Nigeria: Girl-child Marriage Spreading Like Wildfire

The commonness of child brides in Nigeria is becoming astronomical with poverty fingered as a factor leading families to give out their girl children to older men for marriage. ODIMEGWU ONWUMERE writes that 23 million girls are already victims of child marriage in Nigeria and while one in every five girls is married before her 18th birthday, some are kidnapped into marriage, sensitisation campaign to disorientate the practice has however become top priority of some persons and organisations

Child marriage (15-year-old Chinwe sitting on Izuchukwu Igwilo’s laps)

Chinwe, 15, was married to a supposedly 56 year old Mr Izuchukwu Igwilo early this year for the lucre of wealth. Not only was Igwilo old enough not to marry Chinwe, he was also a candidate of special needs.

Their marriage took place at Ozubulu, Anambra State, South-east of Nigeria. The stupendous wealth the Igwilos paraded spurred Chinwe’s family to give her out to Izuchukwu Igwilo.

Chinwe was already a nursing mother of a 6 month baby, an out of wedlock produce. Poverty and her ordeal compounded her situation. Hence, her compellation to marry the older man in order to enjoy the man’s share of the family wealth, since he was mentally sub-normal.

Conjectures were also that, should she give birth for Izuchukwu, his family members would take responsibilities of raising the child, due to their brother’s defectiveness.

Since her parents and she were not well to do financially, she lost her voice in the midst of the conundrum. She rather resorted to enjoy the wealth, even though she could be frowning at the not-too-normal man, who became her husband through persuasive means. She could not even question her fate. She relaxed. The parents’ thought and hers, were conversely not the thought of some persons and individuals in the country.

Voices raised

When Chinwe’s marriage was made public late January this year, the social media was characterised by #RetrieveChinwe. The activism was first noticed on Facebook when a Nigerian entrepreneur, Vivian Queenstine Diora made a post in respect to the marriage on a popular social group known as and called Rant.  The post did not just contain the man’s age and health status, it also pointed out that the man was an alcoholic.

Since Chinwe had lost her voice to speak up, some persons and groups moved in to rescue her thereby defining the country’s Child’s Rights Act detailing that 18 years of age was the minimum age for marriage, even when the Nigerian legal system had different interpretations to the Act.

Our reporter who monitored the outcome of the marriage gathered that Prince Gwamnishu Emefiele Harrison who was based in Awka, Anambra State, where he was perfecting his Human Rights activistivism, moved in to give Chinwe a voice.

“Inter alia, I had an approved petition by the Anambra State Police Command to rescue Chinwe,” said Harrison. “My plan was to pick Chinwe up and hand her to the Ministry of Women Affairs, Anambra State.”

Harrison did not only talk; he kept his promise. Chinwe was rescued from her rather confinement erroneously called marriage on February 2, 2019, with some supports from the Nigeria Police Force, Ministry of Women Affairs, Legal luminaries and unconfirmed voices too numerous to note. Nevertheless, this was not without some members of her family apparently pointing to the contrary.

“When I saw Chinwe’s parents and discussed the issue with them, the mother said that Chinwe was of marriageable age because she (Chinwe’s mother) got married at 13,” Harrison added. “But I proved her wrong and also enlightened her of the price of their actions in the face of law.”

Millions not rescued

Investigations revealed that Chinwe was not the only girl forcefully married to men, but no fewer than 700 million women alive today, were married as children across the globe.

Those who knew better sermonised that Africa boasted of about 17 per cent of them, which meant that 125 million of them, were in Africa.

Incidences of child marriage abounded such that the victims have had sorry tales. Just in 2015, Wasila Tasi’u, 14, forced against being forcefully married to an older man in Kano State, by poisoning her 35-year-old husband and three others. In Niger State, the media were awash when a 70 year old Mr Yakubu Chanji married a girl alleged to be 15.

While this lasted, some editors of national newspapers in the country lamented the health challenges professionals said were associated with girl child marriage, which included Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF). They said that no fewer than 20,000 new cases of VVF were reported annually given child marriage.

“VVF is anomalous fistulous territory that permits the nonstop spontaneous release of urine. Generally, child marriage has been traced to be the cause in some victims of VVF,” as according to the source.

Apprehension on increase

The United Nation Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), was horror-struck that the number of child brides would triple in Nigeria and across Africa by 2050, if salient measures were not put in place to curtail the menace.

The apprehension of the international organisation was that the continent of Africa would overrun South Asia with the hydra-headed number of child brides around the world.

The organisation did not only mention the nuisance of child brides in Nigeria, but also pointed out that the country and component countries in Africa, were still enmeshed with female genital mutilation, and this remained a chief priority of the United Nations.

Upon outlawing child bride

Nigeria outlawed child marriage in 2003. On the contrary, the 2018/2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, MICS, revealed that over 18.5 per cent of girls in the country were still married before age 15.

This was the same way international agreements that comprised the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, prohibited child marriage.

The United Nation Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), said that 23 million girls were victims of child marriage in Nigeria.

Ms Comfort Lamptey who’s the country representative of the world group stated this on December 2 2018, at a media briefing while observing the 16 days of enlightenment against gender based violence campaign 2018 in Abuja.

Lamptey frowned that one out of five women and girls in Nigeria aged 15-24 were conspicuously victims of molestation and human trafficking. She added that the aftermath of Boko Haram (a dreaded Islamic terrorists group in the country) had resulted to estimated 1.8 million women being called Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and camped in deprecating places in the affected states, especially in the North East of Nigeria.

