While Nigerians are still reeling from the shock of a so-called foreign investor called P&ID deploying the law as an instrument of fraud in a foreign court with the sole aim of dispossessing us of a humongous chunk of our national wealth, it would appear that yet another “foreign investor” has most atrociously short changed Nigerian workers vide a series of highly suspicious tax deductions
According to ARCO, an indigenous company, General Electric, G.E., a supposed foreign investor, priding itself as a multinational of top rate international repute, is indebted to it to the tune of N1,891,752,241.48, $7,326,125.99, and €328,189.32, being sums comprising over-deduction of withholding tax at 10% instead of the statutorily stipulated 5%, which sums G.E. deducted and claimed to have remitted to the Federal Internal Revenue Service, FIRS.
Our own investigations indicate that ARCO has not merely been over-taxed but that it has been defrauded of the sums in contention and to the detriment of its Nigerian workers it subsequently found itself unable to meet its obligations to consequent upon the aforesaid malfeasance.
Indeed, it is much to our great surprise that ARCO would deem itself to be in some sort of dispute with G.E. on issues centred around over-taxation when it is so clear that it is the victim of a most perfidious fraud!
Also quite perplexing to us is the fact that the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, as well as the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association, PENGASSAN, seem not to have realised that their members are actually victims by implication of a fraud perpetrated against ARCO and that this is not a case of over-taxation at all!
Even more surprising is the fact that the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment apparently also fell for the ruse that this is a case of ordinary wrongful taxation when upon first contact with the matter it ought to have been crystal clear to it that something quite fishy between G.E. and whomsoever might had been aiding and abetting them at FIRS is what is actually going on to the detriment of ARCO and its Nigerian workers!
It is surely not the mandate of the Ministry of Labour to appear intimidated, hapless and confused with respect to such a serious matter or allow itself to be led by the nose by a multinational brazenly breaking the law. It is the constitutionally imposed duty of the ministry to ensure that justice is done to a Nigerian firm and its dispossessed workers. Indeed, going forward, we demand that this matter be immediately escalated from the level of the Directors to the office of the Minister and Minister of State for immediate and concerted attention in service to the Nigerian workforce.
Whatever went on between questionable elements at G.E. and whomever they might had collaborated with at FIRS stinks to high heavens with intolerably adverse consequences for Nigerian workers and it is our considered opinion that nothing could be further from the truth than the entirely erroneous notion that this is a mere case of wrongful assessment or computation of taxes payable and due.
In fact, as far as we are concerned, this fiction wholly arises from a total misapprehension of the significances disclosed by G.E.’s conduct in the entire affair for not only did G.E. over-duct the said tax, it would appear not to have remitted the entire sums thereby withheld from ARCO and its Nigerian workers while being most infuriatingly vague and rather quite shifty in its approach to resolving the matter ever since.
Putting it mildly, G.E.’s actions, inactions, behaviour and general disposition so far in this matter constitute conduct deserving of thorough and rigorous criminal investigation, and, as far as we are concerned, the entire affair smells more of fraud perpetrated against ARCO, Nigerian workers and our national Treasury than a straightforward case of mere over-taxation which ordinarily should have been easily and amicably resolved by now.
While indeed, it was up to G.E. to deduct and remit withholding tax at 5% due from ARCO to the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, surely, it is entirely baffling that G.E., a multinational, with all its decades and wealth of corporate experience across the world would overpay taxes by deducting 10% rather than underpay them as multinationals are notorious for doing all over the world!
In any case, FIRS, the real taxing and receiving authority has denied receipt of a huge chunk of the over-deducted sums while G.E. on its part has so far woefully failed to show that it did remit the disputed component of the said over-deduction and in fact has subsequently been conducting itself rather evasively.
To us, it is clear from the facts we have so far discovered and ascertained that yet another multinational has perpetrated a brazen, heinous and highly insulting act of fraud against an indigenous Nigerian firm with dire consequences for Nigerian workers quite apart from our well-founded suspicions that our national treasury might have been short changed.
Even more galling is the fact that one more multinational might have perfected yet another heinous crime against Nigerians under the guise of collecting tax on behalf of an agency of our own government to which it does not seem to have remitted all of the excess 5% withholding tax it arbitrarily over deducted from ARCO.
This can only be described as a multinational carrying out a criminal enterprise using our own tax laws and agencies as cover for its nefarious activities! Most intolerable from G.E. has been its penchant for stalling, foot dragging, grandstanding and employment of a myriad of shameful delay tactics all geared towards frustrating ARCO, an upstanding corporate citizen, from getting justice in its determination not to be defrauded so as to meet its obligations to Nigerian workers.
Worse still, and much to our chagrin, it appears G.E. has been signalling ARCO to drag it to court over the matter! Surely, these so-called foreign investors must think Nigerians are a pack of fools! Who the hell is going to court with whom? That is just another ruse for prolonging the matter and delaying its resolution for several years hence, in the hope that by then, most of these workers would have died of hunger or ARCO, their employer, might had gone under in frustration.
