BY CHIDI NKWOPARA
Economic activities in Imo State came to an abrupt halt yesterday, following the summary closure of eight commercial banks operating in the state by agents of the state government.
Confirming government’s action in a press conference, the Commissioner for Internal Resources and Pension Affairs, Mr. Nick Opara-Ndudu, explained that the banks were sealed for failing to pay the state withholding tax on interest paid to customers.
“The Board of Internal Revenue, in exercise of its statutory powers today, sealed the premises of eight commercial banks in Imo State for their failure to pay to the withholding tax on interest paid to customers,” Opara-Ndudu said.
According to the commissioner, the action was taken in compliance with a court order granted the BIR, authorizing it to seal the affected banks after their failure to heed the repeated demands to fulfill their statutory obligations to the state.
“The action of the BIR is intended to send a clear signal to all organizations and institutions operating in the state on ten need for them to meet their statutory obligations to the state and it’s citizens,” the commissioner said.
While noting that the action was taken in a very civil manner, Opara-Ndudu also revealed that the amount owed the state government was roughly N2 billion.
“We are not going to use thugs to collect this money. It was done with the Nigerian Police. We had gone through the records of these banks and determined that it is something verifiable,” he said.
Opara-Ndudu gave the names of the affected banks to include United Bank for Africa, UBA, Fidelity, Diamand, Enterprise, Keystone, Ecobank, Union Bank and First Bank.
The commissioner was particularly irked that Imo had one of the lowest compliance rate in the payment of taxes in the entire country, stressing that government’s action was not punitive or meant to discourage anybody from doing business in the state.