The Federal Government launched the Voluntary Asset and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS) on June 29, 2017 to address the problem of low tax compliance in the country and to generate the much-needed revenue for public expenditure.
The launch was greeted with mixed feelings, with some people questioning the rationale behind granting amnesty to tax evaders, while others considered the initial nine-month deadline for compliance too long. The scheme outlined government’s plan to grant tax payers a time-limited opportunity to regularise their status without penalty.
The plan, being executed in collaboration with state governments, concentrates on the national duty of all Nigerian companies and citizens to pay their taxes, wherever their income is earned, wherever they reside and no matter how rich they are.
It was predicated on a low six per cent tax to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio, considered one of the lowest globally. It has been designed to raise the ratio to about 15 per cent by 2020, just two years from now. Another basis for the scheme is that tax evasion leaves an unfair burden of payment on those who can afford it least – Nigeria’s poorest people.
Taxation is generally considered a fair means of wealth redistribution as high net worth individuals pay higher than low-income earners. VAIDS provides a one-off opportunity for evaders to avoid the wrath of the law. Between July 1 and December 31, 2017, evaders were encouraged to regularise their tax status in exchange for immunity from prosecution, tax audit and be absolved from penalty charges and interest.
Evaders who delayed participation beyond December 31, 2017 were projected to pay interest on overdue tax balances. Those willing to participate could enter into an arrangement to pay in instalments of several tranches. The Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, explaining the scheme, noted that the behaviour of some of the nation’s richest citizens and multinationals operating in Nigeria, who seemed to consider paying tax to be optional, could no longer be tolerated.
No hiding place
The Federal Government has, meanwhile, signed data exchange agreements with several countries including the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK), Canada, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Switzerland, Mauritius, Panama and Bahamas.
These are some of the countries that some wealthy Nigerians are said to have both cash and houses hidden. Under the agreements, there is an exchange of banking information on cash and assets such as landed properties owned by Nigerians in those countries. This strategy has created a “no hiding place” challenge for tax evaders residing in Nigeria or abroad.
The Federal Government has also put in place a data mining mechanism to fish them out. It is expected that at least US$1 billion (about N360 billion) could be raised from the scheme which will reduce Nigeria’s borrowing needs, allow investment in vital infrastructure and spur development.
Speaking at its launch, the Minister of Finance, had said, “During the last eight years, Nigeria has failed to reduce its debt levels despite high oil prices and nominal GDP growth. We have inherited a situation where our debt and underdevelopment is getting worse, not better.
This cannot continue. “Neither can the behaviour of some of our richest citizens and multinationals operating in Nigeria – who seem to consider paying tax to be optional. From 2018, international law will make it easier than ever to track these evaders down and punish them. “
This scheme is in line with similar initiatives launched in 2016 in India, Indonesia and South Africa. We know they work, we know it’s the right thing to do and the Treasury desperately needs the money.”
In a recent address, Mrs. Adeosun said, “The unique cooperation between the various arms of the Federal Government and foreign governments has provided an unprecedented level of data that allows the Nigerian government to profile taxpayers accurately and identify those whose lifestyle and assets are not consistent with their declared income.
“A lot of data mining is going on daily, both locally and internationally, on property ownership and other items. Data is an extremely powerful tool that is now being utilized. For instance, we have reviewed all companies that received major payments from the Federal Government in the last five years and found that even those who made money from government under-declared.
“On personal income taxes, we reviewed property and company ownership as well as registration of high value assets and foreign exchange allocations, which gives us a sense of the lifestyles of the persons.
“But again, we found major non-compliance. In some cases, people declared as little as N10 million as income but purchased expensive property overseas and in Nigeria, registered high specification vehicles and funded luxurious personal events costing multiples of the declared income”.
Looming prosecution/severe punishment
Those who ignore VAIDS risk criminal prosecution as from July 1, 2018. Severe punishment is planned for tax evaders at the end of the amnesty period as they face imprisonment of up to five years, severe extra penalties – up to 100% of the outstanding tax due – compound interest at 21% per annum as well as forfeiture of assets Mrs. Adeosun told journalists, penultimate Friday, that government officials had been working assiduously, preparing cases against tax evaders which would begin in July. (Vanguard)
INEC registers 23 new political parties, extends CVR to Aug. 31
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Tuesday announced the registration of 23 new political parties, raising the number of registered parties in Nigeria to 91.