Nobody is taking anybody to court. Indeed, it would be most foolhardy for ARCO to oblige G.E. by falling for yet another scam for there simply does not exist any civil dispute, properly so called, for ARCO to take G.E. to court over. In a case like this with such a strong and pungent odour indicative of fraud, any case arising there from, would just have to be a question of the culprit being dragged kicking and screaming, if need be, to court on a very long sheet of criminal charges!
In the strict contemplation of law, a criminal conduct is not a dispute between two persons or companies; it is an affront of criminal significance by the offending party against the entire municipal community represented by the state and it is for that party to be tried in the appropriate forum and in accordance with the applicable format and procedure for the offense so disclosed.
Indeed, asking ARCO to go to court is just another fraudulent subterfuge calculated to obfuscate the true nature of what transpired amongst G.E., ARCO and the FIRS, while serving as just another delay mechanism by G.E. to further frustrate an indigenous corporate entity with wholly unacceptable consequences for Nigerian workers.
What is called for, required and altogether appropriate with respect to this matter under the law is a concerted law enforcement action to retrieve these stolen funds from the offending multinational, G.E., and for the said funds to be immediately restored to its victim, ARCO in order for it to meet its obligations to its Nigerian employees while bringing to book all persons implicated in machinating this most demeaning crime against our collective intelligence as Nigerians!
Equally confusing has been the disposition of the FIRS thus far. First it appears to have denied receipt of the over-deductions, then it acknowledged receipt of a part thereof only to claim inability to immediately refund the sums because of “lack of cash”!
Are we now supposed to believe the FIRS of all agencies is cash-strapped or what? These people just think the rest of us are all a bunch of simpletons. FIRS, our prime revenue extractor and compactor, which by law retains what in real terms amounts to an astronomical percentage of the national fiscus cannot refund illegally deducted taxes because it lacks cash for the time being! What another cock and bull story! What happened to the money? It disappeared into some people’s private pockets or what? They will surely cough it out. Nonsense. Indeed, the already reconciled portion of the over-deductions must be immediately restored to ARCO for the part settlement and relief of its workers forthwith. Why should Nigerian workers be left in the lurch while some fat cats at G.E. and apparently FIRS, as well, smile to the banks?
While as a nation we must strive to attract, welcome, be hospitable to, and cooperate with foreign investors, we must no longer allow our nation to remain a hunting ground for corporate gangsters who invade our shores to loot, rape and steal under the smokescreen of investing in our economy.
Just as we must resist questionable characters flaunting bogus proposals who then go to the length of obtaining foreign judgments awarding them multi-billion dollar compensation for work not done, as P&ID has done, all our institutions must be of one accord in protecting Nigerian workers while affording protection to our own local investors and entrepreneurs who fall victim to shady foreign players in our economy.
We are proud to say that in the run-up to the last elections we insisted on pitching our tent in the President Muhammadu Buhari camp as a far better option than the alternative. The average Joes but highly patriotic Nigerians who make up the rank and file of the Coalition For Truth in Nigeria expended their time, invested their energies, spent their hard-earned monies and deployed every lawful and legitimate resource as we stood to be counted on the side of probity, transparency, accountability and anti-corruption in solidarity with the Buhari administration. We have not bothered to demand compensation for our support but only insist on integrity going forward.
While demanding the urgent, immediate and surgical attention of the Presidency to this issue, we call on the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to immediately open an inquiry into the case as it represents a veritable opportunity for both houses of our national parliament to demonstrate the unwavering resolve of the first arm of government to protect all Nigerians, while underlining its preparedness, at all times, to come to the protection of our own local investors.
Our government and indeed all patriotic Nigerians must now draw a line in the sand indicating our irrevocable opposition to all fraudulent so-called foreign investors as we all, in one accord, proceed to alert Nigerians and the international community to the new reality that while being truly ready for business with the rest of the world, it is no longer business as usual in Nigeria.
Even as patriots eager for foreign investment in our national economy, we must not equivocate in sounding it loud and clear that we find the conduct of General Electric, G.E., in its dealings with ARCO and its workers to be most disappointing to say the least! Indeed, such arrogant rascality bothering on brazen criminality can only serve to cast G.E. more in the mold of an international parasite, than a responsible multinational player and respectable global operator.
Needless to say, the shamelessness with which it would appear to have so underhandedly dealt with a local company is more than enough grounds for it to be immediately reported to United States authorities for prosecution in America for highly questionable activities abroad.
Going forward, the multinational, G.E. must not have one more moment of rest until justice is done to our long-suffering Nigerian workers so atrociously short changed thanks to its highly condemnable treatment of ARCO. Needless to say, not even one more multinational or international hustler masquerading as a foreign investor should be allowed to get away with another demeaning assault on our collective intelligence.
Andrew Osai Eke, For and on behalf of The Coalition for Truth in Nigeria.
278 Deco Road, Warri.