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Tracking Nigeria’s rich tax evaders

Most countries have developed some sort of identity numbers linked with their tax offices. For example every adult American has a Social Security Number which serves this purpose. Thus, given a name and a Social Security Number, it is quite easy for tax collectors to determine within minutes if an individual has been paying taxes and how much he or she paid every year.

Due to the laziness and incompetence of our successive governments Nigeria has failed to establish such a quick-check system. Thus, the announcement by the Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, that an unnamed United Kingdom-based forensic and assets-tracing firm had been engaged to trace the wealth of, at least, 150 wealthy Nigerians for proper taxation is a step in the right direction, though belated.

One wonders why it has taken so long to do this. Perhaps, it is one of our positive self-preserving reactions to the ongoing economic recession. For several years Forbes had been publishing the names of wealthy people worldwide including Nigeria’s wealthiest. Even without Forbes, our Federal and State Governments have ignored the conspicuous consumption habits of Nigeria’s very wealthy people who may not have been paying tax..

Some of the nation’s television stations broadcast every week lavish weddings, housewarming gigs, birthdays and burial ceremonies of affluent individuals who have no qualms  flaunting their wealth-legitimate or ill-gotten. Elsewhere in the world, the federal and state tax authorities would be monitoring such events and mount tax due diligence on the celebrators.

This way, we would cut down on wasteful spending, while more money will be channelled to investment and charities. But due to lack of tax monitoring on lavish ceremonies, even those who are hardly well-to-do engage in the ignoble habit.

It is a pity that at 57 years of our independence we are contracting this job to a foreign firm to do a job that should otherwise be routine for our tax men and women. We must put our acts together and adopt a holistic home-grown mechanism to properly tax our citizens and invest more in social amenities and other services. We must also cut down the number of waivers offered to highly-connected individuals. The President Olusegun Obasanjo regime alone frittered away close to N400 billion in waivers, while the nation has lost over one trillion Naira to waivers since 1999.

Starving our treasury of valuable non-oil income is not acceptable and should also be addressed. If a comprehensive tax audit is ever conducted in Nigeria it is doubtful if any wealthy Nigerian will go without facing charges.

The tax probe is welcome but the scope should be widened to capture more tax delinquents and their accomplices in governments at Federal and State levels.


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