She believed that girls and women who faced violence were not heard and they should be given room to be heard.

“With women and girls bearing the brunt of abduction, forced marriage and being used as human bombs; gender-based violence is evident also in the political realm, where women have reported numerous cases of victimisation, intimidation and harassment, in order to side-line them in the upcoming 2019 General Elections…,” she said.

“Their stories need to be brought to light. This is why the UNiTE Campaign’s global advocacy theme year is: Orange the World: #HearMeToo”.

Child brides in regions

In its 2017 report, UNICEF amplified that 43% of Nigerian girls were married off before their 18th birthday, while 17% were married before they turned 15.

Checks revealed that these percentages varied from one political zone in the country to the other, with the North West recording the highest percentage – 76%, while the South had but 10%, especially in the South Eastern zone.

Against this backdrop, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) 2018 report also revealed that Nigeria ranked number 11, out of 20 countries with prevalence of child marriage, whereas 17 countries were in Africa.

Factors leading to child marriage

There were blights of child marriage in Nigeria which were connected to religious, cultural and traditional rites, including poverty.

In the UN charter, 18 years was officially taken to mean adulthood but this was not the thought of many States in Nigeria. Illiteracy was not exempted from the category of the blights of child marriage in the country.

The Senate held in 2013 that Section 29 (4) (b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) was sacrosanct not minding the examination of its committee on that matter, with a suggestive draft for the removal of Section 29 (4) (b) which demanded that “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age.”

“Nevertheless this segment pacts with the certifying age for repudiation of citizenship, its relationship with child marriage surfaced from the earlier Section 29 (4) (a) which gives room that “full age means the age of eighteen years and above”, said the editors.

Speaking up against child marriage

Just like Harrison went to rescue Chinwe and gave her hope of a brighter future, many notable Nigerians that included Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka and human rights activist, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), lent their voices in condemnation of child marriage no matter the coloration given to the practice. The worse, they lamented, was kidnapping girl children anywhere, for the purpose of forcing them into marriage.

In the same manner, the wife of the President, Hajiya Aisha Buhari cried out against the pervasiveness of child marriage in northern Nigeria, where she made case that more than 50 percent of girls in the North were married before the age of 15. She made this known on October 20 2015 in Abuja, at the National Conference on Social Protection for the Girl Child, organised by ActionAid in partnership with Ford foundation, where she was represented by the wife of the Vice President, Mrs. Dolapo Osinbajo.

At a press conference on March 6 2016, in Lagos, Professor Soyinka sent those who were lacing religion reaction around child marriage to the cleaners. He believed that it was very wrong for anyone to damage a child because of degeneracy, as such, would leave the child with ruinous tendencies that would include trauma.

A scribe with the Ford Foundation, Innocent Chukwuma, at the National Conference on Social Protection for the Girl Child, organised by ActionAid in partnership with Ford foundation, posited that child marriage was against the girls’ human rights as it would likely introduce violent tendencies and obnoxious circumstances, social exclusion and poverty in the child.

Chukwuma added that it was not even good for their educational future and success. This was as he concluded that it would also expose them to larger health hazards such as maternal mortality, maternal disability, infant disability and HIV.

Falana interpreted the law with discontentment at the heightening occurrence of child marriage. He highlighted that it was unlawful to marry a girl without the parents giving their consent; that’s for those who were kidnapping girl children. But the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi in his presentation at the occasion where Mrs Buhari was represented, was worried that the right of the father to give out her daughter’s hand in marriage without her paying heed to the marriage should not be supported in whatever language used in approving of it. Soyinka therefore, called on the authorities to see child marriage as a crime against the constitution and legal structure that held the citizens.

  • Odimegwu Onwumere writes from Rivers State. E-mail: apoet_25@yahoo.com
  • SOURCE: OoReporters
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Millions Of Dollars Lost In Nigeria To Tax Evasion Due To Incoherent Policies

The Federal Government is mustering the political will to coerce revenue generation through high-profile individuals, Ministerial Departments and Agencies and others to fittingly submit to the federation account what is due to government. ODIMEGWU ONWUMERE unearths that millions of Dollars have been lost to tax defaulters and the private sector is dogged to say that businesses provide for themselves power, water, roads etc. being the reason taxes are paid upon the many tax policies by the successive governments suggesting the contrary. However, this article traces that Nigerians would be profitably inclined to paying taxes only if the revenues ensuing from such taxes are wisely utilised for socio-economic infrastructure development of the assorted parts of the country

It was a season of fear and desperation as the Federal Government (FG) vowed not to leave any stone hiding tax defaulters unturned, especially among the political class. Hence, the FG mounted its satellite at all corners to apprehend tax violators.

In an effort in making sure that the FG’s promise was kept, the Executive Chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr. Tunde Fowler urged the Nigeria Police Force to assist the agency in the battle against tax defaulters.

The livid Fowler was not happy that over 40,000 people or so in the rank and file were yet to pay their tax. He told the Acting Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar Adamu when the later paid a courtesy visit to the Revenue House in Abuja in February this year that the agency would not allow tax violators to rest till they comply with the directive of the agency.

From its check of tax evaders from 45,000 persons on FIRS record, the heated Fowler said that the sum of N23 billion was realised through a close-up of over N100 million owned by each as turnover in their accounts.