The Commission in a statement issued by Mohammed Haruna, its National Commissioner and Member, Voter Education and Publicity Committee, in Abuja stated that the registration was one of the decisions taken at its regular meeting held on Tuesday.
The Commission said it received 144 applications from political associations seeking registration as political parties.
“After a rigorous process of evaluation in accordance with the Constitution and Electoral Act which included assessment of the constitutions and manifestos of the intending parties and verification of membership of their executive committees and offices, the 23 associations met all the requirements and so have been registered as political parties.
“This brings the number of political parties to 91 and will be the last round of registration of parties until after the general elections on 16 Feb. 2019.
“This suspension is in line with Section 78 (1) of the Electoral Act, which requires all applications for registration as political party to be concluded latest six months to a general election.”
The Commission added that the new parties would receive their Certificate of Registration on Thursday at its headquarters.
The new parties are Advanced Alliance Party (AAP), Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party (ANDP), African Action Congress (AAC), Alliance for a United Nigeria (AUN),
Alliance of Social Democrats (ASD), Alliance National Party (ANP) and Allied People’s Movement (APM).
Also registered were Alternative Party of Nigeria (APN), Change Nigeria Party (CNP), Congress Of Patriots (COP), Liberation Movement (LM), Movement for Restoration and Defence of Democracy (MRDD), Nigeria Community Movement Party (NCMP), Nigeria for Democracy (NFD) and Peoples Coalition Party (PCP)
Others are Reform and Advancement Party (RAP), Save Nigeria Congress (SNC), United Patriots (UP ), United Peoples Congress (UPC), We The People Nigeria (WTPN) , YES Electorates Solidarity (YES), Youth Party (YP), and Zenith Labour Party (ZLP).
The Commission also approved the extension of the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) to Aug. 31 from Aug. 17 it had earlier announced.
Recall that a civil Society Organisation on Wednesday, Aug. 8, had urged INEC to extend the deadline for CVR to enable more Nigerians to register.
The Commission said it decided to extend the exercise which commenced on April 27, 2017, truly continuous for the first time by opening permanent registration centres in all 774 Local Government offices and 672 other centres.
It said the decision was to ensure that all-year round, Nigerians who turned 18 years would have the opportunity to register.
“Consequently, the current CVR has been going on for 16 months. As at 11th August 2018, the Commission has registered an additional 12, 139,061 new voters.”
It said that in order to have enough time to clean up the provisional register and print the Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) in good time for the elections, it decided to suspend the exercise on Aug. 17 to resume after the elections.
It however noted that many Nigerians had appealed for the extension of the exercise and as a result the decision to extend the CVR to Aug. 31 was taken.
“The exercise will continue in all the designated registration centres every day, including weekends, but excluding public holidays, between 9a.m. and 5p.m.
“The Commission wishes to inform the public that the on-going collection of PVCs will not end with the exercise. Collection of PVCs will continue until close to the general elections. ”
The Commission said that it would issue Notice of Election for 2019 general elections on Friday, Aug. 17, as “the first of 14 activities in the timetable in accordance with Section 30 (1) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended).
The issuance of notice will kick-start the countdown to the 2019 general elections, which timetable was issued on Jan. 9, the Commission stated.
NUJ, MURIC, others demand immediate release of Premium Times reporter
The Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Muslim Rights Concern, MURIC have asked the police to release Samuel Ogundipe, a Premium Times reporter, with immediate effect.
The police arrested Ogundipe on Tuesday over a report the organisation published on the sack of Lawal Daura, former director-general of the Department of State Services (DSS).
Copies of the letter Ibrahim Idris, inspector-general of police, wrote to Acting President Yemi Osinbajo on the interrogation of Daura were obtained by the media.
The police had reportedly asked Ogundipe to disclose how he obtained the letter used for a story but the journalist declined in line with the ethics of the profession.
In a statement, NUJ lamented the frequent harassment of journalists by security agencies.
“The Nigeria Union of Journalists condemns in the strongest terms the arrest and detention of Premium Times Reporter, Samuel Ogundipe today by the police and his detention at the facility of the Special Anti Robbery Squad, SARS in Abuja,” the statement read.
“Samuel Ogundipe was arrested for reporting on the report sent to the Acting President, Prof Yemi Osinbanjo by the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris on the sacked and detained DG of SSS, Malam Lawal Daura.
