By Lekan Bilesanmi
The prestigious Base Centre in Enugu, on 8 February, was the focal point of members of the business community in Enugu State. The occasion was the hosting of the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS) by the Enugu State Government.
In attendance was the governor of the state, Mr. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, who was accompanied by members of the state Executive Council, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly, other top government functionaries and traditional rulers in the state.
Also present was the Finance Minister, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, whose ministry conceived VAIDS as a panacea to the country’s many tax defects. Mr. Tunde Fowler, Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), was represented by Sir Oseni Elamah, Executive Secretary, Joint Tax Board (JTB).
The business community in the state made its presence felt with large number of representatives from across the sectors. They included members of Enugu Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, Nsukka Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, bank executives, lawyers, market traders, electronic dealers, hospital owners, school owners and transport owners associations among others.
In her speech at the event, Adeosun said the Federal Government has compiled data on property, bank accounts, shareholdings and other income sources of individuals and corporate entities. According to her, VAIDS was conceived to allow Nigerian companies and individuals to do what right for the country, right for Enugu State and right for one another.
“From our records, there seems to be a few big men and big women 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, shareholdings and other sources that suggest that many people have not been paying the right taxes. VAIDS is an opportunity to regularize,” she stated.
The minister added that huge sums of money have been moved out of Nigeria without the owners paying a kobo in tax. She warned those who have taken money out of the country without paying taxes that they would be found out.
“The good news for government, which is bad news for the tax evaders, is that globally, nations have agreed to share data under the Automatic Exchange of Information. This means that sitting at 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,” stated Adeosun.
While stating that the country is proud of her millionaires and billionaires and want many more emerge, she stated that the government wants everyone to pay the right taxes for the development of the country, which currently has a very poor scorecard in tax compliance because of her obsession with oil revenue.
“When oil came, we abandoned the old systems of tax collection that provided most of our infrastructure since colonial days. Currently, we have just 14million taxpayers out of 70million, who are economically active. So, many who should be paying are not paying anything. Incidentally, we have 74million registered voters.
“Also, some who are paying something 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,” she said.
The minister explained that with the payment of regular taxes, the country will be shielded from the type of difficulty that the collapse in oil prices and the recession have inflicted on her. Payment of taxes, she explained, is a fundamental requirement for the economic revival of the country.
“How many of us would love to switch off our generators if there was constant power from the grid? And how many new businesses could we start if we had more power? How much longer would our cars last if all our roads were in perfect condition? How many of us would love to sack the landlord and buy a home if government housing programmes could be expanded?” she asked.
She stated that there is so much more that government could and would do if everyone would pay the right taxes.
“I note that Enugu State is part of the N-Power scheme, it might interest you to know that one man or better still, one woman paying tax of N1.2 million per annum, would finance 40 graduates in a month on the N-Power scheme. Maybe you don’t like young unemployed graduates and the fact that we have many thousands waiting to join the labour market does not worry you, so, let’s look at the School Feeding Programme.
That same N1 .2million will feed 17,143 primary school students for a day. That same N1.2million will allow us to transfer N5000 to 240 of the poorest Nigerians for a month. You will be amazed at what just N5000 can do in the lives of some of the widows, disabled, destitute and downtrodden in our society.
So, there is a direct link between payment of taxes and quality of life for Nigerians. The more people co-operate with government, the more government will be able to do,” she said.
VAIDS, which provides a time-limited opportunity for tax defaulters to declare their indebtedness, ends on 31 March. Declarers will be free of tax audits, payment of interests and penalties on owed taxes as well as prosecution. Failure to declare at the expiration of the window will attract severe penalties and prosecution.