It was grasped that such foray as the Government Integrated Financial and Management Information System and Remita put defaulters at a corner when they noticed that the authorities had evidences against them.

Expensive and expansive buildings at choice places across the country were beamed with government’s searchlight. In some states, the FG had the support of governors with state governments reveling building documents of owners. Lagos and Abuja became the first where the FG mounted its battle in the fight for tax compliance.

Heralding Battle

It was less than three weeks in the month of March 2018 to the expiration of Voluntary Asset and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS), a Federal Government amnesty programme keyed in from July 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018 for tax defaulters to voluntarily regularise their tax profiles.

This pet programme was however attended to with pressure from politicians, ex-governors and other dignitaries for the authorities to extend the tax amnesty expiry date.

Before she was disgraced out of office over alleged certificate forgery last year, the then Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun had amplified that defaulters of tax who refused to comply with the amnesty programme would be named, shamed and prosecuted.

They were majority among the political class, research revealed. In the same vein, Fowler had in an interview on February 26, 2018, advised high-flying Nigerians with tax burdens to take lead of the VAIDS, as political, social or economic distinction would not separate them from sanctions for non-compliance.

While at the first annual lecture of the Lagos State Professorial Chair of Tax and Fiscal Matters held at the Ade-Ajayi Auditorium of the University of Lagos, in December 2017, Adeosun said that only 40 million taxable adults in Nigeria pay taxes, out of 70 million. She went further to say that about 13 per cent of Nigerians who were active tax payers only paid given that their taxes were deducted under the Pay as You Earn (PAYE) category.

But in a speech delivered on June 29 2017 by the then Acting President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo,  titled “How tax-paying Nigerian can curb corruption, make govts responsible”, it was a different version to the claim by Adeosun.

Professor Osinbajo said, “According to the Federal Inland Revenue Service, the total number of tax payers in Nigeria is just 14 million. Of this number, 96% have their taxes deducted at source from their salaries under the P.A.Y.E system while just 4% comply under Direct Assessment. So the vast majority of Nigerians do not pay taxes.”

There was experts’ opinion revealing that over 180 million Nigerians living in Nigeria, BVN exposed that individual account holders were more than 30.5 million as at January 2018. The National Identity Management Company (NIMC) showed a data base of 22 million Nigerians. According to statistics, it was believed that infinitesimal number out of the working population paid taxes.

This exposition was made through data which was mined. It was further gathered that the government was able to get the assets of many of the high-profile individuals through its data mining programme dubbed ‘Project Lighthouse’. High-profile individuals were not at rest when they observed that government had exhumed their net-worth with proof of where they hid many of their assets. Many tax defaulters were however contacted by the VAIDS office.

The tax war went berserk concerning taxing Nigerians abroad but Adeosun in August 2017, during a Facebook LIVE video chat tagged “Tax Thursday” seemingly cleared air on the Nigerian government’s plan on diaspora taxes.

She said, “It is not (for) every Nigerian; it is for Nigerians resident for tax purposes…If you are a Nigerian resident for tax purposes, it means you live in Nigeria for 195 days of the year.”

The highlight of the double statements from officials was a proof that there were many challenges and prospects in the tax system in Nigeria. Evidence was the lack of statistical data. Experts said that poor tax administration and multiplicity of taxes characterised the system: something that Nigeria inherited from the colonial administration based on 1948 British tax laws.

These laws were mainly structured on revenue generation and it prompted the income tax management act (ITMA) of 1961, where personal incomes were taxed throughout the country. Since then, many amendments have been made to the 1961 ITIMA Act that yielded little or no result.

Seemingly, the ‘Project Lighthouse’ was able to be successful through data harvested from government agencies such as the Corporate Affairs Commission, the Nigeria Customs Service and, the Nigerian Communications Commission.

Outcome Of VAIDS

Some politicians complied with the VAIDS; many others were yet to comply. But the outcome of compliers boosted the image of Nigeria in the world tax ranking index. Fowler was also happy with the VAIDS.

The World Bank was first to recognise this when it upgraded the country’s tax collection ranking from number 171 to 157.

Analysts believed that the ranking was the efforts of the government of President Muhammadu Buhari through its reformed National Tax Policy in making sure that Gross Domestic Product gained above six percent from tax revenues.

It was believed that the World Bank supported the country so much in the reform. Our reporter learnt that because of VAIDS, number of tax payers was raised to 42 percent, or from 13 million to 19.2 million in 2017.

This boosted the morale of the FIRS and it geared up to push Nigeria above 14 of its contemporaries; resultant of the ranking from number 171 to number 157.

While Fowler thanked the Nigeria Police Force for the aid they have been rendering so far in the cause to battle tax evaders, he pointed out that the agency collected a total of N5.320 trillion of tax revenue in 2018; being the highest in the history of revenue gathering of the commission.

But in an interview of January 27 2018, Mr. Oseni Elamah, Executive Secretary, Joint Tax Board, had said Nigeria targeted N320bn revenue from VAIDS.  This was against N3, 307 trillion it made in 2016 and N4, 027 trillion it made in 2017.

However, while these huge sums were collected, Fowler showed uneasiness that there was decrease in the percentage of the taxes collected.

For example, it was 2.6% in 2016 as against 2.48% in 2017 and, 2.14% in 2018.