“The NUJ is horrified by the constant harassment and molestation of journalists by the police and other agents of the state and requests that such should abate forthwith.
“It should be noted that confidentiality of sources is necessary for good journalism to flourish and journalists should not be coerced into revealing such sources.
“We call for the immediate and unconditional release of Samuel Ogundipe and an end to all forms of impunity against the media.”
Also, MURIC, in a statement by its director, Ishaq Akintola, said “We strongly condemn any attempt to coerce journalists performing their legitimate duties. The police know the rules. The Fourth Estate of the Realm deserves a conducive atmosphere to carry out its daily routine of informing and educating the people about government’s activities.
“The impression must not be created that we are in a police state. A Gestapo-style intimidation of journalists stifles freedom of expression. The police can still carry out its duties in a professional manner without curtailing freedom of movement and without undermining freedom of speech. Democracy comes under threat when reporters work in an atmosphere of siege.
“We therefore demand the immediate release of Samuel Ogundipe and an apology for the manhandling of the Editor-in-Chief of Premium Times.”
Senators sue AGF, DSS, police for alleged plot to remove Saraki
Two lawmakers, Senator Rafiu Adebayo and Senator Isa Misau, have sued the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, the police, the Department of State Services, the Senate and seven others in order to stop the attempts to remove Senate President Bukola Saraki.
Senators Adebayo and Misau, who are supporters of Saraki, instituted the fresh court action marked FHC/ABJ/CS/872/2018 before a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on Monday.
Other defendants in the suit are: the majority and deputy majority leaders of the Senate, the Clerk of the Senate, the Deputy Clerk of the Senate, the Senate President, the Deputy Senate President and the Deputy Minority Leader.
In the originating summons filed on their behalf by Mahmud Magaji (SAN), the plaintiffs want the Federal High Court to determine whether in view of the provisions of Section 50(1) (a) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution, Saraki, who defected to another political party as a result of the division in his former party, can be made to vacate his office other than in accordance with Section 50 of the constitution.
Adebayo and Misau, who represent Kwara South and Bauchi Central senatorial districts respectively, also want the court to determine whether Saraki can be compelled to vacate his office on the grounds that he is not a member of the political party with a majority of senators in the Senate in view of the combined reading of Section 50 of the constitution and Order 3 Rule 8 of the Senate Standing Orders.
The court was also urged to determine whether the Senate President could be said to have vacated his office by virtue of Section 50(2) of the constitution when he had not ceased to be a member of the Senate or the Senate dissolved.
In a motion on notice filed along with the originating summons, the plaintiffs prayed the court for an order of interlocutory injunction restraining all the defendants (except the Senate, Senate President and Deputy Senate President) jointly and severally either by themselves, their agents, servants and privies from unlawfully removing the Senate President pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.
They also prayed the court for another order of interlocutory injunction restraining the AGF and the Inspector-General of Police from unlawfully interfering with the lawful legislative duties of the Senate President pending the hearing and determination of their originating summons.
Besides, the plaintiffs asked for an order of interlocutory injunction stopping the IG and the DSS from harassing, intimidating, arresting or detaining the President of the Senate in respect of the lawful exercise of his duties pursuant to Section 50(1) of the constitution and another order directing parties in the case to maintain status quo pending the determination of the substantive matter.
The motion was predicated on seven grounds amongst which were that the agents of the IG and DSS had taken steps to flagrantly breach the provisions of Section 50 by employing their agents to disrupt the plenary of the Senate without recourse to the said provisions.
Another grounds were that the constitutional provision of removal of the Senate President does not empower the AGF, police and DSS to unlawfully interfere with the legislative duties of the Senate by causing a blockade at the premises of the National Assembly complex or using their agents to disrupt the lawful duties of the Senate.
In a 13-paragraph affidavit in support of the motion on notice and deposed to by Senator Isah Misau, he averred that the Senate was a body recognised and established by the 1999 Constitution vested with powers of making laws for the good governance and well-being of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The deponent averred that the Senate held a plenary sitting between July 24 and 27 and that it was presided over by its President and that at the end of the sitting members adjourned till September 25.
Misau claimed that the All Progressives Congress as a platform for the Senate President had been bedevilled by crises resulting in divisions and factionalisation at the federal, state and local government levels.
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