company, Mr Inya Chukwuemeka narrated that they were shocked with the development that prompted their illegal attack at the gate, and stated that the company has the right to diplomatically approach the revenue board who will negotiate at end of the year to change the contract to choice firm.

According to him,” we were visited this morning with suprise but we have tried asking the new leadership to exercise patience till the January period that the job is usually bid and they’re free to approach the revenue board and if they collect the job, we will put our hands off from it instead of engaging it with wrong approach.

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“We have lost alot from the market since morning that the company was shutdown and traders were chased out of the place.

“Our prayer is that the state government should intervene by restoring peace in the place because the company is feeding many families in the state”.

Also, Comrade Ben Nwabueze , one of the contractors hinted that the crisis that erupted in the area was engineered by some of the stakeholders who wish to hijack activities of the mill.

He noted that the company stakeholders who handled the mill in the past and owe the state government are behind the fresh outburst and urge the State governor to intervene in bringing lasting solution to the system.

Speaking with the Executive chairman, Abakaliki Rice Mill Industry, Comrade Obeji Linus frown at the activities of the contractors and said their job was terminated since his assumption of office.

He blamed the closure of the mill to the contractors refusal in handing over the collection of the internal revenue to him.

On his part, the member representing Abakaliki South in Ebonyi State House of Assembly and former chairman, Abakaliki Rice Mill Industry, Deacon Joseph Ununu (Zuma) distanced himself from the crisis happening in the mill.

Deacon Ununu explained that he last intervened in the revenue crisis that erupted in the company late last year when he employed three stakeholders to help collect IGR of the industry and remit payment to the Administrative chairman who received the sum running over thirteen million naira against over ten million naira that was expected to pay to the board purse.

He accused the Administrative chairman to have mismanaged over six million naira which he accepted to have received from the collectors but did not pay to the Internal Revenue Board that resulted to the company owing the board.

He refuted the speculation that he’s owing the board and noted that his intervention was on the rescue mission and account of the revenue generated within the three months in the company was duly paid to the Administrative chairman, but wonder why traders should wrongly accuse him for coming to their aid.

He advised that job of contractors handling the revenue in the mill be terminated and awarded to the company who should be in the position to handle it and remit payment to the government.

In an interview, some of the traders from Cross River state; Mr Edu Linus and Prince Felix Agom, bus Driver lamented that the shutdown of the mill had put the image of the industry in bad light and appealed to the state government to intervene and bring lasting peace to the industry.

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