Before Buhari Government

It did not meet the eyes why these huge sums of money were recovered from tax evaders in 2018 and many of the high-profile individuals were yet to comply with the amnesty programme for tax defaulters.

Exactly seven years this year, there was the “new Personal Income Tax (Amendment) Act” that mandated workers that included President, Governors, their Deputies, Ministers and bigwigs in politics to pay taxes out of their incomes.

The then Chairman, Joint Tax Board, Ifueko Omoigui Okauru disclosed this at a media briefing to officially uncover the ‘new Act’ in Abuja.

This patronizing project was aimed at bringing the Personal Income Tax Act to match with the Nigerian economy with regards to understanding how the Act was affecting low and middle income earners.

The then President Goodluck Jonathan was it who signed this into law in June 2017 and also, evaluated income excused from tax to include bonds subjected by government and corporate entities.

Mrs. Omoigui -Okauru, who doubled then as the executive chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), highlighted the amendments were after over 19 years such exercise was conducted which was dubbed “Personal Income Tax Act (PITA) 1993.”

Checks revealed that the ‘new tax’ table buttressed that the primary N300,000 of income garnered would magnetize seven per cent tax rate.

The source went further to say that about 11 per cent was earmarked to be paid as tax on N300,000 preceding the former income.

15 per cent on N500,000; 19 per cent on the next N500,000; 21 per cent on N1.6million and, 24 per cent tax rate on incomes that were more than N3.2million.

Discordant Tunes

In 2011, the Lagos State Government started the implementation of its land use charge law, where landed property owners were forced to pay a percentage of the value of their property to the government yearly, in order to shore up their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). And many states joined Lagos in this chorus.

Everybody, group and could be noticed to be looking for a soft ground or reason to evade or collect tax in the country. On October 28 2018, some stakeholders in the private sector like the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN, Lagos Chamber of Commerce & Industry, LCCI, were a thorn in the neck of government not to heed to any advise or call to increase Value Added Tax, VAT. Rather, government should carve a niche for itself to build on tax net and not the other.

These bewildered groups hinged their view on what they described as Nigeria’s weak economy which would not be in tandem for increase in tax rate in whatever language used in doing so.

It was learnt that the stakeholders were bemused when the International Monetary Fund, IMF, lent its voice to the government to review the country’s tax policies.

The call by IMF was that the richest should be taxed three percent of the country’s population, broadening the tax support and supplementing conformity on VAT.

Those who knew better told the authorities that the IMF increase in VAT was a bad advise at a time Nigeria was grappling with economy difficulties.

According to a presentation by the Director General, MAN, Mr Segun Ajayi-Kadir, “Businesses do not like tax given that it is not favourable  to their costs and it devours into their profits. However, the IMF advise came at a wrong time when the country was struggling with flimsy economic growth.”

Ajayi-Kadir went further to state that it’s unfortunate that businesses were already providing for themselves the services the government ought to have given them been the reason taxes were paid. According to him, “Businesses are covering the areas of power, water, roads etc. for themselves being the reason taxes were paid. Therefore, pushing up VAT will be devastating at this period.”

Tax System Hijacked By Politicians

When the Oyo State Government sealed up former President Olusegun Obasanjo farms and over forty other business firms in the state in September 2018, some politicians and political analysts labeled the move as a political witch-hunt.

But the government in a swift reaction through the Chairman, Oyo State Board of Internal Revenue (OYBIR), Mr Bicci Alli said during the OYBIR sensitisation and enlightenment meeting with the members of the Organised Private Sectors and Chambers of Commerce under the aegis of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Oyo State Chapter, at MAN House, Jericho Road, Ibadan, that the move was occasioned by the recalcitrant behaviour of the affected firms to habituate with the tax laws of the state after a resounding long notice were given to them.

By September 11, 2018, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) through its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, showed anger that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had not investigated and prosecuted the All Progressives Congress (APC) leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, over allegations of tax fraud amounting to N160 billion taxes by a company linked to him.

According the source, “Nigerians can now see how the same Ibrahim Magu-led EFCC, which rushes to pounce on, arrest and lock up innocent Nigerians, particularly, perceived political opponents of President Buhari, without investigation, has practically gone frozen and toothless because a member of the APC cabal is involved.

“Does it not smack of hypocrisy that President Buhari, who boasted that he was going to jail more looters, has been looking the other way, while Presidency officials suppress investigations since whistle blowers alerted that Alpha Beta, a company linked with his party leader, Asiwaju Tinubu, allegedly swindled Nigerians to the tune of a whopping N160 billion in tax fraud?

“Is it not equally hypocritical that under the same President Buhari’s watch, where the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) has threatened to block the bank accounts of tax evaders, a leader of his party had been dragged before the EFCC, yet Mr President is pretending to be unaware?”

Remove Hijackers

In November 2018, while at the signing of memorandum of understanding, MoU with the Association of National Accountants of Nigeria (ANAN), in Lagos, Dr Cyril Ede, president, Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria (CITN) hinged the need to remove hijackers in the tax environment in synergy with other expert financial bodies.

By July 21 2017, Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Mr Auwal Rafsanjani, in Abuja, had called on the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) to force political parties to include tax agenda in their manifestos ahead of 2019 elections. This was part of an eight-point communiqué, said Rafsanjani, issued at the end of a Stakeholders’ Interface on the National Tax Policy.

“The Federal Government is commended for adopting a consultative approach in the development of the new policy and reflecting inputs from stakeholders, including the National Tax Justice and Governance Platform.

