The federal government declared in Enugu on Thursday that it had compiled data on property, bank accounts, shareholdings and other income sources of individuals and corporate entities, warning that there would be unsavoury consequences for those who failed to regularise their tax status.
Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, spoke at the commencement of the sensitisation campaign on the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS), a new tax policy of the federal government
Adeosun advised the state residents, the business community and other wealthy Nigerians to take advantage of VAIDS to regularise their tax status and escape embarrassment from the government.
The state government hosted the event, which was attended by the state Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi; members of the state executive Council, the state legislators and traditional rulers as well as Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr. Tunde Fowler, who was represented by the Executive Secretary, Joint Tax Board (JTB), Sir Oseni Elamah.
Also present were representatives of the business community in the state, including Enugu Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture; Nsukka Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture; bank executives, lawyers, traders, electronic dealers, hospital owners, school owners and transport owners associations.
Adeosun said VAIDS was conceived to allow Nigerian companies and individuals to voluntarily do what is right for the country by coming forward to declare their assets for proper tax evaluation.
According to her, “From our records, there seems to be a few rich people from this part of the country who may need to think very carefully about making a VAIDS declaration. We have been compiling data on property, bank accounts, share holdings and other sources that suggest that many people have not been paying the right taxes. VAIDS is an opportunity to regularise.”
According to her, it would be difficult for the federal government to address the huge infrastructural deficit in the country without the people taxes, noting that huge sums of money have been moved out of Nigeria without the owners paying a kobo in tax.
“The good news for government, which is bad news for the tax evaders, is that globally, countries have agreed to share data under the Automatic Exchange of Information. This means that while sitting on our desks in Abuja, we are getting information about assets that the owners thought were well hidden from the tax authorities.
“As you know, Nigerians are entitled to keep their wealth anywhere in the world, including under their mattress, but what the law requires is that they pay tax on their income as they earn it,” the minister added.
Nigeria, she stated, has a very poor scorecard in tax payment, noting that “when oil came, we abandoned the old systems of tax collection that provided most of our infrastructure since the colonial days.
“Currently, we have just 14 million taxpayers out of 70million, who are economically active. So many people who should be paying are not paying anything. Incidentally, we have 74million registered voters.
“Also, some who are paying tax are not paying the correct amount. It may seem smart for a businessman to go and get a tax clearance certificate for N200,00 when he earns millions, but I can tell you without fear of contradiction that not only is this illegal, but such people are cheating themselves and future generations.”
In his remarks, the state Governor, Ugwuanyi, appealed to the finance minister to ask federal government establishments in the state to pay the state government huge withholding tax debts owed the state. The state governor pledged the cooperation of the state government to ensure the success of the new tax scheme, noting that it would also boost the state’s internally generated revenue (IGR).