By Salisu Na’inna Dambatta
THE World Bank has recently upgraded Nigeria in its tax collection ranking from number 171 to 157 in the world. This improvement is the outcome of the efforts by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to raise tax revenues from a dismal six per cent of the Gross Domestic Product to a higher level commensurate to the size of our economy.
The administration initiated a major reform of the National Tax Policy. The World Bank extended multifarious support to the reform, which simplified and streamlined the complex tax codes into an easy to comprehend and comply with regime.
One of the innovative strategies designed and implemented to improve the tax collection rate was the Voluntary Asset and Income Declaration Scheme, VAIDS. It gave individuals and corporate bodies a window to voluntarily declare their tax liabilities based on their honest self-assessment. Many patriots who previously refused, delayed and failed to pay the correct tax responded favourably, raising the number of tax payers by 42 per cent, or from 13 million to 19.2 million in 2017.
The favourable responses to the VAIDS window, the impact of the tax policy reform and the reported boost in the collection of taxes by the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, combined to lift the country above 14 of its peers as indicated earlier from number 171 to number 157.
Profound as the improved ranking is for many important reasons, including the worldwide recognition that Nigeria can, and has indeed, demonstrated a capacity to achieve set national economic goals, some net worth individuals who often flaunt their wealth, have refused to take the benefit of the VAIDS window and pay what everyone in the country would regard as appropriate tax.
For instance, a prominent example, a top politician and presidential candidate of one of the political parties who has been in the corridors of power for several years declared an income that nobody will believe as truthfully accurate.
A rigorous data mining through the Internet returned dozens of entries reporting that the said politician has disclosed in a submission to the Independent National Electoral Commission that, that he paid N10.8 million as tax between 2015 and 2017.
“He also declared a personal income of N60.2 million in three years, according to the credentials he filed with the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC,” as reported by many national newspapers on October 26, 2018.
Many observers and civil society organisations regarded as “paltry” the personal income and the tax he paid on it as unbelievable and do not fit his projected stature.
A pro-democracy group, Rebirth Nigeria Leadership and Good Governance Initiative, was so disappointed by the less-than expected declaration of income that it strongly called for a thorough probe into the financial activities of the companies belonging to him.
The group expressed strong suspicion and real doubt that the income declared by this presidential candidate must have been filled with “irregularities”.
The National President of the Rebirth Nigeria Leadership and Good Governance Initiative, Olugbenro Ogunoye, accused this opposition presidential candidate of not telling the truth about his income and taxes.
According to him, the amount declared could not cover the multiple trips he makes in a year.
“Aside that, the amount of money the presidential candidate doles out to urchins and political hangers on, even before the start of electioneering, on a monthly basis, is way more than N20 million,” Olugbenro noted.
In addition to Non-Governmental Organisations that doubted the truthfulness of the income declared by the politician-businessman, some normal taxpayers, like Mark Essien, who is a technology entrepreneur, tweeted that he pays more in taxes than what this politician has declared.
Many media outlets reported on May 7, 2018, the man who reported a personal income of around N60 million in three years, doled out millions of Naira to the victims of Mubi bomb blast at the Federal Medical Centre, Yola.
Given the present sceanrio, if indeed he has the kind of wealth that has been attributed to him, the Federal Inland Revenue Service and his State Board of Internal Revenue have reasons to invite him to reconcile his tax records.
But if I was in his shoes, and have been found to have under-declared my income for the purpose of paying tax, I will pay the arrears and publicly apologise to the nation, instead of living with the image of someone who wants to lead a country he is not willing to pay appropriate taxes to.
Salisu Na’inna Dambatta , a former executive committee member of the Nigeria Guild of Editors, wrote from Abuja.