“The review of the National Tax Policy was long overdue considering the challenges identified in the tax system under the previous policy.

“The new policy emphasises the ability to pay principle, focus on progressive tax rates, promoting equality, avoidance of multiple taxation, explicit grievance mechanisms, transparency and accountability frameworks,’’ said Rafsanjani.

On November 6 2017, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and 2019 presidential hopeful, Prof. Kingsley Moghalu in an interview, blamed the federal and state governments of being lame-duck in their approach to revenue generation.

While this lasted, a tax expert, Mr Abulazeez Musa who also heads Public Engagement Department of Oxfam in Nigeria, on May 3, 2018, advised the Federal Government to espouse progressive taxation system to heighten revenue generation for evenhandedness in the country’s fiscal governance system, using VAIDS as a case study.

With the federal government applying to the National Assembly to grant it permission for $5.5 billion in borrowing, Moghalu hinted that it was not farfetched to say that over 60 per cent of revenues earned by Nigeria were already meant for debt servicing.

Why Nigerians Hardly Pay Tax

In a public presentation of March 13, 2018, by a public figure in Nigeria, Reuben Abati, titled, “Lagos state and the politics of taxation”, our reporter traced the cause many Nigerians hardly pay their taxes.

Abati buttressed that given the temerity, nobody enjoys to pay taxes. He went memory lane to point out the many historical and cultural features to this. He gave an instance that the community always frowned at the taxman owing to the fact that he was not a well-known member of the community.

Against this backdrop, investigations showed that many countries of the world had been into wars and revolutions in their attempts to collect or not to pay taxes. Abati voiced that in the Yoruba land for instance, there were wars in the 18th and 19th centuries in rejections of what was known as “isakole” (ground rent to the sovereign), or owo asingba (service to chiefs and kings as a form of tribute).

He translated these to mean “symbols of dominance over political authority and/or economic activities, creating a slave/master relationship among dominant/dominated groups.”

Abati gave another instance in the area of what he called “the famous Aba women’s riot of 1929.”

He narrated that the riot was in protestation against what he called “the draconian warrant chiefs” saddled with power by the rapacious colonial administration who were in the habit of direct taxation of market women.

There was the Abeokuta Women’s Union (AWU) led by Mrs Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti in late 1940s that objected to the taxation of women in the Egba Division.

Abati gave instances of the many rebellions against taxation in Nigeria and surmised that the introduction of VAIDS and a new National Tax Policy (NTP) in 2017 by the Buhari administration, many Nigerians would consider the VAIDS, a joke, given the historical and cultural features why Nigerians refused to pay tax.

However, opinion leaders considered the near-failed tax policies in the country as a detestable indictment. They were of the belief that Nigeria had lost focus and was out of touch with reality. They pointed out that Nigeria abandoned common sense to utilise revenue from crude oil when oil was booming. Rather, the country’s spurious leaders allegedly stole billions of dollars that accrued from oil to their foreign bank accounts. They frowned, saying that lawmakers and top civil servants were laws unto themselves unlike in countries like America and Britain where lawmakers paid income tax on their earnings and were ever ready to present any extra income outside their parliamentarian duties. They pointed out that such income was taxed and well documented by their tax authorities.

Nonetheless, the good-looking Moghalu was amazed that the country was becoming heavily indebted, after a former president Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007) cleared the inherited debts that the governments before his accumulated.

Moghalu did not believe in the economics which stated that with Nigeria’s debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio at 19 per cent that the country was safe to incessant borrowing. “What matters is the debt service-to-revenue ratio,” he said.

Just like Moghalu, the Chairman of BGL Plc and former Minister of Finance, Dr Kalu Idika Kalu had in August 18, 2010, at the 6th AELEX (Legal practitioners and Arbitrators) Lecture in Lagos, taught that Nigerians would be constructively predisposed to paying taxes if the revenues accruable from such taxes were sensibly utilised for socio-economic infrastructure development of the assorted parts of the country.

  • Odimegwu Onwumere writes from Rivers State. E-mail: apoet_25@yahoo.com
  • SOURCE: OoReporters

Nigeria: Illegal Taxation Continues Despite Several Moves By Authorities To Halt Perpetrators

Nigerians in different quarters are crying over what they describe as multiple-taxation from touts and government. ODIMEGWU ONWUMERE unearths that this is giving them concern and they want authorities concerned to look into their ordeal. But their request seems a tall dream given authorities’ promises and measures put in place to rescue them

Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari covers face in shame?

Illegal taxation of the unsuspecting members of the public is not strange to the government and public. What is strange to both is why perpetrators have refused to go out of business.

How to arrest the situation seems a tall dream despite government and public efforts put in place with tax authorities to curb the burden and help organised private sector out of the conundrum.

Nothing seems to have been corrected as the organised private sector is most hit regularly. This sector has been calling on government to aid business environment in the country by mounting its saddle that only legitimate and approved tax collectors are given the power to levy business operators across the country.

The organised private sector wants the subjective introduction of illegal taxes and levies across the country checked. It wants the government to make sure that business operators are safe from unwanted turmoil they are facing in the hands of illegal tax collectors. It believes that this portends danger for the business environment in the country instead of commerce would blossom.

The Clarion Calls

Government has been called upon to harmonise and rationalise the many taxes and levies business operators pay in order to whittle high cost of doing business in the country, but to no avail.

In spite of this, it was not the first time that successive governments in Nigeria were to pledge support to Nigerians and organisations to end illegal-taxation in the country. On January 11 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari reaffirmed the Nigerian government commitment to end the peril.

Buhari made this known when the leadership of the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuff and Cattle Dealers Association of Nigeria (AUFCDN), led by Alhaji Ali Tahir, paid him a visit at the presidential villa, Abuja.

Received by the Special Adviser to the President (Media & Publicity), Mr. Femi Adesina, President Buhari informed the August visitors his government’s roadmap to terminate illegal taxes in the country.

Hear Buhari, “I am appalled to learn that these illegal tax collections still persist. Bad habits are not easily dropped.

“But let me assure you that relevant security agencies will be reminded of their duties in preventing these bad practices and safeguarding people like you who go about their legitimate businesses.

“I will take up all your appeals and complaints in due course and together with state governments, we will attend to your proposals.’’

However, the General Secretary of the Union, Alhaji Ahmed Alarama declared before the president, saying, ‘‘Roadblocks are mounted by unknown persons on several highways including those in Adamawa, Taraba, Benue, Cross River, Ebonyi, Abia, Enugu, Anambra, Imo and Bayelsa States and these continue to constitute a hindrance to our businesses.’’

Buhari To AUFCDN: ‘‘Old Habits Die Hard”

Indeed, old habit dies hard, as it was not the first time that organisations were calling on government to come to their liberation in the hands of illegal tax collectors yet their expectations were like water poured on the shell of melon.

The leader of the Association of Waste Paper Dealers Association Onitsha branch, Anambra State, Comrade Samuel Momo bothered the government of the state recently over the issue of multiple-taxation his organisation that came into place since 2002 has been overloaded with.

Momo made his organisation’s voice heard, during their annual get-together in Onitsha. The address to the Anambra Government during the occasion was conveyed by the Pioneer Chairman of the association, Chief Hon. Mike Ibebuiwe, on behalf of Comrade Momo.

It was in December 2018, and Momo disclosed that they saw no reason they should be threateningly disturbed with multiple taxation in a recycling venture that has leveraged the economy by giving employment to the unemployed in the country.

For instance, over 250,000 workers are working in recycling companies, not to talk of over 100,000 working in factories and over 200,000, who are openly or subtly employed in the areas of sourcing or supplying of waste materials to factories, as according to Momo.

Notwithstanding, since 2017, the AUFCDN has been everywhere calling on the government to save its members from multiple-taxation they were suffering in the hands of revenue collectors on Federal highway, yet nothing seemed forthwith to address their predicament.

The National President of the Union, Alhaji Muhammadu Tahir, also made their plight in the hands of tax collectors known in 2017, and asked the government to help them out. But if government was lackadaisical to come to their recue, they would have no option than to take measures to help their members.

“If government didn’t take action, actually we are going to take action against this illegality because we are all Nigerians, we agree to pay revenue but in a legal way at the point of loading and at the point of offloading, which is where law allows us to pay revenue,” said the General Secretary of the Union, Ahammed Allahramma, during the year in quote.

Checks revealed that the union has been paying through its nostrils in the hands of the revenue collectors who mount the highway as early as 2am with dangerous weapons collecting money from the members of the union and others.

Allahramma divulged that a truck load of cattle from Maiduguri to Port Harcourt, was being charged about N250,000  by these revenue collectors.

According to Allahramma, “It has been long our members have been suffering from this multiple taxation, if you carry cow from Maiduguri or Adamawa, before you reach Port Harcourt, in a truck, you are going to spend about N250,000 just because of multiple taxation. This taxation is not vehicle taxation or animal taxation, but it is money collected illegally from our members.”

On The Part Of Government

Dr. Obi Nwakanma was not happy with the way government was imposing tax on the citizens, especially in Imo State.

Scrutinising the Governor of Imo State, Anayo Rochas Okorocha, Dr. Nwakanma wondered why the former should impose what he described as “a local tax of N3000 per adult in Imo State” in 2018. Nwakanma said that the announcement to this effect was made by the commissioner for Community government, Culture and Traditional Affairs, Mr. Louis Duru.

It was learnt that Okorocha christened the alleged taxation of his wards “Community levy.” Nwakanma said that while he was in support of any genuine taxation, but this was not of Okorocha’s type.

In his words, “Okorocha’s tax is the tax of the Caesars. It is forced and compulsory levy, and as Louis Duru puts it, every adult in all the Communities in Imo state have been “ordered” to pay it!”

Likewise, the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions, NASU, Anambra, in December 2014 decried imposition of taxes on workers by some state governments and educational institutions.

Some Nigerian lottery operators on August 19, 2018,  at the one-day Public Forum on the Operations of Lottery Industry in Nigeria held in Abuja, Mr. Chima Onwuka, Chairman, Lottery Operators Forum, called on the National Lottery Regulatory Commission for amendment to the National Lottery Regulation Act, decrying multiple taxation and incursion of the industry by unlicensed operators.

According to the Representative of People Empowerment Lottery Operator, Mr. Mobolaji Johnson, double taxation was a major challenge to lottery operators in the country.

For instance, “In UK there is no Value Added Tax on lottery business; recently in Ghana they declared amnesty on tax and one of the key things on the amnesty is that you don’t pay ‘Withholding Tax’,” Johnson informed.

This was the same way members of NASU in West African Examinations Council, WAEC/Libraries and other trade group councils at their 2nd regular meeting in the Anambra state, also cast off “the purported abrogation of an existing agreement between WAEC management and NASU on deployment of serving officers of the union.”

Nwakanma later pointed out, “This failure of public governance in Imo State has created “Emperor Okorocha”, who can now “order” Imo people to pay tax or what he calls “community levies” without the backing of an appropriate act of the Imo State legislature to give force and legitimacy to citizens’ taxation.

“Taxation of citizens is founded on a state tax law, and the current laws in Imo State do not grant the government of the state the power to impose arbitrary taxes until such a mandate has been framed by the House of Assembly whose powers and essential duties is to determine the tax regime for Imo State, and provide the basis for its collection by the agency of the state empowered to collect tax, the Treasury department, or the Ministry of Finance as we know it.”

He went further, “On what basis, by which laws, and to what end therefore is the “order” by Mr. Okorocha to Imo citizens to pay a forced and illegal levy? There are three tax collecting levels of government in Nigeria: the federal government: the State, and the Local governments. Okorocha has virtually imposed an autocracy on Imo State by illegally appropriating the powers of local government without sanction or consequence, and in collusion with the Imo state House of Assembly…”

Representatives And Govts At Rescue?

Like a virus, the residents of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, were not singing Hosanna in the Highest; they were singing “God fight our battle” in the hands of tax collectors as they paid through their nostrils.

In November 2016, the House of Representatives was drawn to the plight of the residents and there was a swift reaction to their ordeal: a motion was adopted after it was moved by Hon. Emmanuel Orker-Jev.

This was the same way on August 19, 2009, the Lagos State Government was set with an enforcement team to eradicate and arrest touts who were moving about collecting tax from unsuspecting members of the public and acting as tax agents in the state.

This dubious behaviour was rampant at the local government level. The then Office of the Special Adviser on Taxation and Revenue to Governor Babatunde Fashola manned by Mr. Ade Ipaye was not pleased with the nuisance of illegal taxation in the state.

Ipaye bared the government’s plan at revenue illumination seminar organised by the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs in collaboration with the Office of the Special Adviser on Taxation and Revenue, in Alausa, saying that a Bill had been presented to the state House of Assembly.

The Bill was expected to cage and regulate levies collected by local government councils when passed into law. Yet, all the efforts could not control touts having a field in illegal-taxation in the state.

The Reps asked residents to stop forthwith paying any tax or tenement levies till the issues were thoroughly put through.  The Minister of FCT, Mallam Mohammed Bello was mandated by the House to handle the situation without reservation as the issue of multiple-taxation called for national emergency.

In the same vein, the then Governor Theodore Orji of Abia State in March 2014, suspended ad infinitum two commissioners for purportedly breaching government’s instruction against double taxation and extortion of money from people of the state.

In a statement by the then Commissioner for Information and Strategy of Abia State, Mr. Eze Chikamnayo, the commissioners’ names were given as Chief Chisom Nwamuo, Commerce and Industry; and Mr. Ikechukwu Emesiombum, Transport.

The heated governor went further to seal off the premises of Aba area office of the Ministry of Works, suspected to be the safe ground where the alleged extortionists perfect their acts christened illegal revenue collection.

Hence, Orji was bound for suspending all the unapproved revenue collections pending when his government harmonisation of taxes payable in the state would be completed.

The Reps also mandated its committee on FCT to investigate the illegal activities and determine why the perpetrators have been having field day, saying, “investigate this activity and determine why this has been illegally going on with the aim of bringing perpetrators to book and report back to the House within two weeks.”

This was even as the  Federal Government on January 24, 2015 promised to amend the Taxes and Levies (Approved List for Collection of Taxes and Levies) Cap T2 LTN, 2004 in a bid to harmonise taxes and abolish multiple taxation of citizens across the country. It also directed the Inspector General of Police as at the time to dismantle all road blocks “mounted on the highways for revenue collection as they are illegal.”

The move was sequel to the complaints by the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN, followed by a report by Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe.

Anambra, Lagos and Rivers were amongst the states outlined as where residents were over taxed through duplication of taxes or levies on the same item or services.

“Although only 20 forms of levies or taxes were approved by the Taxes and Levies Act, there were multiple-taxation of citizens in most of the states across the country with Rivers, Lagos and Anambra topping the 17 states and Abuja, which were listed,” said the report.

As if that was not enough, on April 16, 2012, Fashola was represented by the Special Adviser to Lagos State Governor on Tax and Revenue, Mr. Abimbola Shodipo.

Fashola thrilled members of the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria (CITN) on professionalism in an array to curtail the illegal collection of taxes from residents of the state.

The then Governor of Lagos state made this known at the Investiture Ceremony of Mr. Samuel Olusola Agbeluyi as the 5th Executive Chairman of Ikeja District Society of CITN.

Hear Fashola, “Tax is the heart of every government. It is the main source of generating revenue for state or local government. I will also like to note that the kind of quality transition that took place today should transpire the policy for the betterment of the society”.

It was learnt that the reason for the illegal-taxation in Abuja was because the FCT Inland Revenue Service Board that was empowered to collect taxes in the FCT after it resolved this issue with the House, was lame-duck, a situation that threw the House in sad mood.

According to a source, “Taxes and tenement rates have been authorised by Acts of the National Assembly, that is, the taxes (approved list for collection) Act and the FCT Internal Revenue Services Act, 2015.” But this seemed not working.

Against this backdrop, Hon. Orker-Jev while moving his motion frowned that some elements in the society took advantage of this to defraud the citizens in the name of tax collections through forceful and arbitrary means by forging government documents and molesting their victims with the promise that defaulters would be thrown into prison.

However, while speaking in October 2016 in Washington, at the end of the World Bank/IMF meetings, the then Finance Minister, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, in a joint press briefing, said that $1trillion taxes illegally taken out of Nigeria to be repatriated given the agreement reached by a Nigerian team with the UK’s Dept for International Development, the US Treasury Department and others.

Illegal Revenue Roadblocks Dismantled

The Honourable member of the House, however, articulated apprehension, saying, “This act portends an affront to the FCT Inland Revenue Service Act and Tax Laws of the Federation and is aimed at defrauding the unsuspecting members of the public in these days of recession.”

But just when the Reps were unease of what the Abuja residents were passing through in the hands of supposed illegal tax collectors, Benue State Government reportedly dismantled over 159 illegal revenue roadblocks.

The story was not different in Ebonyi as government was urged on September 12, 2018, by some organisations like the Movement for Greater Ebonyi led by Mr. Silas Nworie, to prosecute illegal tax collectors.

Hear Nworie, “Before the suspension of the illegal levies, many prominent Ebonyi indigenes had begged the state government to stop the activities of those extorting money from innocent Ebonyi residents in the appearance of taxes and levies. But all pleas fell on deaf ears.”

It was in September 2018, and the Benue State Internal Revenue Services, (BIRS), discovered that millions of naira had been lost to perpetrators of the illegal revenue road blocks.

Meanwhile, on May 16 2015, the Chairman, Edo State Internal Revenue Service (EIRS), Sir Oseni Elemah, while at the Annual Tax Conference (ATC) organised by the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CITN) in Abuja, said 80 per cent of taxable Nigerians had not yet keyed into Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) developed to boost the Nigeria’s tax system.

The Chairman, Benue State Internal Revenue Service, Terzukwe Atser, was worried that upon the dismantling of the illegal road blocks, operators flaunt the order using the night as cover.

Nworie continued, “It is shameful that the government could be condescending. Ebonyi people cannot be deceived. What should be done now is to urgently arrest and prosecute those who extort money from people.

“We learned that the perpetrators were carrying out the instruction of higher authorities. People were forced to buy what they called environmental basket for N8,000, without considering whether they had the money or not.”

Notwithstanding, Atser added that what the government had done, yet some of the people were operating in the night and they were always on the run because security agencies were after them.

Hear Atser, “In taxation, we work according to the laws and obey the law. You have to be just and fair. Therefore, in Benue State, we want to now build efficient tax administration that would rise to become the best in Nigeria and in achieving this, we need to train and retrain the tax managers so that they can translate the knowledge to other staff.”

The Rivers State Internally Generated Revenue Service, RIRS, on November 13, 2018 boasted through its Chairman of RIRS, Mr. ThankGod Norteh, that it has got a technology that would dismantle the illegal collection of taxes in the state, adding that the technology which would be put into use in January 2019, would serve the purpose.

Yet, the news of illegal taxation in the state and across the country has not stopped. The Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), had on May 19, 2010, proposed for a fresh stakeholders meeting of tax authorities in the country (Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS), States tax authorities, and the Organised Private Sector to address multiple taxation issues.

Odimegwu Onwumere writes from Rivers State. Email: apoet_25@yahoo.com

My Alcoholic Acquaintance

By Odimegwu Onwumere

Oshari rented the air immediately he came to where I sat with friends on February 2 2019, at Seaside Road, Oyigbo, Rivers State. I did not know him prior to this day.

The man I later learnt was born in 1954 was not drunk but alcohol had taken a toll on him. He was garrulous and talked different things at the same time. He was oddly funny, although to my irritation. I managed him as others did.

He was proud of his ‘Isoko’ root and repeated ‘Isoko’ virtually in all talks. He said he was an itinerant: he had travelled to virtually all the towns across Nigeria. He explained villages that were receptive and others that were uncivil.

Oshari was full of proverbs. One of his proverbs was, “Clothe is the beauty of women, but when they pull their clothe, they are Juju.” Our gathering comprising of men and women laughed. The discerning minds amongst us got his message and it was deep.

Many of us were later exhausted and moved out. I was left alone with Oshari. He lectured me using his native intelligence. He was brain and I learnt traditions and cultures of different peoples. He lectured me of Egbesu and I was pleased because I loved aboriginal spiritualities so much.

At a point, Oshari said that he needed to drink Kai-kai – local gin. I signaled a boy who sold varieties of local stuffs to give Oshari N100 worth of thing. Oshari did not wait for the boy to bring his request to where we sat; he joined the boy in his shop.

Later, Oshari came back with putrefying cigarette odour and Kai-kai around him. He was calm now. For few minutes he did not talk unlike him; he was relaxed in a plastic chair he sat on. After, he whispered in a low tone, “Kai-kai dey chak!” He stood up and left without a word. He did not stagger. He was mien. As he was leaving I pondered over the type of message the Kai-kai was registering in him and regretted I would be missing him concerning his crude but not rude talks of different things at the same time.

©Odimegwu Onwumere; Feb. 3 2019.